By Alex Azar II
Published September 10, 2019
Many Americans may not know it, but our hemisphere is experiencing one of the largest humanitarian crises it has ever seen.
The failed Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela has ended in the way so many corrupt socialist regimes have: in bankruptcy, lies and suffering. Maduro’s failures have driven millions of people to flee their country in search of basic necessities like food and health care.
I recently visited Cúcuta, Colombia, on the border with Venezuela, to see and hear firsthand from those who have fled and meet with health leaders from around the region about addressing their needs.
Every single day, thousands of Venezuelans arrive in Colombia fleeing Maduro’s cruelty, many of them coming across a single bridge in Cucuta. In total, the U.N. estimates 4.3 million Venezuelans have fled their country, with more than 1.4 million sheltering in Colombia.
It is important to realize that they are not fleeing because of U.S. sanctions, but rather because of the tyrannical policies of Maduro, who has pillaged Venezuela’s economy for years. Inflation rose to an astronomical 130,000 percent in 2018, and the economy shrunk by more than half over the last five years.
The failed economy and failed government policies have also destroyed Venezuela’s health care system. Venezuelans no longer have access to even some of the most basic medical services, such as vaccines or treatment for chronic conditions like diabetes.
Health outcomes are so bad that the Maduro regime simply stopped publishing health statistics several years ago. That means many Venezuelans are leaving to seek medical care and are suffering from serious neglected health conditions, creating huge challenges for the countries in the region that are accepting them.
The Trump administration has made it a top priority to aid the people of Venezuela and support governments across the region.
The situation may seem bleak. But because of the spirit of the Venezuelan people – and the focus that President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and leaders around the region have provided on this challenge – we have reason for hope.
I was deeply inspired by the resilience I saw from the Venezuelans I met in Cucuta. I have met many Venezuelan doctors and nurses who are doing what they can to provide care in the countries they’ve fled to, while they look forward to returning to rebuild Venezuela’s health care system.
The Trump administration has made it a top priority to aid the people of Venezuela and support governments across the region. While in Colombia, I visited the USNS Comfort, the American hospital ship that has been sailing throughout the region.
The Comfort is staffed by American servicemen and women, civilians, and international staff who provide care to those in need both onboard and on land.
The work done by the Comfort team is near-miraculous. I met one man who had been blind for years of his life but received surgery on the ship. He was able to see immediately after he emerged from the procedure.
In addition to this direct care, the United States has sent more than $376 million in aid for the regional response, including food, medicine, and health and medical supplies.
In Colombia, I also attended a meeting of the region’s health ministers to tackle the crisis – the fourth such meeting held over the past year. The United States inaugurated this series of ministerial meetings and continues to provide technical assistance to governments receiving Venezuelans who have fled.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for instance, supports governments in addressing the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases and provided emergency preparedness training just recently in Colombia’s capital, Bogota.
We are also working with Venezuela’s legitimate National Assembly government led by Juan Guaido to plan for how we can help Venezuelans rebuild their country once democracy returns.
From a health perspective, hospital and laboratory infrastructure will need to be reestablished, basic supplies and medications will need to be procured, and health care staff who have fled will need to come home. We are already planning for how the United States and governments around the region can support that process.
I saw unbelievable human suffering on my trip to Colombia. But I also saw the hope of the Venezuelan people shine brightly, and I saw the immense generosity of the United States, Colombia, and other dedicated partner nations.
Venezuelans have seen dark days and know the path ahead will be challenging. But that has not diminished their optimism about rebuilding their beloved country as a thriving democracy. The United States stands ready to support this work, eagerly awaiting the day when freedom and prosperity return to Venezuela.