Last week, I traveled to Peru to represent the United States at the Eighth Summit of the Americas. My message there was simple: Now is the time for the nations of the Western Hemisphere to realize our destiny and truly become a “Hemisphere of Freedom.”
As President Trump said last year in Miami, the United States wins when the people of each country in our region “can live out their own dreams” in freedom. After all, free peoples trade with one another and work together to solve shared challenges. But when corruption and dictatorship exist, they endanger the prosperity and security not only in the nations where they take root, but across the wider region.
That’s why the United States stands with the people of Cuba and Venezuela — and stands up to their oppressors.
In Cuba, an aging communist dictatorship continues to deny its citizens their most fundamental rights. For more than half a century, the Castro regime has systematically sapped the wealth of a great nation and stolen the lives of a proud people.
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Last year, President Trump reversed the failed policy of the last administration. No longer will U.S. dollars fund Cuba’s military and intelligence services — the core of that despotic regime. Instead, the United States will support the Cuban people in their struggle for freedom. In this White House, it’s “¡Que Viva Cuba Libre!”
Cuba’s rulers have also sought to export their failed ideology across the wider region — most notably the corrupt regime in Venezuela.
Venezuela was once one of our hemisphere’s richest nations. It is now among the poorest. It was once a flourishing democracy, but after two decades of rule by Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has become a sad dictatorship.
In Peru, I met with courageous members of the Venezuelan opposition who have witnessed their country’s collapse firsthand. They described to me how Maduro has corroded Venezuela’s democracy and corrupted the upcoming so-called election.
They also told me about the heartbreaking humanitarian crisis their family, friends, and fellow citizens now face.
Today, nearly nine out of 10 Venezuelans live in grinding poverty, grocery stores are all but empty and food and daily necessities are often impossible to find. Major hospitals only have 5 percent of the basic supplies they need, threatening countless lives.
And every day, some 5,000 Venezuelans flee the land of their birth. It is the largest cross-border mass exodus in the history of the Western Hemisphere.
Today, Venezuela, essentially, is a failed state — and failed states know no borders.
As Venezuela continues to collapse, it will drive more illegal drug trafficking, with its murderous criminal consequences, ultimately reaching our own nation. It will drive more illegal migration, compromising our borders and damaging our economy. Ultimately, a failed state in Venezuela will endanger the well-being of the people of the United States.
President Trump has made it clear: We will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.
Our administration has already imposed strict financial sanctions on more than 50 current or former senior Venezuelan officials. We have also cut off the so-called “Petro” from the United States’ financial system.
At the Summit of the Americas, I announced that the United States will provide nearly $16 million in additional resources to support Venezuelans who have fled their homeland.
The United States, and freedom-loving nations across the world, stand ready to do more to support the Venezuelan people. But Maduro stands in the way. He refuses to allow humanitarian assistance because he claims that there is no humanitarian crisis — even as his people flee and starve and die.
At the Summit of the Americas, I thanked the many nations that have taken steps to support the Venezuelan people and isolate their oppressors. But I also called on the entire hemisphere to do much more. We must continue to take strong action until democracy is restored in Venezuela and the Venezuelan people reclaim their birthright of libertad.
The United States will continue to advance the cause of democracy and freedom across the region, including at the next Summit of the Americas in 2021, which we have offered to host.
We have much work to do. But with the courage of our peoples, with the conviction of our leaders and with confidence in God above, I believe we’ll make historic progress to become what we were always meant to be — a Hemisphere of Freedom.
Mike Pence is vice president of the United States.