1:42 P.M. CDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all for that warm welcome. I’m so honored to be here with all of you who are every day “educating and engaging the next generation of leaders” here at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. Thank you for being with us today.
And it’s a particular honor to be here with the man himself, Secretary James A. Baker and his wonderful wife, Susan. Would you join me in thanking them for their countless contributions to the life of this nation? (Applause.)
I’m also grateful to be joined by another great champion of freedom and a great friend of mine for many years. He’s the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and he has particularly provided leadership and tenacity on the issue of freedom in this hemisphere. Join me in thanking Congressman Michael McCaul for his great leadership for Texas and for America. (Applause.)
And it’s especially meaningful for me to be here today with so many proud sons and daughters of Venezuela, and also with a man who was imprisoned twice by the enemies of freedom in that country; who was forced into exile; and who, despite all that he has faced, is still working tirelessly to restore democracy and freedom in his homeland: Ambassador for a free Venezuela, Ambassador Carlos Vecchio. Thank you for being with us today. (Applause.)
It truly is an honor to be before you today. And when I think of the long history of contributions of Secretary James A. Baker to the life of this nation and to America’s place in the world, it seemed altogether fitting to me to come here today to give voice to America’s continued determination to advance the cause of liberty in this hemisphere. Mr. Secretary, I thank you for the warm welcome and the hospitality.
And allow me to bring to him, to all of our honored guests who are here today, greetings from another friend of mine and a great champion of liberty for the people of Venezuela and all across this hemisphere of freedom. I bring greetings from the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
The President asked me to be here today to show our unwavering commitment to a free Venezuela. For far too long, the people of Venezuela have suffered under the heavy hand of oppression. But now there’s hope. Hope is springing forth every day in Venezuela. Across that country, in the largest cities and in the smallest towns, people are rising up in defense of their fundamental rights. And as President Trump said not long ago, “the fight for freedom [in Venezuela] has begun.” (Applause.)
We gather at a historic time. The United States is proud to stand with the Venezuelan people. I believe the day is coming when Venezuela will be free once more and when the Venezuelan people will reclaim their democracy and they will reclaim their birthright of libertad. (Applause.)
Make no mistake about it: The struggle in Venezuela is between dictatorship and democracy, but freedom has the momentum. Nicolás Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and Nicolás Maduro must go. (Applause.)
At President Trump’s direction, the United States was proud to be the first nation on Earth to recognize Interim President Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate President of Venezuela. (Applause.) And now, I’m proud to say, thanks to the President’s leadership, more than 50 nations have joined us in common cause.
As I’ve told President Guaidó when we met in Colombia in February, he and his duly-elected government and the National Assembly have our full support because the American people support the Constitution of Venezuela, we support the rule of law, and we recognize that Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship is destroying that once great and prosperous nation.
When the dictator came to power, six long years ago, he promised to deliver socialism. And sadly for the people of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro did just that.
As we gather here, Venezuela’s socialism has shrunk their economy by nearly half. More than 9 out of 10 people live in poverty, and the average Venezuelan has lost more than 20 pounds through deprivation and malnutrition. As I just heard from families a few short moments ago, thousands of Venezuelan children are starving at this very hour, and thousands of babies in hospitals across Venezuela are dying due to lack of basic medical care and treatment.
This rising desperation has fueled a mass exodus, the likes of which we’ve never seen in this hemisphere. More than 3 million Venezuelans have now abandoned their beloved country. And if things don’t get better, it’s estimated that another 2 million are expected to follow them out of the country before the year is over.
But for those who stay behind, it is a society of lawlessness, corruption, crime, and violence. Thieves in Venezuela don’t target banks; they target restaurants because of the lack of food. Vicious gangs and colectivos have turned the streets into literal warzones in many communities across the land. Venezuela now has the highest murder rate in the world, and more than 70 people are slaughtered every single day.
You know, my wife and I traveled to the region not long ago. We saw firsthand the hardship facing families who’ve fled the collapse of Venezuela. I’ll never forget the grandmother Karen and I met at a relief shelter in Colombia. It was Cartagena. She told me that it had gotten so bad in their small town that her grandchildren had to rise at four in the morning to get a ticket to buy a piece of bread at four in the afternoon. She said she’d had enough. And so she gathered up her four grandchildren and made the long trek across the country to flee to Colombia.
Then there was when we met with families at a Catholic Church in Manaus, Brazil. And, again, our hearts broke when we heard the real stories of what’s happening to the people of Venezuela. I heard them again today from families who gather with us.
But that day, I remember walking up to a father with two little boys standing beside him. And as the little boys were looking up at me with those soulful eyes, he told me how hard it was the many times that he had to come home and say to those little children, “We’re not going to eat today.” And when he said it, the two little boys nodded, affirming to me that they’d lived what he’d just described.
