Acting Administrator John Barsa’s Remarks at Georgetown University Event on Innovation for the Venezuela Response

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Hello everyone, I’m honored to be here with you all today.

It’s a pleasure to participate in this important event alongside Mauricio Claver-Carone, the new president of the IDB. Mauricio, congratulations again on your election to this critical role. The IDB is fortunate to have you as their President, and this is a win for the people of the Americas.

Thank you to Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service for hosting us.

Venezuela is experiencing the worst humanitarian, political, and economic crisis in its history. By now, we all know the situation.

There are widespread shortages of food, medicine, and fuel. Seven million people inside Venezuela are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Nearly 5.5 million Venezuelans are living in neighboring countries because they’ve fled Maduro’s crisis. People are resorting to getting water out of sewers and food out of garbage cans.

This isn’t the result of a natural disaster or a war. Responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of the illegitimate Maduro regime, whose years of corruption, repression, and ineptitude have led to Venezuela’s collapse.

And yet, instead of stepping aside and letting the country recover—or at the very least, allowing the international community to help—Maduro and his cronies constrain humanitarian access and threaten humanitarian and health workers.

Humanitarian partners have had difficulty legally registering, obtaining staff visas, and gaining safe access to populations in need. These issues make it extremely difficult for them to respond safely and at the scale required to meet the multitude of urgent needs.

With so much suffering inside Venezuela—suffering that is only intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic—the regime’s actions are unconscionable.

But they’re not surprising. We only need to look at last month’s report by the UN’s Independent Fact Finding Mission to Venezuela to see the lengths to which Maduro will go to cling to power.

The report, which is more than 400 pages long, details case after case of wanton human rights abuses. Rape, torture, and false imprisonment—terrible acts committed by the regime against the Venezuelan people.

The Fact Finding Mission concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that some of the acts detailed in the report amount to crimes against humanity, and that high-level regime officials were complicit.

It’s shocking—and criminal—that this is happening today in our part of the world.

The United States has not, and will not, turn a blind eye to the suffering of the Venezuelan people.

Addressing the humanitarian needs caused by the illegitimate Maduro regime continues to be one of our highest global priorities. In the immediate term, we are providing more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian, development, and health assistance inside Venezuela and in 17 neighboring countries. Of this assistance, more than $1 billion is immediate, life-saving humanitarian assistance.

USAID and the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration support a network of international and non-governmental organizations to provide food, emergency health care, and protection assistance for vulnerable people. Our assistance also supports clean water, sanitation, and hygiene.

We’re helping neighboring governments and communities to address the medium- and long-term effects of the crisis by strengthening education and health systems, protecting human rights, providing access to justice, and generating employment opportunities.

In fact, Secretary of State Pompeo visited a shelter in Brazil last month to shine a spotlight on the vital work of selfless humanitarians that the United States supports as part of the Venezuela crisis response.

But all the assistance in the world will not end this crisis. Only real political change will do that.

That’s why we’re proud to stand with the forces of democracy in Venezuela, led by Interim President Juan Guaidó, the interim government, the National Assembly, and civil society.

We applaud the bravery of all Venezuelans who stand for democracy while facing the very real threat of heinous acts of reprisal. Venezuelans need the world’s support and solidarity now more than ever, especially now that Maduro intends to carry out sham parliamentary elections in December.

His elections stunt is nothing but a blatant attempt to bring under his control the only remaining democratic institution in Venezuela, the National Assembly.

Does anyone seriously think that a regime that commits wide-scale human rights abuses, documented by the UN and other organizations, has the best interests of the Venezuelan people at heart?

Does anyone think that an illegitimate regime that has systematically dismantled almost all of Venezuela’s democratic institutions will hold elections that are free or fair?

Of course not.

The world cannot stand by and allow the illegitimate Maduro regime’s abuse of the Venezuelan people to continue. Freedom-loving people everywhere must condemn the sham elections for the fraud that they are.

We must stand with the people of Venezuela in this, their hour of greatest need. We must insist that Maduro step aside. We must insist on free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.

The United States will always support the people of Venezuela, and we look forward to celebrating freedom with them when they can finally heal from the nightmare that the Maduro regime has caused.

History will judge us by how we act here and now. Which is why, in addition to the humanitarian assistance I’ve already mentioned, we’re also providing $128 million to support civil society, human rights, independent media, and the democratically elected National Assembly.

At USAID, we’re always looking for new ways to address the many needs that this man-made crisis is causing in Venezuela and throughout the region. That’s why one year ago today, Irene and I launched the BetterTogether Challenge.

We launched an innovation Challenge to allow anyone, anywhere to submit ideas for funding. And these ideas could have addressed any of the multi-faceted challenges that we’ve mentioned today.

The response has been enormous. Applicants came from every sector and sent in solutions to the tremendous health, economic, education, and information needs that Venezuelans face. Over 1,100 applications were submitted from 39 countries, and approximately 450 submissions came from inside Venezuela, where the needs are most dire.

Our impressive winners span a wide variety of sectors and countries. For example, in Venezuela, we’re supporting a cutting-edge approach to crowdsource reliable data directly from Venezuelans, in order to better evaluate local needs and deliver basic services—including health care to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In Peru, we’re helping Venezuelan women access vetted and fairly compensated jobs, while addressing critical issues of xenophobia.

In Trinidad and Tobago, we’re supporting businesses to take a stand against xenophobia and to build an environment that is safe for thousands of Venezuelan women in the country.

Fortunately for us, we’ll have the opportunity to hear directly from some of these winners shortly.

On top of these past winners, I’m pleased to announce today that USAID is funding three new projects in Venezuela, Chile, and Colombia, with $1 million under the BetterTogether Challenge.

In Venezuela, a local organization will pilot a software solution to provide Venezuelans with reliable access to news and information.

In Colombia, we are scaling a financial technology platform to help Venezuelans send and receive remittances safely.

And in Chile, we are supporting Venezuelan women to develop cutting-edge skills in data literacy and visualization, so they can find more promising employment opportunities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These new awards, which will improve the lives of thousands, bring us to 19 total projects supported by USAID and the IDB, with more awards coming.

In fact, while the open submission period has closed, we’re still accepting applications until October 30 for solutions related to women’s economic empowerment and gender-based violence. I encourage everyone watching to visit JuntosEsMejorVE.org for more information.

Thank you, and I look forward to working with you all as we strive for a brighter future for Venezuelans across the hemisphere.

Last updated: October 21, 2020

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