It’s interesting; when we decided to do this Arria-formula meeting, it was very much because when we held it back in May, we had all hoped for a better turnout. We had seen all the things that were happening in Venezuela. We saw it being reduced to the point of less democratic, more abusive. We saw the people hurting, and so that is the reason we decided to have a follow-up meeting today to continue the pressure on the government to right the wrongs that they had had happen.
What we have since found is we received pressure from regional partners not to have this meeting. This goal is not to degrade anyone. This is not to humiliate a region. This is only to lift up the region. This is a region that has many strong countries, and when you’ve got one right there that’s the weak one, it makes everyone look bad. And so that’s the reason we think it was important.
But what was more telling was to see my Security Council friends that fell to the Venezuelan pressure to not attend at all. And I will tell you that is proof to me that all of the issues that we’re fighting for the Venezuelan people – all of the wrongs that we see – the fact that the government would go so far as to try and get people not to show up to a meeting is guilt. And that’s unfortunate.
We are here today to discuss the situation in Venezuela. It is one of the most breathtakingly tragic situations in the world. Here you have a country that by all measures should be in a strong condition. It is a country with vast natural resources and economic potential. A country with a democratic experience. A country that sits in a region that has made remarkable progress in moving away from dictatorships and toward freedom.
And yet, all of that potential is being squandered by a government that cares only for preserving its own power, rather than promoting the freedom and welfare of its people. Through violence, massive repression, corruption, and financial mismanagement, the Maduro regime is showing its true colors as a dictatorship. It is denying the voice of its own people by imprisoning political opposition, rejecting its own democratically elected National Assembly, and putting forth sham elections that everyone understands are phony.
The Venezuelan people desperately want to control their own destinies. They know what a real democracy is like. They see it in their neighboring countries. Not only is this march against democracy denying the Venezuelan people their rights, in many cases it is also denying them their health and their very lives.
Deivis Perez is the face of Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuela. He died in an understaffed, under-resourced children’s hospital in Caracas this summer. Deivis entered the hospital for simple dialysis but contracted sepsis from the unsanitary conditions. As CNN reported, he died covered with burning sores, his 14-year-old body shrunk to that of a seven-year-old. Deivis Perez is part of a humanitarian tragedy occurring in Venezuela. He died in a health care system that forces mothers to give birth on the floor and has severe shortages of medicine and supplies. Infectious diseases that had been declared eliminated in Venezuela for 25 years are surging. Children are dying from malnutrition. But the story of Deivis Perez and the system that killed him are only part of the reason that we’re here today.
The situation unfolding in Venezuela is more than a human tragedy. The crisis in Venezuela today poses a direct threat to international peace and security. Venezuela is an increasingly violent narco-state that threatens the region, the hemisphere, and the world.
The Venezuelan people are suffering under quadruple-digit inflation. Not long ago Venezuela had the highest GDP per capita in the region. Today, families struggle to live on just about eight dollars a month. The result is that Venezuela’s neighbors are paying the bill for the violence and poverty the corrupt Maduro regime has inflicted on its people.
In the last decade, nearly 2.5 million Venezuelans have left their homeland in search of viable living conditions. A staggering half a million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia and neighboring countries in search of safety, security, and a better life.
We are here today to discuss the tragedy that is Venezuela. More importantly, we are here to discuss what we can do together going forward to help address this crisis. The Maduro regime is engaged in a desperate attempt to win back some of its completely shattered international legitimacy. We must not give the regime legitimacy until the regime’s actions merit it. And they surely do not merit it now. The reality is just the opposite.
I have used and will continue to use the convening power of the United Nations to draw attention to this crisis. When we raised this issue under “any other business” in May, we told the Council that a failure to respect human rights is a recipe for disaster. We provided examples from other countries, like Syria, South Sudan, and Burma, where regimes have oppressed their own people, and those countries subsequently erupted into conflict. We warned that Venezuela was headed down the same path.
In June, in the Human Rights Council, we heard from Venezuelans who described systematic and widespread violations of human rights under the Maduro regime. We had warned that if the situation deteriorated further, we’d bring the behavior of the Maduro regime back to this Council. Unfortunately, since that time, the crisis in Venezuela has grown far worse, and that is why we are back here today.
That said, we are encouraged that many nations and organizations have refused to close their eyes to this crisis. The European Union has just announced an arms embargo, laying the groundwork for further sanctions. Canada has also targeted regime officials for sanctions. We applaud, as well, the efforts of the Organization of American States and the Lima Group to draw attention to Maduro’s crimes. Their leadership is a vital part of addressing this crisis.
As for the United States, we have just issued another round of sanctions against those who have enabled the Maduro regime to continue its dictatorial policies. We continue to call the Venezuelan government to provide humanitarian support to the Venezuelan people. In addition, we call for immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners, as well as free and fair elections. We call for the restoration of the legitimately elected National Assembly and its appointed Supreme Court nominees. We demand respect for the human rights of all Venezuelans. We urge our partners to do the same. We take this action to send a strong message to the Maduro regime: we are watching you; we are not fooled.
Our commitment to the Venezuelan people does not end with this session. We meet today to discuss peace and security. But at the heart of all this Council does is people – people like Deivis Perez. We will continue to sound the alarm, raise awareness, and take action to honor his memory.
Our message to the Venezuelan people today is not to give up on hope for a better future for yourselves and for your families. We refuse to give up hope and will not stop fighting to get your voices heard.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. A life of freedom, dignity, security, and prosperity is still possible.
And to those who are having trouble imagining that future today, know this: the world is increasingly united in its efforts to restore respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Venezuelan people. Justice is coming for Venezuela.