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Remarks by Acting Secretary Shanahan at a Bilateral Meeting With Colombian Vice President Ramírez

May 7, 2019
Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick M. Shanahan; Colombian Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez

ACTING SECRETARY OF DEFENSE PATRICK SHANAHAN: All right.  Well, welcome.  It's a pleasure to be with you, welcome you to the Pentagon.

The United States and Colombia share a special relationship. As leaders in the region, our two countries have enhanced our capacity and capabilities through a robust military partnership. Today, we will discuss the crisis in Venezuela and how, as regional partners, we can work with those in the Venezuelan military and leadership alongside the Venezuelan people's democratic movement.

Our hemisphere's security is at stake. And rest assured, the United States will continue to keep all options on the table to ensure regional security. We're also mindful of the growing humanitarian crisis brought on by years of mismanagement by Maduro.  To date, the United States, has provided more than $256 million to the region in humanitarian and development assistance.

The United States will continue to support our neighbors who are over-strained by Venezuelans fleeing the illegitimate Maduro regime and its self-inflicted crisis. This symbolizes our enduring support and commitment to resolving the situation through regional unity. Madam Vice President, thank you for your partnership.  I look forward to discussing the way ahead in today's meeting.  We will continue to (inaudible) challenges together.  I welcome your remarks.

COLOMBIAN VICE PRESIDENT MARTA LUCÍA RAMÍREZ:  Thank you so much, Mr. Secretary. (Inaudible) sign of our common values, common future, we believe in our country, of course, and our government.  We believe in institutions, we believe in a democracy, and that's why we feel so pleased to be here with you, with your team. So, thank you very much for this very warm, very nice welcome.  And let me say, we in Colombia, we have the same concerns that you have that you have explained and mentioned.

We have the concerns not only because of Venezuela. We have the concerns about the meaning of a criminal regime which is in parlance, which is in -- in public functions without being a government.  Because what is clear for us is that they are not a government elected.  They didn't take power through democracy, they took power through force.  And they are in power not only because the support of some of the Venezuelan military, but also because of the support from abroad.

For us in Colombia, this is an issue of security and it's an issue also of stability, an issue of the future -- the future of our democracy, of our values. For us, this is something serious because it's not a short-term view about the problem, it's a long-term view about the stability of our democracy and institutions not only for Colombia but for the entire region. So, that's why we always thank the United States for support. For many years, we have been working together with your institutions.

This government, previous governments, a bipartisan supporting Congress, in order to strengthen Colombian democracy, Colombian institutions. We have this common goal which is defeat the narco-traffic, to defeat all the sources of income for the criminal groups that have affected us and are affecting also the stability in our region. We know that, unfortunately for everybody in Venezuela right now, have this criminal regime and they are giving protection to members of (inaudible) members of former FARC guerrillas, to members of terrorist groups from different countries, and of course they are not protecting.  

They are having businesses of narcotics and illegal mining and this crazy mix of really bad things for us and democracy. That's why we are here to work with you, with your government, with your institutions to have a long-term strategy -- sustainable strategy in order, again, to the future, but also to guarantee the future for our democracy in our country and our region.

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Thank you.

Q:  Mr. Secretary?


Q:  Why did you decide to send the Comfort back to assist people of Venezuela and what will it do to further protect or bolster Guaido’s role there?

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes, sure.  Maybe some -- some broad comments on Venezuela since we're here today.  So first of all, this is part of an ongoing -- part of an ongoing planning that we're doing here in the department.  I'll talk about the -- the USS Comfort detail behind our plans.  It's not about sending a ship down.  You know, you have to get doctors and nurses, and so it's very highly choreographed in terms of the amount of people that you have to put in place.  And so that gives you a sense of the -- the planning that we're doing.  

But you'll recall last week with the all the events, it's -- it's been a very fluid situation. I had Admiral Faller here from SOUTHCOM and we -- we spent the better part of Friday being very well coordinated and on our plans within the U.S. government as well as making adjustments. This meeting was always planned because we want to do is to continue to refine our efforts, not just on a humanitarian basis, which is USS Comfort, but also our work with Colombia. Today we'll be talking about Maduro's military, which is an important subject and very much more important, it’s part of the military that's the future of Venezuela.  

And we'll also talk about the illicit drug activity, some of the humanitarian conditions we have to put in place for the future. And then what we can do together to make this really a regional effort, the message I want to make sure comes across is that we are very well coordinated and disciplined and have a broad setup of contingency plans. Very hard to predict the future, right? And so for every single option you want to have a plan. And I think we'll do some good coordination and communication today and just really kind of validate the work that's in front of us. I would -- I would maybe just kind of add that there are a lot of plates we're spinning right now in the department. I think the events over the weekend with North Korea, it demonstrates that the world is a very dynamic place.  

We're very focused. There's no change to, you know, our plans for diplomacy, but our resources, our troops, our posture remains the same.  And as you can see, the situation emerging with Iran. And what I would offer there is that we're -- we're very prudent and we're very measured. But our focus remains the same, combat the clandestine insurgency, rebuild security in Iraq. We're very mindful of the environment and we have credible reporting, so what you see is us getting in the right posture for that dynamic environment.  

Q:  Will there be additional security measures taken, such as additional Marines sent to the embassies, or a stronger force posture in some of the forward operating locations?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  We'll do really -- take prudent measures.  You know, and part -- part of this is -- and you -- you know how I feel about this.  Whenever I talk about troop movement or -- or timing.  But we're proactive. And maybe just while I have you all here -- you got a couple more minutes?  Yes?

But just -- we're doing the things I described on…on Saturday I’ll go down to the border, because we still have a lot of activities going on there. Tomorrow I'll be up on the Hill because we need to get our hurricane supplemental through, and then it's budget season, so we'll be talking about the importance of the budget and the implementation of a National Defense Strategy.  So if there's any one message it is that we're very good here in the department of being able to manage many activities concurrently, and I think what you'd find here it’s very (inaudible).

Q:  Can you talk about the -- any additional help in terms of financial aid to Colombia to tackle the drug cultivation problem?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Yes, I mean, we're -- we're going to talk everything from how we help each other in terms of resources, whether they're -- they're people, training, money, the equipment, foreign military sales, so it's a busy, busy agenda and we only have a short period of time, so how about we call that good?  

Q:  Besides the Comfort are there any other military options on the table for Venezuela?  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  Well, the -- it's a full table.  

Q:  And when is the -- 


SEC. SHANAHAN:  I think there's to be an announcement at 3:00 o'clock today, is that right, Joe?  

STAFF:  3:00 o'clock, yes.  

SEC. SHANAHAN:  OK.  All right.  Thank you.  

STAFF:  All right.