Remarks at 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas

Western Hemisphere: Remarks at 48th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas

John J. Sullivan
Acting Secretary of State
Washington, DC
May 8, 2018

MR PALMIERI: So it’s my honor – it’s my honor today to introduce our next speaker, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. When we speak about our ambitious engagement in the Western Hemisphere, Deputy Secretary Sullivan has been at the forefront. His – during his tenure, he has engaged robustly and effectively advanced U.S. interests in the region. Most recently, he accompanied – excuse me – Vice President Pence to the Eighth Summit of the Americas in Peru, advancing our top priorities: to promote democracy in Venezuela, to put in place strong measures to stop corruption, and to promote economic opportunities across the hemisphere.

In Lima, he met with Caribbean leaders and underscored U.S. commitment to enhance engagement with that region under the Department’s Caribbean 2020 strategy. He also met with U.S. industry and private sector leaders, highlighting our regional economic priorities and support for women’s empowerment. In June 2017, Deputy Secretary Sullivan also led the U.S. delegation to the OAS General Assembly in Cancun, Mexico, underscoring our commitment to and recognizing the important work of the Organization of American States.

At every turn, Deputy Secretary Sullivan, whether in private meetings or public fora, has challenged regional leaders and in the OAS. He has challenged them and us not just to speak out against Venezuelan President Maduro’s behavior and to stand up for democratic governance and respect for human rights, but also for the region to find real-world, practical solutions – solutions that can bring peace, security, and social harmony to all Venezuelans.

In short, on democracy, on economic growth, and on core U.S. interests in the region, we have no finer champion. Please join me in welcoming Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. (Applause.)

DEPUTY SECRETARY SULLIVAN: Thank you, Paco, for that kind introduction. Thank you, Eric, as well. Good afternoon, everyone. I’m delighted to be here and to welcome you to the State Department for the 48th Washington Conference on the Americas.

I want to start by thanking the Council of the Americas – Susan, thank you – for their great work in pulling together this conference, as well as their many efforts to advocate for fair trade and promote fundamental freedoms in the Western Hemisphere.

The United States is proud to participate in this year of robust engagement in the Americas, with the successful Summit of the Americas hosted by Peru last month, the upcoming OAS General Assembly in Washington, the 44th G7 Summit in Canada, and the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires later this month.

Our engagement in the Americas, of course, is not a recent phenomenon. Since the birth of our republic, the United States has had strong relationships in the Western Hemisphere, bonds built on geography, shared values, and robust economic ties. We strive to coexist peacefully and to do so in a mutually beneficial way.

Security is the most important area in which we must cooperate, as it underpins the prosperity and good governance we seek to create and to maintain. Transnational criminal organizations, including the violence they perpetuate and the illegal drugs they traffic, are among the most dangerous security threats to the United States and our partners. We will continue to rely on our strong relationships to battle these transnational criminal organizations, working together with our partners to disrupt illicit networks and those trafficking routes that lead into the United States.

Of course, in doing so, we must acknowledge our role in the United States as a major market for illicit drug consumption and the need for cooperation to combat these challenges. And we’re taking steps to address the problematic demand side of the equation. In 2016, 64,000 Americans died of overdose. When people descend the slippery slope of consuming illegal drugs, they are not just gambling away their own futures and potentially destroying the lives – their lives and the lives of those around them. The destructive cycle of drug addiction fuels the violence and criminality that destroys entire communities in source and in transit countries.

In turn, this violence perpetuates the crisis we see on our borders with illegal immigration. That cycle needs to stop. President Trump is committed to putting an end to this cycle and has challenged us to be the generation to put an end to the drug epidemic. The President declared our opioid crisis a public health emergency, and has subsequently launched an initiative to stop opioids abuse. In doing so, we’re working with our international partners to take on this challenge.

One of our strongest partnerships is with Mexico, and that bond will remain strong. In December, we convened with Mexico our second meeting of the cabinet-level Strategic Dialogue on Disrupting Transnational Criminal Organizations. We discussed joint strategic efforts to disrupt these groups by attacking their business model, prioritizing efforts against drug production, and preventing cross-border movements of drugs, cash, and weapons. We must deny these criminal networks access to our markets and dry up their sources of illicit revenue. Through the Merida Initiative, we work with Mexico to support their efforts to improve security, strengthen the rule of law, and promote greater respect for human rights.

Our coordination with Mexico is complemented by the U.S. strategy for Central America, a comprehensive plan to address security, governance, and economic development challenges faced throughout the region. The U.S. strategy for Central America also reinforces the plan of the Alliance for Prosperity, the reform initiative of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. As Paco mentioned, our Caribbean 2020 strategy is increasing private sector investment in the Caribbean, promoting Caribbean energy security, and building resilience to natural disasters. The Caribbean Basin Security Initiative seeks to enhance maritime interdictions, build institutions, counter corruption, and foster cooperation to protect our shared borders from the impact of transnational crime.

