WASHINGTON, D.C.– President Trump on Thursday said the U.S. would provide humanitarian assistance to address the deteriorating situation in western Venezuela, facing a collapsing economy and years of rebellion against the socialist government.
The area along the Colombian border has descended into chaos and violence. Most recently, a man buying diapers and a teenager buying flour for his family were shot dead this week, according to press accounts, in incidents that are not uncommon in the region.
“People don’t have enough to eat. People have no food. There’s great violence. And we will do whatever is necessary, and we’ll work together to do whatever is necessary to help with fixing that, and I’m really talking on a humanitarian level,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks came during a joint press conference with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos at the White House. Western Venezuela shares a long border with Colombia.
President Trump did not specify what kind of help the U.S. would provide but said the U.S. would work with Colombia and other countries. Congress recently approved $450 million in aid for Colombia, proposed during the Obama administration.
“A stable and peaceful Venezuela is in the best interest of the entire hemisphere. And America stands with all of the people in our great hemisphere yearning to be free,” Trump said.
Shortly after the press conference, the Treasury Department announced a new round of sanctions, freezing the assets in the U.S. of eight members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, which recently attempted to nullify the nation’s legislature and grant itself the right to draft laws.
The Trump administration issued similar sanctions two months ago against Venezuelan Vice President Tareck El Aissami under the “Drug Kingpin Act” for his ties to multinational drug smuggling operations.
Trump congratulated Santos on securing a peace deal to end the government’s armed conflict with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a Marxist terrorist organization that has waged war in the country since 1964, and for receiving a Nobel Peace Prize for it.
“It’s been a long process. And it’s been a great thing to watch, in the sense that the president did a fantastic job. That’s not easy after so many years of war,” Trump said.
“So I’m very, very proud to get to know you. And I really congratulate you. There’s nothing tougher than peace. And we want to make peace all over the world. And you are really a great example of somebody that started it,” he said.
Santos passed the peace agreement with the FARC in November after Colombians voted against such a deal in a national referendum a month earlier. The deal would allow FARC leaders to eventually organize a political party, which opponents of the deal warn would be funded with cocaine-smuggling and ransom money.
The deal also provides for reintegrating FARC members – many of whom were abducted as children and turned into child soldiers – into Colombian society as civilians.
Both Trump and Santos called the visit “productive.”
“I want to thank you personally for this warm and productive visit. And for the strong support Colombia has received from your administration, from Congress and from the American people,” Santos told Trump.
“As you know, our nations have had for a long time a strategic alliance, an extraordinary friendship,” he said.
“I can say, Mr. President, based on our conversation this afternoon, that I have no doubt that the United States and Colombia continue to be today more than ever a support one for the other. Our alliance was strengthened.”