Mr. Abrams: Iím going to start
taking attendance and see how much interest there is here.
A few things to start with. The diplomatic staff from
arrived at Dulles Airport just after 11 oíclock last night, and they
will be meeting the Secretary at 2:30 this afternoon. They will in
essence continue their mission from other locations -- from the State
Department for the most part -- to try to support the Venezuelan people
as they struggle to return Venezuela to democracy.
Just a -- on consular services, I think weíve said this before, but some
time ago -- actually a month ago -- we said that non-immigrant visas would
be handled in Bogota; immigrant -- excuse me, immigrant visas would be
handled in Bogota for Venezuelans; non-immigrant visas can be applied
for wherever the individual is, at any embassy or consulate around the
Latest visa revocations: This week we have revoked 340 additional visas,
and thatís a process that will continue.
In Venezuela, the diplomatic staff -- when we had a full staff and in the
last month or so when weíve had a reduced staff -- have been immeasurably
assisted by the locally employed staff, which has really been, as is
true in so many embassies, vital to the effort to restore democracy to
Venezuela and to support a transition to a democratic government under
Interim President Guaido. And so just want to express our gratitude
toward them. They will remain employed by the United States in Caracas.
Finally, I would like to congratulate
Ricardo Hausmann, who is going to
be the representative of Venezuela in the
Bank. The voting is not closed. The voting closes at around 6:30 p.m.
today, I think, but enough votes have been cast so that we can say he
will be elected. And this is part of the taking authority over foreign
rolls and assets of Venezuela by the Guaido government. So we
congratulate him and you should see an official statement I guess after
the voting is closed.
- First State Department Briefing on Venezuela
- Second State Department Briefing on Venezuela
- Third State Department Briefing on Venezuela
- Fourth State Department Briefing on Venezuela
- Fifth State Department Briefing on Venezuela
Elliot Abrams - Seventh State Department Briefing on Venezuela
Mr. Palladino: If thereís any questions --
Mr. Palladino: -- he can take a few. All right, go ahead, Matt.
Question: Thanks. Iím just wondering if youíve made any progress or how
close you are to getting an agreement with someone for -- to be your
Mr. Abrams: Weíve made real progress. I donít have an announcement, but
we have been working hard on this. Itís moving forward. Weíre happy
about the direction itís going in, and thereís a lot of legal process to
do, but this will happen soon. Iíll leave it at that.
Question: I mean, any kind of a ballpark, like today, tomorrow?
Mr. Abrams: Oh, no.
Question: Monday, Tuesday?
Mr. Abrams: A week or two.
Question: A week or two from now?
Mr. Abrams: From now, yeah.
Mr. Palladino: Go ahead.
Question: Good afternoon. The IDB has put out a statement already saying
that Mr. Hausmann can begin as the representative there because enough
there have been sufficient votes cast. What does this mean generally
speaking for any kind of economic help for Venezuela? Venezuela is in
arrears to the IDB anyway.
And then also, the IMF has delayed a decision by the board, their board,
to discuss or -- a poll that would basically recognize Guaido, and as you
know, the IMF is important as a seal of approval for other big
institutions like the World Bank. But what does this overall mean to --
for lending or economic help?
Mr. Abrams: I think most -- the most important task that Professor Hausmann will be undertaking is to work with the IDB on the preparations
for post-Maduro Venezuela. He has personally done a lot of work on this.
We actually met yesterday. And there are -- thereís been really an
enormous amount of work done over the last several years by Venezuelans
and by others, and the IDB has clearly a leading role in the
recuperation of the Venezuelan economy when we think of things like the
electric sector, the energy sector, which are in bad shape. So he will
now be in a position officially to represent Venezuela in those IDB
preparations, and thatís a lot better than doing it from a university.
Heíll be inside.
Mr. Palladino: Washington Post.
Question: There were reports coming this week from
Maracaibo, if Iím
pronouncing it correctly, the second-largest city -- sort of the Houston
of Venezuela, I guess, that had a lot of ransacking and it sounded like
a terrible situation. I was wondering if you have any sense of how close
the economy is and the infrastructure is in Venezuela to a total
collapse, and following that, the impact on Maduro.
Mr. Abrams: Our information is that the situation is considerably worse
in Maracaibo than in Caracas in a number of ways. I have not seen lots
of looting in Caracas, although the blackout and the diminution of
social media mean that we may not be seeing everything thatís happening.
But we have seen it in Maracaibo. Thereís been a lot that has been
reported in social media and to us. Part of this I think is because the
regime is directing its attention to Caracas. They seem to be taking the
view that what happens outside of Caracas is not threatening to them.
So, for example, power supply is better in Caracas than in Maracaibo or
anywhere else, actually. So thatís a -- I think a political judgment on
the part of the regime.
What is the impact of this situation on the longevity of the regime?