It is utterly unconscionable that Nicolás Maduro has blocked hundreds of tons of food and aid from reaching the impoverished people of Venezuela.
Last month, as the world watched, the dictator in Caracas literally danced while truckloads of aid and food and medicine burned and while innocent civilians were cut down by gunfire. For the suffering he has brought to the people of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro must go. (Applause.)
And I want to assure all of you: Venezuela’s plight has not just captured the attention of the President of the United States and people across the country, but it has stirred the United States of America to act.
Since the first days of this administration, America recognized the threat that Nicolás Maduro poses to the Venezuelan people and to nations across the region, including ours. Venezuela is a failed state. Failed states know no boundaries. Narco-trafficking, terrorists, criminal syndicates that emanate from a collapsing society in Venezuela endanger nations throughout our hemisphere, including ours.
And I want to assure you: Our administration has taken decisive action to stand with people of Venezuela as they seek to reclaim their freedom.
It’s been my honor to travel to Latin American five times, as Secretary Baker just alluded, to strengthen the coalition of support for a free Venezuela and strengthen the ties that bind freedom-loving people across this hemisphere.
Under President Trump’s leadership, I’m proud to report the United States has already provided nearly $200 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans, and we’ve staged more than 500 metric tons of humanitarian supplies in neighboring countries. (Applause.)
The heart and the generosity of the American people has been demonstrated in the efforts that we’ve shown and the efforts that private charities have flowed to the region. But the truth is, all of that aid that has been positioned outside the country has only reached suffering Venezuelans if they’re outside the country.
And so, at the President’s direction, the United States has also been working to cut off money from Maduro’s corrupt regime. We’ve imposing sanctions on more than 150 government officials and organizations that are loyal to the dictator in Caracas.
We’ve placed sanctions on Minerven — Venezuela’s state-owned gold-mining company; and on BANDES, the state-owned bank that operated as a personal slush fund for the dictator and his cronies. And we’re considering more sanctions on the financial sector in the days ahead.
And since oil is the lifeblood of that corrupt regime, the United States of America sanctioned Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PDVSA.
And today, we’re taking action against a vital source of the Maduro regime’s wealth. At the direction of President Donald Trump, the United States of America will sanction 34 vessels owned or operated by PDVSA, as well as 2 additional companies that transport Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba. (Applause.) Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people. (Applause.)
And those looking on should know, in the midst of all these actions, as President Trump has made clear: All options are on the table. We will not stand idly by while the Venezuelan people suffer under dictatorship and oppression. And Nicolás Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America.
Now, America will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition to democracy in Venezuela, and it remains our hope.
Next Wednesday, I’ll address the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Venezuela. And the United States will continue to urge nations around the world to reject Maduro’s failed regime and stand with the Venezuelan people to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis once and for all.
There can be no bystanders in the struggle for Venezuela’s freedom, and the United States today calls on every nation in this hemisphere and around the world to recognize Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate President of Venezuela and stand on the side of freedom. (Applause.)
Maduro’s tyranny must end and it must end soon. But as the Venezuelan people know, their oppressors do not act alone. And under President Trump, the United States has also taken action to stand up to those who have aided and abetted the dictatorship in Venezuela.
The truth is, the dictator has lost the support of his people, and he’s seen more than a thousand uniformed soldiers reject his leadership and rally to the banner of freedom. And the truth is, the only way he clings to power is with the help that he receives from communist Cuba. I heard as much from the First Lady of Venezuela just last week.
Cuba’s leaders are the real imperialists in the Western Hemisphere. (Applause.) The truth has to be told. For decades, Cuba has tried to create client states across this region. While normal countries export goods, Cuba exports tyranny and strong-arm tactics. Cuba’s influence has driven Venezuela’s failure, and the time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba. (Applause.)
That’s just one more reason why President Trump kept his word when he reversed the failed policies of the last administration toward the dictatorship in Havana. In the coming weeks, the United States will be taking even stronger action against Cuba. In this administration, I promise you, it will always be Que Viva Cuba Libre.
And so, while the United States will continue to hold accountable those responsible for the corruption and tyranny and suffering in Venezuela, I also want to assure you that America is focused on the future.
We look forward to the day when democracy is restored in Venezuela. And even now, the United States is already working hard to prepare plans with our international partners to help the Venezuelan people recover. And I promise you: Once Nicolás Maduro is gone, the United States and freedom-loving countries around the world will be there to help the Venezuelan people rebuild their nation. (Applause.)
