BOGOTA, Colombia – Today, Senator Rick Scott spoke at the 2019 Concordia Americas Summit in Colombia on his commitment to ending Maduro’s ruthless dictatorship in Venezuela to bring a new day of freedom for all of Latin America.
Read Senator Scott’s remarks as prepared for delivery below.
It’s such an honor to be back in Bogota with such an incredible group of leaders from around the world.
I was just here a few weeks ago meeting with President Duque and other officials. We discussed the issue of narco-trafficking and our shared goal of freedom and democracy for the people of Venezuela. It’s been a distinct honor to get to know President Duque over the last few years.
As Governor of Florida, I had the honor of attending his inauguration. It was rainy, windy and chilly. Not exactly Florida weather. President Duque said it was “holy water.”
At the time, my focus as Governor was on getting Floridians jobs and increasing trade with Florida.
As a United States Senator, I want to help President Duque as Colombia continues to be the United States’ partner in helping the Venezuelan people and combatting the international drug crisis.
Since his inauguration, President Duque has taken strong measures to support freedom and democracy in Latin America, grow jobs for his citizens, and stop drug trafficking. He has been an invaluable ally during the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. Colombia has taken in so many refugees who are fleeing the oppression of the brutal Maduro regime.
And in less than a year, President Duque has intensified efforts on all fronts to contain the growth of illicit crops and to reduce drug supply and consumption. He has made great progress.
Between August 2018 and February 2019, the Colombian government eradicated 40,000 hectares of illicit crops, an average of nearly 6,000 hectares per month. This represents the highest monthly rate since the beginning of manual eradication.
The seizure of marijuana increased from 197 to 250 tons and the seizure of cocaine from 390 to 450 tons. In addition, from August 2018 to February 2019, the Colombian government seized the equivalent of 227 tons of cocaine hydrochloride.
These seizures represent losses for drug trafficking organizations of approximately 6.7 billion U.S. dollars.
In December, President Duque presented the “Camino al Futuro” plan, which, among other goals, commits to reducing the cultivation and production of cocaine by 50 percent by the year 2023.
President Duque’s efforts mean fewer drugs coming across the United States border and for that, I am grateful. Colombia is the lynchpin in our fight against narco-traffickers in the entire region.
Although President Duque’s fight has just begun, I know that Colombia and the United States will continue to work together so we can finally see a lasting reduction in this decades-old problem.
I also travelled to Cúcuta recently to visit the Venezuelan border. What I saw there was devastating. Absolutely devastating. I left Cúcuta heartbroken, but determined.
Venezuelan children walking for hours through dense forest, across rivers and over terrorist-controlled territory just to get to a school in Colombia for an education and a meal.
Mothers with young children coming to Cúcuta to get the only meal they’d eat for three days. I met a pregnant woman who was forced to sleep on the streets of Venezuela because she was homeless.
Think about that. I’m a father and a grandfather. Imagine having to look your 3 year old child or grandchild in the eyes and tell them that they’re not going to eat today because there’s no food.
The pain, the hunger, the devastation. I cannot believe any human being would do this to young children.
This is evil. And there’s one man responsible for it – Nicolas Maduro. This is obvious to most of us. Nicolas Maduro is carrying out a genocide on his people.
He’s starving his own people. Tens of thousands are dead. Millions have fled Venezuela, including almost 1.5 million refugees that have come into Colombia.
While the evil of Maduro is obvious to most of us, it’s not obvious to the leaders of Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, and shockingly even some politicians in my country who have defended Maduro’s regime.
There is no moral ambiguity – NONE – about what’s going on here. President Xi and President Putin are co-conspirators in the genocide of young children in Venezuela. They’re using the suffering of the Venezuelan people as an opportunity to gain an economic and military foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
The Castro Regime in Havana and the Ayatollah in Tehran are providing support to prolong the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
We – the United States and the community of freedom-loving countries around the world – must be clear-eyed about this.
If we do nothing, if Maduro stays in power in Venezuela, we will not only allow the murder of young children to continue, but we will also have a Syria on our doorstep.
Let me say this loud and clear: a Syria in the Western Hemisphere is not acceptable. The safe-harbor for our enemies in Venezuela represents a clear and present danger to the national security of the citizens of the United States and our allies in South and Central America.
Russia, China, Iran, Hezbollah, and others will have a base of operations for military activity in the Western Hemisphere. Already, Russia has started moving military assets into Venezuela and the Maduro Regime gladly accepts the help and support of international terrorist organizations.
Furthermore, the presence of our enemies will eventually destabilize every country in the region, creating a flood of migrants throughout Latin America and straight to the Southern border of the United States.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve advocated for increasing America’s military capacity in the region. We should pre-position military assets and consider using the military to deliver aid to the people of Venezuela and to support their fight for freedom and democracy.
We need to stop the flow of oil from Venezuela to Cuba by blockading Cuban ports.
Juan Guaido is the legitimate President of Venezuela. There is a government in waiting. It is a country rich in natural resources and with an economic foundation to thrive under the right leadership. All they need is the constitutional government that they deserve.
I speak regularly to President Trump and his advisors about the next steps the United States should take to address the crisis in Venezuela.
I’ll tell you what I tell them: Don’t blink. Don’t blink.
The uprising a few weeks ago may not have achieved the results we hoped for in our timeframe, but that should not deter us.
This is our time. We cannot abandon Venezuela or its people. We cannot allow the brutal dictator Nicolas Maduro to carry on his genocide of young children unquestioned and unchallenged.
And most importantly, we CANNOT allow Venezuela to turn into Syria. We cannot allow a clear and present national security threat to fester in our hemisphere.
We cannot allow the sacrifices made by the people of Colombia to support their Venezuelan brothers and sisters to go unnoticed.
NOW is the time to rid the civilized world of Nicolas Maduro and his genocide. NOW is the time to make Maduro a pariah. NOW is the time to act. We have a once in a generation opportunity here.
Don’t blink. Don’t blink. Keep up the fight. Do what we have to do to protect our hemisphere.
Thank you all for what you do. The United States stands with the people of Venezuela in their fight for freedom and democracy. And we stand with the people of Colombia who have shown incredible strength and courage in the face of adversity.
Our interests are aligned. We are in this fight together.
We stand united in our common goal – freedom and democracy for the region, and security for the hemisphere.
Agradezco el liderazgo del Presidente Duque y la gente de Colombia en la lucha por libertad y democracia en Venezuela y América Latina.
Maduro y sus matones tienen que salir AHORA. No podemos permitir que más gente, que más niños, mueran en las manos de un brutal dictador.
No hay otra palabra para describir lo que Maduro le hace a su gente que genocidio. No podemos permitir esto.
Juntos, debemos luchar por un nuevo día de libertad en nuestro hemisferio.
Seguiré trabajando con el Presidente Duque y la comunidad internacional para restaurar la libertad y democracia en toda América Latina.
Thank you, all and God bless you.