Itís obviously going to shorten the life of the regime. Now, Iíve said
before weíre not making predictions, and as we look back we see that,
generally speaking, neither we nor anyone else has been very good at
predicting when regimes fall. But this blackout has really intensified
the difficulties in the country -- the difficulties of average families,
the difficulties of government institutions -- and I think it
demonstrates that the longer the regime stays, the worse the economic
and social situation are going to be. So what Iím -- I canít give dates,
but it seems to me itís obvious that more and more Venezuelans will be
coming to the conclusion that there is no decent future for the country
with Maduro in power.
Mr. Palladino: Said.
Question: Thank you. Two quick questions. To the best of your knowledge
or your opinion, what is the cause of the blackout? What is the exact
cause of the blackout?
And second, could you explain to us the article under which Mr. Guaido
declared himself president? It is said that it has expired last month.
Could you explain that to us? What is the --
Mr. Abrams: Yeah. Yes. On the blackout, weíre not there. I believe there
is a consensus now that by far the most likely explanation is that these
extremely high-voltage lines, which tend to bow as the months go and
years go by -- that is, they are not straight; they tend to --
Mr. Abrams: -- sag is a good word -- into trees and bushes, and that
creates the possibility of a fire. That is what more -- I would say more
experts have given as the explanation. So how do you avoid that? Itís
simple: You cut and prune and keep trees and bushes from approaching the
lines, and they havenít done that. Thereís really been no maintenance,
not just for years but for decades on those. They have three high
voltage lines coming essential from
Guri Dam. Thatís our best
explanation. It is not formed, obviously, by examination but rather by
reports that weíve seen from a fair number of experts.
As to the Venezuelan constitution, the National Assembly has passed a
resolution that states that that 30-day period of interim presidency
will not start ending or counting until the day Nicolas Maduro leaves
power. So the 30 days doesnít start now, it starts after Maduro. And
they -- thatís a resolution of the National Assembly.
Question: When did they -- they did that after he --
Mr. Abrams: They did that -- this is roughly a month ago. We could try to
find the date for you.
Question: When he was -- when he was -- took the mantle of interim
president, that wasnít there.
Mr. Abrams: Yes, when -- thatís correct. And so people --
Question: Can you do that ex post facto like that?
Mr. Abrams: When people ask a question how do --
Question: That seems to be like saying I was elected for four years to
be president, and then two years in you change the rules so that your
term didnít start -- hasnít even started yet. How does that happen?
Mr. Abrams: Well, you donít get a vote because youíre not in the National
Question: Well, you donít. Youíre not in the National Assembly either.
Question: If it matters, does the U.S. view that as constitutional under
Mr. Abrams: Yes. I mean, weíre taking the
-- the National Assembly is the
only legitimate democratic institution left in Venezuela, and their
interpretation of the constitution, as you know, is that as of the date
of this alleged term for Maduro, the presidency is vacant. But they have
also said that that 30-day period starts when Maduro goes.
Question: So Juan Guaido is the interim president of an interim that
doesnít exist yet?
Mr. Abrams: The 30-day end to his interim presidency starts counting.
Because heís not in power, thatís the problem. Maduro is still there. So
they have decided that they will count that from when he actually is in
power and Maduroís gone. I think itís logical.
Question: So then he really isnít interim president, then?
Mr. Abrams: He is interim president, but heís not --
Question: With no power.
Mr. Abrams: -- able to exercise the powers of the office because Maduro
still is there.
Question: So their interpretation is that until and unless he actually
has the power to run the country, heís not actually the interim
Mr. Abrams: No. Their interpretation is that the constitution requires a
30-day interim period, but it -- those 30 days should not be counted
while Maduro is still there exercising the powers of his former office.
Mr. Palladino: Letís go AFP.
Question: Have you engaged directly again with countries who still
recognize Maduro as president? I think you said last week that you
hadnít spoken with China yet. Have you had a chance to --
Mr. Abrams: The ambassador has, I believe, been out of town, so
-- but we
have spoken to China in Beijing, that is the ambassador has spoken to
the Chinese Government about this.
Question: What -- is there something -- some progress on --
Mr. Abrams: Have they -- have we changed their position? Not yet. Not yet.
Mr. Palladino: Letís go to Janne.
Question: Thank you very much. It is reported that North Korean Chairman
Kim Jong-un willing to support Maduro regime. Any comment on that?
Because it resembled Kimís regime and Maduro regimes. So any sense of
Mr. Abrams: Well, we have noted that among the 54 countries that support
the people of Venezuela and Interim President Guaido are many of the
most influential democracies in the world. We have really not been
trying to get North Korea to support Juan Guaido. That has not been a
mission of ours.
Mr. Palladino: Letís go to ABC.
Question: Two questions on the Americans that remain behind. When we
were in Cucuta, you said that there are between 30 and 40,000 U.S.
citizens. Some estimates put that as high as 50,000. Do you have an
update on the number of American citizens you believe are still there?
American Airlines announced today that they are canceling
commercial flights into Venezuela. As more airlines consider that and
take that action, is the U.S. considering any sort of evacuations for
citizens that remain behind?
