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Remarks to the Press by the Vice President and President H.E. Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez of Panama in Panama City, Panama

August 17, 2017

PRESIDENT VARELA: (As interpreted.) Good afternoon. I would like to begin by energetically condemning the terrorist act that occurred today in Barcelona. We share the pain of the people and of the Spanish government. And we raise our prayers to the victims and their family members.

Vice President Pence, on behalf of the people and government of the Republic of Panama, I would like to welcome you most cordially to our country as Vice President of the United States of America, Michael Pence, and his wife, Karen.

We are delighted that you've had the opportunity to visit our canal, a work which is the reflection of over a hundred years of friendship and cooperation between Panama and the United States, and which contributes to the strengthening of international trade.

This meeting has allowed us to share our vision on the opportunities and -- the opportunities that we can take advantage of and enjoy together on the basis of our excellent diplomatic relations that are consolidated here today.

You, sir, are a man of faith. And men of faith in public life always strive for the common good. That's why I am certain that this exchange that we have had will have an impact on the quality of life of many human beings throughout the region.

I take the opportunity to thank Vice President Pence for the attention -- or for the hosting in the United States, of the United States government and people during our visit to President Trump in June of this year.

During our talks, we clearly established that Panama is an ally and strategic partner to the United States. We have a stable democracy with strong indicators of growth and economic stability; a police, which moves forward in transparency and accountability in the state, as well as in our financial system.

I have said to Vice President Pence that we have an enormous interest in having more American companies invest in our country and participate in infrastructure projects that we are currently developing.

Panama has become the great connection for world trade with our logistic system -- the widened Panama Canal, the development of ports, the expansion of the Tocumen Airport and the master plan of the Interoceanic Plan which will turn our logistics hub into a world-class hub.

The participation of the United States and the development of the logistics and maritime sectors will be of mutual benefit because aside from adding value to the inter-oceanic route, it will allow American companies which use the Panama Canal to obtain better profits from this route.

We thank the United States for your cooperation in the exchange of information and best practices, which allow us to protect the financial and logistic system of our country. It is our duty to protect the financial center and Panama's logistics platform so that it may not be used for illegal activities or for purposes that do not go to the common good.

This has been a priority for me since I began my public service. The commitment of our country to financial transparency and the security of the logistics and services platform in Panama is stronger by the day. The path we have chosen shall not be reverted.

Security is one of the fundamental issues that affects our region. We have identified the challenges that we face, such as the increase in the production and trafficking in drugs, illegal migration, and the situation of the Northern Triangle, and the situation in Venezuela.

We have agreed on the risk that the increase in drug production in neighboring countries represents for the region, and we are determined to defeat that with the support of allies like the United States.

We thank the government of the United States of America for their cooperation to improve the installed capabilities of our security agencies. Panama is among the countries of the region that seizes most drugs per year. We are making a huge effort to ensure security along the border with Colombia by increasing governmental presence in the border province of Darien. But it is also necessary to strengthen intelligence sharing and the sharing of databases of those people who represent a threat.

It is alarming how organized crime, together with drug trafficking, makes the security situation in the region worse, causing death and greater poverty.

In my meeting with President Donald Trump in mid-June of this year I stressed my concern over the increase in drug production, which is a subject that you, too, have addressed during your visit to the region.

Our country is playing an important role in irregular migration, and we are protecting our borders to keep the safe and detecting irregular migrants to who represent a risk to the United States, to the Americas, and to the rest of the countries in the world.

It is important to maintain cooperation between governments, as we did to face the Haitian and Cuban migrant crisis last year; the basis of which we created an integrated border security system.

We very specifically analyze the political conflict in Venezuela. We are concerned about stability in that country and the breaking of the democratic order and the consequences that that may provoke.

Over the next few days, Panama will take measures which support the return of democratic order in Venezuela and strengthen our internal security together with migratory measures, always within the framework of respecting human rights of migrants.

