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Video: Rubio Delivers Remarks, Honored During Annual Washington Conference on the Americas

May 9, 2019 | Press Releases

“We have a chance for the Western Hemisphere to be, truly, the first free Hemisphere in all of human history. We’ve got two or three places left to go. But just imagine that as a legacy of our time in public policy. To be able to say that we were able to be a part of having the first truly free Hemisphere in the history of all of mankind.”

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) was honored today with the Council of the Americas’ Chairman’s Award for his leadership in the Western Hemisphere during the 49th Washington Conference on the Americas at the U.S. Department of State. The event brings together U.S. officials and leaders from across the region to focus on major policy issues affecting the Western Hemisphere. During his speech, Rubio discussed the importance of democratic order in the region and the situation in Venezuela.  

Rubio is the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues.

A rough and partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below:

For the first time, certainly in my eight years here, but for the first time in a long time, the Western Hemisphere and events in the region are captivating the headlines of our newspapers and the attention of the press.


I think it also helps, frankly and to be fair, that this administration has made it a priority, and did so, from its earliest days. The visits of the Vice President to the region, just in the last three years, and the visit of Secretary of State Pompeo and other high ranking officials that have made visits to the region have been important. I have always cared about the Western Hemisphere because Florida, and particularly in Miami, is one of the few places where foreign policy is a local government domestic issue and so it matters because so many lives have been impacted by it.

A second challenge, of course, is one that’s more global in its scope and nature, but one that I think will define these early years of this new century. And that is the ongoing challenge posed to democracy by totalitarianism. And it comes in different forms. In some, it’s just a straight up dictatorship. In others, it’s the concept of managed democracy, which basically means ‘yes, we have elections but none of my opponents can run, I control the media, and if I lose the people counting the votes are on my side, so I win.’ And we’ve seen that play out in different parts of the world, it’s a business model, and it is one that frankly that totalitarians are marketing.

“Obviously the people who disagree with them [totalitarians] are in exile or in jail, or quiet for fear of exile or jail, and so there is an ongoing battle across the world between the concept of  democracy and the concept of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism likes to tell the story, they like to show their economic growth and they like to tell people that we don’t have any of these societal frictions that you have to put up with. Because democracies require you to deal with other people, take other points of view in mind, come up with compromise, democracy takes a long time, it’s less efficient.

“Of course these challenges existed for a long period of time in Cuba, which as it ‘transitions’, and I say ‘transitions’ only in terms of the names changing, but it’s trying to make permanent a totalitarian model and allow it to be accepted as an alternative form of democracy I guess—they like to call themselves that but they’re not. In Nicaragua where we’ve seen a direct challenge to those who disagree with the governing party and they use one of the things totalitarians around the world have perfected, is the use of negotiations to buy time and exhaust the opposition. But obviously the headlines are captured by the catastrophe, for lack of a better term, that we now see in Venezuela.

“I do think that there are somethings that are important for me as an American policymaker, and it first and foremost begins by making the argument to the American people about why should we care. Of course we should care about human rights violations and we should care about humanitarian suffering. And we should care about defending democracy. Look, the totalitarians are always on the totalitarians side. And therefore the democrats must also be on the democrats side and work hard everywhere where that is challenged.

“How about the fact that for the first time in the better part of almost four decades, if not longer, we have seen an open invitation to a foreign power from outside this Hemisphere, to at a minimum place rotational military, if not permanent, military presence in Venezuela in the way Maduro has invited the Russians—and in fact they are there now. How about the fact that foreign powers like China have helped the Venezuelan Maduro regime block the internet. Or the fact that both Russia and Iran are involved in offensive cyber and influence efforts. All of this happening in our hemisphere, our Hemisphere, and if you believe these things are contained to Venezuela this model will be reproduced in other places. The model that these regimes have followed, particularly the Russians, is to directly undermine leaders, and elections, that they believe are in counter to their interest. And for those who think this is simply isolated for Venezuela just wait for the next election somewhere in the hemisphere where someone Russia prefers is running for office, and they get involved in influence operations, and hacking the electoral systems, and then trying to undermine the results. This is a model that they are exporting.

“Here’s the challenge of not having paid attention to the Western Hemisphere in a long time: a lot of the people that write about the Western Hemisphere don’t know anything about it, and I say that respectfully. They don’t know anything about it. So they either compare to something in the Middle East, or they go back to the 1970’s, and 80’s, and 60’s and ascribe attributes to a time that’s long ago.

Are there a couple people, Maduro included, that would love to see, that want Venezuela to transition to a Cuban-style system? Yes. But the vast majority of these people, I would say, are too materialistic to be communists, let’s just put it that way. They like to buy expensive things. This is not held together by ideology. That regime is held together primarily by two things: A) a desire to remain in power so that B) they can use that power to protect their families, their safety, and the millions of dollars that they have stolen.

“So the next time someone talks about a courageous political move, at least in the context of our domestic politics, I always remind ourselves of what Juan Guaidó and so many others over there are undertaking. It is truly inspiring, and it should drive all of us to not take for granted how blessed we are, all of us respectively, to live in nations in which we are allowed to participate in a peaceful political process without fear of imprisonment, without fear of persecution without fear of personal life.

Peaceful, civil disobedience movements lose every single battle, except the last one. Except the last one. And there is not one you can point to that that is not the case. They lose every single battle. They go to jail, they put dogs on them, they put water cannons, and pepper spray, and tear gas, and rubber bullets, and real bullets. Civil disobedience movements, and peaceful civil disobedience movements, lose every single battle except the very last one. And this one will be no different.

This is about transitioning to democracy—about restoring, helping the people of Venezuela restore constitutional order. And in that vein, let me remind everybody this is not a U.S. initiative. This is not an American initiative. This is an initiative of the people of Venezuela, through their democratically elected National Assembly who is living out the letter and spirit of their constitution. And which side are we supposed to be on? What is the alternative to supporting this effort? To support Maduro? To turn a blind eye? We have no choice. We, not just the United States. We as a region have no choice but to be on the side of the people of Venezuela and their democratic aspirations.

“We have a chance for the Western Hemisphere to be, truly, the first free hemisphere in all of human history. We’ve got two or three places left to go. But just imagine that as a legacy of our time in public policy. To be able to say that we were able to be a part of having the first truly free hemisphere in the history of all of mankind.”