On May 7, U.S. Department of State co-hosted the 49th Annual Washington Conference on the Americas, which is designed to provide an opportunity to hear from the most senior-level officials and engage with over 250 business and policy leaders, members of the diplomatic community, and media representatives from throughout the hemisphere. The theme of this year’s Conference was “disruption and transformation in the Americas.”
Vice President Pence’s Speech
At this Conference U.S. Vice President Mike Pence presented the Trump Administration position on these issues. His focus was Venezuela,which he said was “the single greatest source of disruption.” After reviewing that country’s significant events of the last year, Mr. Pence outlined the following new U.S. actions regarding Venezuela:
- [At] “the President’s direction, the United States Navy will deploy the USNS Comfort to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America this June. The Comfort will embark on a 5-month humanitarian mission to address the Venezuelan crisis. The United States military and medical personnel, working alongside their counterparts across the region, will be there to provide medical assistance to communities in need and help relieve countries overwhelmed by the influx of the suffering people of Venezuela.” (However, before it can be deployed from its homeport of Norfolk, Virginia, a staff of doctors, nurses and other medical staff has to be assembled.)
- The U.S. has “ positioned more than 500 metric tons of food and humanitarian supplies on the Venezuelan border, ready for immediate distribution. The American people have provided nearly $260 million in aid to support displaced Venezuelans and the host nations that support them so generously.”
- “If the Supreme Court of Venezuela does not return to its constitutional mandate to uphold the rule of law, the [U.S.] will hold all 25 of its magistrates accountable for their actions.”
- The U.S. “has sanctioned more than 150 government officials and state-owned businesses loyal to the dictator.”
- But “these sanctions need not be permanent.” The U.S. “will consider sanctions relief for all those who step forward, stand up for the constitution, and support the rule of law — like General Manuel Cristopher Figuera, the former chief of the Venezuelan intelligence service, who just last week broke ranks with the Maduro regime and rallied to the support of the Venezuelan constitution and the National Assembly. In recognition of his recent actions in support of democracy and the rule of law, . . .[the U.S.] is removing all sanctions on General Manuel Cristopher Figuera effective immediately.”
- The U.S. “will help the fledgling Venezuelan democracy regain its footing. We’ll build a brighter future after Maduro is gone — creating jobs, fighting poverty, and expanding opportunity.”
- The U.S. “will continue to exert all diplomatic and economic pressure to bring about a peaceful transition of democracy in Venezuela. But to those who continue to oppress the good people of Venezuela, know this: All options are on the table.
There are at least two items of good news in Vice President Pence’s remarks. First, he did not say anything about any current U.S. plan to use any military force with respect to Venezuela. Second, the hospital ship to be deployed should be helpful to ordinary Venezuelans who have been deprived of adequate medical care.
The USNS Comfort (in the above photograph) is a non-commissioned hospital ship owned by the U.S. Navy and operationally crewed by civilians from the Military Sealift Command, consisting primarily of naval officers from the Navy’s Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Medical Service Corps, Nurse Corps and Chaplain Corps, and naval enlisted personnel from the Hospital Corpsman rating and various administrative and technical support ratings When fully staffed it can provide the following services: general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, dermatology, medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution and public health. In accordance with the Geneva conventions it and its crew do not carry any offensive weapons.
Without referencing Pence’s speech, Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, on May 8 said that Venezuela needs “a peaceful, negotiated and democratic solution” to its problems and that Spain and other European countries “will continue to reject any pressure that borders on military intervention” in Venezuela.” The U.S. repeated assertion that “all options are on the table” is like “a western cowboy” who is threatening to draw his gun.
Again without specifically discussing the Pence speech, U.S. commentators offer another perspective. They say that Trump “has yet to articulate a coherent theory for when the United States should push for such change and when it should avoid it.” Instead, they say, “Trump’s approach to foreign intervention is largely ad hoc and idiosyncratic — driven less by ideology than by his hunger for foreign policy victories and confidence in his own deal-making skills.”
This “lack of ideological coherence has played to the advantage of Secretary Pompeo and the national security adviser, John R. Bolton, two hawkish officials with strong interventionist tendencies,” who have used hawkish rhetoric regarding Venezuela, Cuba and Iran, for example. “Critics say the disconnect between Mr. Trump and his advisers is confusing the nation’s allies and heightening the risk of a military conflict.” 
 White House, Remarks by Vice President Pence at the Washington Conference on the Americas (May 7, 2019); Reuters, U.S. Lifts Sanctions on Venezuelan General Who Broke With Maduro, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019); Assoc. Press, US to Send Hospital Ship to Help With Venezuelan Refugees, N.Y. Times (May 7, 2019).
 Assoc. Press, The Latest: Spain Official: US Like a ‘Cowboy’ on Venezuela, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).
 Landler, With Mix of threats and Blandishments, Trump Bandies Policy of Regime Change, N.Y. Times (May 8, 2019).
 See n. 4 supra. See also U.S. Reactions to Failure of Juan Guiadó’s Attempt To Takeover Venezuelan Government, dwkcommentaries.com (May 6, 2019).