The Panamanian government reiterates its position that the government of President Nicolas Madura must respect the separation of powers, human rights, freedoms, and the urgency to negotiate a political solution in the framework of the current constitution of Venezuela for the benefit of its population.

We share the concern for the interruption of the democratic and constitutional order by the authorities in Venezuela. Panama is a country that builds bridges. Therefore we maintain our position to help with a specific solution as a result of a joint effort throughout the hemisphere to contribute to a solution for the humanitarian political crisis in that neighboring brother country and its people. For this we have joined the Lima Consensus, which maintains as a priority the defense of democracy on the American continent, trying to return to democratic order, and lessening violence in the Venezuelan people.

We must strengthen political dialogue between nations in order to keep peace on our continent in the face of threats in the continent and in countries like North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq and others.

In the face of the situation that we face in the countries of the Northern Triangle in Central America, we agree that the strengthening of institutionality, democracy, and honesty of men in public life is the key to social peace.

Panama is a regional ally willing to join capacities to contribute to peace and prosperity in our region on the basis of democratic values and transparency that we all share.

I wish Vice President Pence a good trip home, and I would ask him to take the message to President Trump and to the American people that Panama values in a very special way the ties with the United States that this relationship is based on as a result of our long history, trust, and mutual respect guided by a main interest of generating well-being for our peoples.

As our country's coat of arms say -- Pro Mundi Beneficio is our motto and guides our foreign policy and our relationship with all countries in the world. Panama is a country at the service of the world.

Many thanks for your visit, Mr. Vice President.

VICE PRESIDENT PENCE: Thank you, President Varela. It's an honor to be with you today.

Before I begin, allow me to take a moment to again address the horrific terror attack today in Barcelona, Spain.

This is a tragic day, and the latest scenes of carnage and mayhem sicken us all. As President Trump said earlier today, "The United States condemns this terror attack… and we will do whatever is necessary to help." The people of Barcelona should know: Our prayers and the prayers of all the American people are with the victims, their families, and all the good people of Spain.

This latest attack, the worst terror attack on Spanish soil since the 2004 Madrid train bombings, shows us again that radical Islamic terrorism is one of the greatest threats that we face today.

ISIS has taken credit for this barbaric attack, but whoever is responsible should know that the United States of America, together with our allies, will find and punish those responsible and drive the evil of radical Islamic terror from the face of the Earth.

As I told you, President Varela, President Trump and I are truly grateful for Panama's participation in our global Coalition to Defeat ISIS. Today, Panama is the only Latin American country in our coalition, and we call on all of our partners across Latin America to follow Panama's example of leadership and join this global coalition.

Mr. President, we're grateful for your commitment to this cause, for your partnership, and for the warm hospitality that you've shown me and my wife on our first visit to Panama.

It was an honor, along with President Donald Trump, to welcome you to the White House just two months ago, and now it's my great honor to be welcomed by you and Vice President St. Malo to Panama and the beautiful Palacio de las Garzas.

This is the final stop on my first trip to Latin America, and I'm here, on President Trump's behalf to reaffirm the historic friendship between the United States and Panama and to commit to strengthening our partnership in security and prosperity for the continued benefit of our people, our nations, and the hemisphere that we call home.

Mr. President, we are with you. The United States of America stands with Panama as we pursue a brighter future together.

Nearly 114 years ago, the United States was the first country in the world to recognize Panama as an independent nation. And just as we stood with Panama then, we continue to stand with Panama today as partners in commerce, security, and liberty.

Earlier today, I visited the Panama Canal, which represents not only a path between the seas, but the enduring strength of the bond between the United States and Panama. Together, we built the canal with American ingenuity, Panamanian grit, and a lot of Pittsburgh steel.

And, Mr. President, let me thank you and the people of Panama for your stewardship of the Panama Canal over the past two decades. Your more than $5 billion investment in the canal's expansion completed just last year was truly historic. And it proves once again that the prosperity of both our nations is deeply intertwined and connected to that passageway.

