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Pence details US stances on Venezuela in speech at Baker Institute

Courtesy Jeff Fitlow, Rice University

By Elizabeth Myong     4/6/19 5:50pm

Vice President Mike Pence delivered a message of hope regarding the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela in a speech at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy on Friday.

“The president asked me to be here today to show our unwavering commitment to a free Venezuela,” Pence said. “For far too long, the Venezuelan people have suffered under the heavy hand of oppression, but now there’s hope. Hope is springing forth everyday in Venezuela.” 

Moments before Pence went on stage to speak, Venezuelan ambassador Carlos Vecchio stood up and cheered, “Viva Venezuela!” In response, audience members, many of whom were Venezuelan clapped and chanted “Viva!” while rising to their feet. 

Pence said the administration of President Donald Trump is committed to overcoming current president Nicolás Maduro’s rule. 

“As Trump said not so long ago, the fight for freedom in Venezuela has begun,” Pence said. “I believe the day is coming when Venezuela will be free once more and when the Venezuelan people reclaim democracy and reclaim their birthright of libertad.” 

Pence said the Trump administration continues to support interim president Juan Guaidó. 

“Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power and Nicolás Maduro must go,” he said, which was met by cheers from the crowd. “At Trump’s direction, the United States was proud to be the first nation with the honor to recognize interim President Juan Guaidó as the only legitimate president of Venezuela.” 

Citing the failures of Maduro’s leadership, Pence addressed the numerous afflictions of the Venezuelan people who are suffering in “a society of lawlessness, corruption, crime and violence.”  

“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,” he said. 

Pence said that circumstances are dire with the Venezuelan economy cut nearly in half, nine out of 10 people living in poverty, the malnutrition and deprivation of the people that has caused the average Venezuelan to lose 20 lbs, and the “mass exodus” of more than three million people so far and an additional two million projected by the end of 2019. 

Pence said the Trump administration has taken action in support of the Venezuelan people. He said the administration has already given $200 million in aid for displaced Venezuelans and placed over 500 metric tons of humanitarian supplies in countries neighboring Venezuela. 

He said the Trump administration is also enforcing sanctions to strategically target Maduro’s finances.

Pence said the U.S. has placed sanctions on more than 150 governmental officials and organizations that have been loyal to Maduro. Sanctions have been placed on state-owned companies like Minerven (a gold mining company), Bandes (a bank that was used as a slush fund by “the dictator in Caracas”) and PDVSA (a natural gas company). 

However, Pence said the administration is increasing the number of sanctions. 

“At the direction of Trump, the United States of America will sanction 34 vessels owned or operated by PDVSA, as well as two additional companies that transport Venezuelan crude oil to Cuba. Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people,” Pence said to loud applause. 

He then said the U.S.plans to take action in order to support the Venezuelan people, issuing a firm warning to Maduro. 

“All options are on the table,” he said. “We will not stand idly by while the Venezuelan people suffer under dictatorship and oppression. And Maduro would do well not to test the resolve of the United States of America.” 

Pence was also adamant in condemning Cuba’s influence in the region. 

“While normal countries export goods, Cuba exports tyranny and strongarm tactics,” he said. “Cuba’s influence has driven Venezuela’s failure and the time has come to liberate Venezuela from Cuba.” 

But Pence said he is hopeful for a “peaceful transition” and will be speaking at the United Nations Security Council next Wednesday about Venezuela. He presented a message of solidarity to the Venezuelan refugees who fled Maduro’s regime and their families. 

“On President Trump’s behalf, ‘Estamos con ustedes.’ We are with you,” Pence said.

“Freedom at Home”

Pence’s speech then took a more domestic focus as he insisted that the country “remember to speak about the need to ensure the vitality of freedom at home.” He said Rice University is a prime location to have a conversation about the need to protect freedom with the growing ideological polarization. 

“The truth is in this country we’re living in a time of growing support for socialism and a growing intolerance for diverse viewpoints, including across many college campuses across America,” he said. 

In line with Trump’s executive order to protect free speech on college campuses two weeks ago, Pence said students should work to maintain an open dialogue. 

“Speech codes, safe zones, intolerance against people whose faith and economic philosophy which are no longer considered fashionable are on the rise,” Pence said.

Pence said he wanted to offer some advice to “the rising generation”. 

“Those of you who feel drawn to the siren song of socialism, be careful what you wish for,” he said. “Socialism is not the road to freedom. Socialism is the road to government control and it grows in the soil of censorship.” 

He said the rising support for socialism in the U.S. would be a force that would impede rather than aid freedom. 

“As Trump said in his State of the Union address, America was founded on liberty and independence and not government coercion, domination or control and so I say to this rising generation, the moment America becomes a socialist country is the moment America ceases to be America,” he said. “For the sake of freedom, we must say as the president said in his state of the Union address America will never be a socialist country.” 

Pence then said that Americans should be careful not to silence opposing viewpoints.

“Now 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 people should not be able to think or speak or believe in a certain way in the public sphere, you’ve left the road to freedom and you’re on the road to serfdom,” he said. “The people of this country know it doesn’t take courage to silence free speech, it takes courage to defend it.” 

To conclude his speech, Pence said he was hopeful for a free Venezuela. 

“I believe in all my heart that you go with the author of freedom who tells us, ‘Do not be afraid,” he said. ‘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.”

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