Colombia is also a strong partner in the region and we continue to support its efforts to implement the peace accord with the FARC that ended a 52-year war. Unfortunately, from 2013 to 2016, coca cultivation in Colombia surged 134 percent and cocaine production by over 200 percent. At the U.S.-Colombia High-Level Dialogue on March 1st, the United States and Colombia agreed to expand counternarcotics cooperation over the next five years to reduce Colombia’s estimated cocaine production and coca cultivation to 50 percent of current levels by 2023. While we are proud to work and will continue to work closely with Colombia, we also urge that government to do more to reverse the alarming growth in coca cultivation and cocaine production.

At the regional level, we support initiatives in the OAS’ International Drug Control Commission to disrupt the illicit drug supply and curb the regional demand for drugs.

Threats to the hemisphere occur on a number of other complex fronts, requiring coordinated and sophisticated responses. Whether building capacity to counter cyber threats, supporting demining in Colombia, or combating trafficking in persons, the United States is committed to being the security partner of choice for the Americas in the years ahead.

When we can uphold security, we maintain an essential condition for prosperity. The numbers indicate just how deep our economic relationship in this hemisphere is and how important it is.

The United States is the top trading partner for over half of the 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere. Annually, we trade $1.8 trillion in goods and services with the hemisphere, supporting millions of jobs and leading to an $8 billion surplus in goods and services in 2017. As many of you know, that’s a statistic that the President keeps careful track of.

Underpinning our economic engagement is respect for the rule of law and shared values. Corruption both undermines and corrodes the confidence our citizens have in democratic institutions.

As Vice President Pence said during the Summit of the Americas in Lima, corruption “is a vitally important issue that bears upon the long-term prosperity as well as the well-being of the people of the hemisphere… Corruption emboldens vicious criminals and endangers public safety…For we know as corruption grows, freedom and prosperity wither.”

The United States will not stand for corrupt practices abroad that we would find unacceptable here at home. For more than 40 years, we have stood behind strict rules that bar Americans and American business from bribing any foreign official to secure an improper advantage. Our laws seek to impose strict penalties on those who step across that line.

Honest businesspeople from every part of the world wish to play by the rules. They don’t want to pay bribes or bend the rules. I know it is the wish of every company represented here today to be able to operate in an environment where corruption has no place. Indeed, that’s our hope and our ultimate goal. It’s our nation’s respect for democratic accountability, and our commitment to transparency in business, that make us the better economic partner and the international partner of choice for the region.

Unlike China and Russia, the United States does not – does not approach our partners with a purely transactional mindset. Rather, we work to sustain our valuable partnerships with mutual respect and shared principles. Our core values and determination to strengthen the rule of law enable businesses to flourish, private enterprise to ignite, and jobs to grow.

Citizens across the Americas have demonstrated increased intolerance for corruption, and the region’s institutions are responding. Recent steps taken against corruption in Guatemala and Peru – as well as the leadership shown by Brazilian prosecutors and judges – are very impressive.

Hemispheric leaders have recognized the dangers that corruption poses to our democracies and economies since the first Summit of the Americas, and it’s why we have the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption.

The 2018 Summit of the Americas in Lima was significant because of its singular focus on corruption, relative to prior summits. The leaders’ declaration, the “Lima Commitment,” illustrates our resolve to take concrete action to combat corruption.

The United States will be steadfast in pursuing these commitments. We will work with other governments in the hemisphere to put the promise of Lima into practice.

Finally, we must keep working together to ensure that the people in this hemisphere can live according to democratic values.

Over the last century, the Americas have largely transformed into a region of vibrant and peaceful democracies. Seven Latin American countries will hold presidential elections in 2018, including Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

While most of the region enjoys democratic rule, a few outliers – Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela – continue to undermine the region’s shared vision for effective democratic governance as enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

The United States remains committed to championing freedom and to standing with the people of Venezuela and Cuba in their struggle to achieve the liberty they deserve. In Nicaragua, we condemn the violence perpetrated by security forces and groups tied to the Ortega government against peaceful protestors, and support a broad, inclusive national dialogue that addresses victims’ demands for justice and restores Nicaragua’s democratic institutions.

We look to our partners – including governments and civil society organizations – to join us in speaking up whenever and wherever the hemisphere’s shared democratic principles come under attack.

Right now, democracy has been eviscerated by a dictator in Venezuela.