Mr. Abrams: Well, first, weíve had a Travel Warning for quite a while,
and the Travel Warning has been one of the strictest, saying to
Americans ďdonít go.Ē Obviously, it makes it harder to leave when the
largest commercial carrier is no longer serving the airport in Caracas.
We are trying first to do the consular activities from the State
Department, and we will have a protecting power.
As to the question of a major threat that would lead lots of Americans
to want to leave, there -- there were always plans to help people leave
in a situation of danger. We have those for lots of countries, and I
think Iíll leave it at that.
Mr. Palladino: Please.
Question: Olivia Gazis with CBS News. Colombiaís president,
said in a recent interview that he doesnít believe that military
intervention by the United States is the right thing for Venezuela. How
do you countenance that with the very real implicit and repeated threat
that the United States has held out that all options remain on the
Mr. Abrams: Well, I donít think that --
Question: And very quickly, just a quick follow on that one: Have you
identified a protecting power in Caracas for remaining staff? Because
there -- I know there was discussion as to identifying one.
Mr. Abrams: Iím just going to leave that where it is on the protecting
power; that is, we are in discussions. They are reasonably advanced, but
theyíre not done yet, and it will take some more time.
I donít see a contradiction between what President Duque said and what
we always say. We also believe that the military outcome is not the
right outcome for the future of Venezuela, for the people of Venezuela.
A peaceful democratic transition is the right outcome. Our policy is a
peaceful transition to democracy. Our economic, financial, diplomatic,
political pressure is designed to achieve that goal, or better put, to
help the Venezuelan people recover their democracy. But there are lots
of contingencies and dangers in the world, and therefore all options are
on the table.
Mr. Palladino: Letís go in the back right there, please.
Question: Yeah. Francisco [inaudible] Spain. Do you know how many
Americans you have still in Venezuela, a rough number? And then can you
explain more the sentence that you said, that you have closed the
embassy because the situation there has become a constraint for the U.S.
policy? What do you mean for that?
Mr. Abrams: Well, we donít -- Iíd say first we donít ever know exactly how
many Americans are in any country, because Americans are free to travel.
We urge them to register -- particularly in a situation like Venezuela
register with the embassy. For one thing, they can get onto an email
program or a text program where they get warnings, where the embassy can
send them messages instantly. But they donít have to do that. So weíre
guessing, and the guesses are in the range of 30,000. As was said, there
are higher ranges -- 35,000, 40,000, even higher than that. But we donít
know the exact number because we have no way of knowing.
What was the other?
Question: Second one -- the situation has become a constraint for the
Mr. Abrams: Oh, I mean, we answered that already several days ago.
Mr. Palladino: Many times.
Question: Can you elaborate that?
Mr. Abrams: No.
Mr. Palladino: All right, great. Letís go CNN, Michelle.
Question: Thanks. The International Energy Agency is saying that it
looks like the entire oil industry could collapse in Venezuela. Whatís
your view of that possibility, and how do you see that affecting the
situation on the ground, including for the humanitarian situation?
Mr. Abrams: Well, Iím not sure what ďcollapseĒ means there. There is
certainly a steady drop in Venezuelan oil exports. Partly that reflects
the blackout. But even if you take the blackout out of it, there is a
very steady drop of maybe 50,000 barrels a month in production so that
theyíre heading down toward a million now, and in a month or two theyíll
be below a million. This is a country that used to export more than 3
million barrels a day.
Question: When do you think that -- where did you say they could be
Mr. Abrams: A couple of months. I think theyíre just above a million now.
Again, they may have dipped below it because of the blackout, and they
may come back 50- or 100,000 barrels. But thatís the neighborhood
theyíre in, and it is a steady decline.
It is true that you can do long-term damage if you donít maintain the
infrastructure. One of the reasons that, in our announcement of
sanctions, we gave some American firms 180 days to transition out was
precisely to avoid this kind of damage. We -- I think itís fair to say
that the Maduro regime has been a very poor steward of the
infrastructure in Venezuela. We see that in the electrical
infrastructure, and we also see it in the oil infrastructure. Our
sanctions had nothing to do with them coming down from 3 million barrels
a day to a million barrels a day. But it would certainly be better from
the point of view of democracy and human rights, and it would certainly
be better from the point of view of the economy and the oil sector if
the regime were to come to an end.
Mr. Palladino: Last question, please, in the back there.
Question: Yeah. [Inaudible] Hernandez from the Spanish newswire EFE.
Have you had any conversation lately with Vice President Arreaza?
Mr. Abrams: No. We had two conversations in
-- god, I donít remember. One
was in late January, one was maybe a week after that. And that -- those
were the -- that was it.
Mr. Palladino: All right, very good.
Question: Mr. Abrams, can you
[inaudible] diplomats yesterday [inaudible] in Caracas?
Mr. Palladino: Thatís good, weíll
call it there. All right, thank you.
Question: Thank you.