Last week, we welcomed the First Lady of Venezuela, Fabiana Rosales, to the White House. I said to her then: We know that the Venezuelan people will never be intimidated, and neither will we. She’s a remarkable young woman, standing alongside her courageous husband. They both do Venezuela proud, and we are with them.
Earlier this week, I met six families whose loved ones are being held hostage by the Maduro regime. Those families told me how their loved ones had been thrown in jail on trumped up charges, as so many others have; how their court hearings had been canceled over a dozen times; how their loved ones were being deprived of food, medicine, and contact with their family like so many other political prisoners across Venezuela.
We actually have with us here today some of those same families. And I was honored to meet, a few minutes ago, with several brave Venezuelans who fled the Maduro regime and are now here in Houston. Their courage and the sacrifice that their families have faced for their stand for freedom, is an inspiration.
So I say to all of the families that are here and all those that are looking on, on President Trump’s behalf: Estamos con ustedes. (Applause.) We are with you.
As President Trump has said, we truly believe “a new day is coming in Latin America…in Venezuela and across the Western Hemisphere. Socialism is dying and liberty, prosperity, and democracy are being reborn.” And as President Trump assured, there is no turning back.
We’re gathered here today to stand for freedom. And it’s my great honor to stand in an institute and alongside a man who has served the cause of freedom with such great distinction. And this great institute will continue that tradition for generations to come.
Like Secretary James A. Baker and the Presidents he served, the President that I serve and I believe that liberty is the birthright of all humanity. But as we continue to stand and speak for freedom across this hemisphere, let’s also remember to speak about the need to ensure the vitality of freedom here at home.
In America, we believe in freedom — where every man and woman can live their lives according to the dictates of their conscience without fear or intimidation.
As George Washington wrote in his famous letter to the Hebrew Congregations in Newport, Rhode Island — and I quote — “the Government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, [and] requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens.” And it goes to the heart of who we are as Americans.
So as we gather here at Rice University — one of the great institutions of higher learning in America — we do well to focus on freedom — freedom across this hemisphere and our own.
Because the truth is, we’re living in a time in this country of growing support for socialism and a growing intolerance for diverse viewpoints, including on many college campuses across America. Speech codes, safe zones, and intolerance against people whose faith and economic philosophy are no longer considered fashionable are on the rise.
And so, as we reflect on the cause of freedom in this hemisphere, let me close with a word to the rising generation — those of you who feel drawn to the siren song of socialism: Be careful what you wish for.
Socialism is not the road to freedom. Socialism is the road to government control. And it grows in the soil of censorship.
The American people have every right to engage in peaceful protest. And we cherish that right. But once you say that some people should not be heard, once you say some should not be able to think or speak or believe in a certain way in the public square, you have left the road to freedom and you’re on the road to serfdom.
The people of this country know it doesn’t take courage to silence free speech; it takes courage to defend it. (Applause.)
My late father was a combat veteran who served in the Korean War. And he used to put it a little more plainly. Dad used to say, “I may disagree with everything you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.” (Applause.)
The essence of freedom, enshrined in our founding documents and enshrined in the heart of the American people, is the freedom to disagree, the freedom to air one’s opinions without fear or intimidation. That — as the Old Book says, that every man and woman shall sit under their own vine tree and under their own fig tree and “none shall make them afraid.”
As President Trump said in his State of the Union Address, “America was founded on liberty and independence, and not government coercion, domination, [or] control.” (Applause.)
And so I say to this rising generation: The moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment America ceases to be America. And for the sake of freedom, we must say, as the President said in his State of the Union Address, with one voice, “America will never be a socialist country.” (Applause.)
So thank you all for being here today. It’s a great honor to be able to address you.
You know, freedom springs from the hearts of people around the world, but it has always sprung from the hearts of people here in the New World. I believe freedom will continue to ring across this land and across this hemisphere of freedom. And I believe with all my heart that Venezuela will one day be free. For, in the words of Simón Bolivar, “A people that loves freedom will, in the end, be free.” (Applause.)
So to all the sons and daughters of Venezuela who are with us today, on behalf of all my fellow Americans, I say, “We’re with you.” And we will continue to stand with you until freedom is restored.
Know that you go with the support of the American people and with freedom-loving people all over the world. And I believe with all my heart that you also go with the author of freedom, who tells us, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today.” “For where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” That means freedom always wins. (Applause.)
So, with faith in that great promise — faith in all of us joined in this hemisphere of freedom, faith in the courage and strength of the Venezuelan people, the generosity and ideals of the American people — I believe with all my heart: The day is coming soon when Venezuela will once more be free and when her people will see a “new birth of freedom” in a nation reborn to libertad. (Applause.)
So God bless you. God bless the good people of Venezuela. And God bless America.
2:10 P.M. CDT