The United States supports a return to Venezuela’s democratic constitutional order. Our goal is a peaceful, democratic transition led by the Venezuelan people. We support the Venezuelan people in their sovereign right to elect representatives through free, fair, and transparent elections. We join the democratic nations of the world in standing by the Venezuelan people as they seek the stable and prosperous democracy they deserve.

Western Hemisphere leaders used the Summit of the Americas to address the most pressing democratic challenges facing our hemisphere; chief among them the crisis in Venezuela. The United States was pleased to join 15 partners in issuing a Declaration on Venezuela at the Summit, in which we called on the Venezuelan Government to hold a free, fair, and transparent democratic process; free its political prisoners; and allow the participation of all political actors. And we affirmed that the planned elections for May 20 fail to meet such conditions and, as such, cannot be considered legitimate.

Finally, we expressed our collective support for Venezuela’s national assembly, committed to working with the OAS to promote actions that restore democratic institutions, and voiced our concern for the growing number of Venezuelans forced to leave their country due to this crisis.

The declaration issued in Lima urges the United Nations and the OAS to implement a humanitarian assistance program to address the shortage of basic necessities in Venezuela and the manifest suffering of the Venezuelan people. The declaration emphasized the importance of the international community’s support for the economic recovery of Venezuela once democracy and the constitutional order have been restored.

The Maduro regime’s brutal and corrupt rule has caused approximately 5,000 Venezuelans to flee the land of their birth every day. Earlier you heard Ambassador Haley say that approximately 1.5 Venezuelans have fled to other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean since 2014 and another outflow of 1.7 million people is projected in 2018. These refugees are now in Colombia, Brazil, and nearly – Chile, and nearly every other country in our region.

President Trump has made it abundantly clear: The United States will not stand by idly as Venezuela crumbles and its people suffer. Today, I’m pleased to announce an additional $18.5 million in bilateral assistance for the Government of Colombia’s efforts to address the influx of Venezuelan refugees seeking safety. Pending congressional approval, this USAID funding – and I’m happy to have our USAID administrator here with us, Ambassador Mark Green – will support mobile health units to attend to the needs of the impacted population, a school feeding program, and a registry system to better access evolving needs.

This funding is in addition to the more than $21 million in U.S. humanitarian assistance already announced to support the regional response to the Venezuela crisis, including $16 million in aid announced at the Summit of the Americas in March.

The suffering of the Venezuelan people is extraordinary. A heartbreaking survey found that in the previous three months over 60 percent of Venezuelans said they woke up hungry because they did not have enough money to buy food. The average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds of body weight in 2017. And now the regime is shamelessly using sustenance as a tool for social control, political coercion, and votes.

It’s well past time for Nicolas Maduro to open Venezuela to international aid. Meanwhile, the United States will continue to use all diplomatic and economic tools to support the Venezuelan people’s effort to restore democracy and return to prosperity.

Yesterday, the administration declared that the upcoming vote in Venezuela should be suspended until Maduro holds a free, fair, transparent election that gives Venezuelan people the democratic choices they deserve. We’ve imposed strict financial sanctions on more than 50 current or former senior Venezuelan officials. We also sanctioned the so-called Petro cryptocurrency protecting unwitting investors from Maduro’s latest fraud. We will not allow the Maduro regime to use our financial system to enjoy corrupt gains. We have sanctions in place to pressure those in the regime who are most responsible for the gross abuses we have witnessed. And yesterday we added three more names to the list.

Vice President Pence announced that the United States has designated three Venezuelans with direct ties to the Maduro regime as narcotic kingpins. We have frozen their assets and blocked their access to our nation so they can no longer poison our people with their deadly drugs.

Today, I also want to repeat what Vice President Pence urged all of the OAS nations yesterday. Every nation must cut Venezuela’s corrupt leaders from laundering money through our financial system. Every nation must enact visa restrictions that prevent Venezuela’s leaders from entering our countries. And finally, every nation must vote at the next general assembly of the OAS in June to suspend Venezuela from that august institution.

These actions will support and defend our shared democratic principles. And as Ambassador Haley stressed earlier today, staying true to our principles will ensure that the Western Hemisphere remains the hemisphere of freedom.

The governments of our region must continue working together to help the Venezuelan people reclaim their freedom, restore their democracy, and build a new future. We will continue to look to the declarations and commitments made at the Summit of the Americas to guide our engagement in the hemisphere. With your help and your partnership, we will continue to work to create a hemisphere that is ever more secure, prosperous, and democratic.

So thank you again for having me here today to talk about some of our priorities for the hemisphere, and please accept my best wishes for continued success in this conference. Thank you. (Applause.)