The completion of the canal expansion has resulted in billions of dollars of investment in the United States, creating good-paying jobs in manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture already.

And ports across America are growing to accommodate the new Neopanamax ships in Savannah, Charleston, and many more places. In fact, the Port of Miami just completed a $2 billion expansion.

Let me also commend you, Mr. President, and the people of Panama for your continued embrace of free-market policies. The reforms you've unleashed have created remarkable growth over the past decade. And your personal commitment to this day I believe is inspiring countries across Latin America to follow Panama's example.

For our part, the United States is proud to partner in Panama's growth because your prosperity continues to contribute to our own.

Since 2012, the U.S.-Panama Trade Promotion Agreement has lowered trade barriers, opened up new opportunities for investment, to the great benefit of both of our nations.

As you know, Mr. President, that trade promotion authority has provided Panamanian exporters direct access to U.S. markets, pushing the total goods trade between our two countries to $6.5 billion last year. And American businesses have invested $4.1 billion in Panama, creating jobs and opportunities for both of our nations.

Mr. President, I'm confident that with your leadership in Panama, and President Trump's leadership in the United States, we will build on this foundation of success and achieve even greater prosperity in the future.

The same is true with security, which is the foundation of our prosperity and a key pillar of the strategic partnership between the United States and Panama.

I've already spoken about Panama's leadership and partnership with the United States in the fight against radical Islamic terror, but Panama's leadership is also evident in your strong cooperation with the United States on border security.

At Tocumen International Airport, the United States has been proud to help Panamanian authorities screen over 15 million passenger records per year against U.S. databases.

And we have provided Panama with a state-of-the-art border management system that includes a biometrics-capture program called BITMAP for undocumented and high-threat travelers that Panama has put to good use.

Using this program, under your leadership, Panama has captured and shared a substantial number of records -- more than the rest of the world combined.

And, Mr. President, as we discussed today, Panama is on the front line in the fight to eliminate the flow of illegal drugs and dismantle transnational drug trafficking organizations here in the Western Hemisphere.

The drug trade is the cause of so much of the violence, crime, and corruption that threatens the future of your people and ours. And in the United States, the flow of illegal drugs has poisoned our children, torn apart families, and devastated too many communities.

This threat faces us both. And together, we will continue to confront it, and overcome it.

Panama has already proven itself an invaluable partner. With strong U.S. support, last year Panama's security forces seized more than 56 metric tons of cocaine, more than the rest of Central America combined. And Mr. President, we are truly grateful for your personal commitment to this fight against illicit drugs.

Mr. President, in prosperity and security, Panama is leading Latin America toward a brighter future.

But while our two nations and so many others embrace the promise and progress of freedom, one of our neighbors in the Western Hemisphere is retreating to the darkness of the past. And you just spoke of them in your remarks.

As President Trump has said, in his words, the Venezuelan people are "suffering and they are dying." They are experiencing, as I saw firsthand when I met with Venezuelan refugees in my visit to Colombia early this week, families are experiencing grinding poverty, unable find the food and medicine they need to survive, and innocent children are literally perishing every day from hunger and deprivation.

The once-free people of Venezuela are being forced to endure that fate by the brutality of the Maduro regime.

Venezuela is sliding into dictatorship, and as President Donald Trump told you in your meeting and has declared publicly, "the United States will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles."

And you can be assured, Mr. President, we will continue to stand with Panama and with free nations across this hemisphere until democracy is restored for the Venezuelan people.

Mr. President, let me thank you once again for Panama's strong call for restoration of democracy in Venezuela.

We particularly appreciate Panama for joining 11 other countries just last week to sign the Lima Declaration, which sent a powerful message that the free peoples of the Americas will stand with the Venezuelan people and stand up to their oppressors.

But President Trump and I call on Latin America to do more. And know this: The United States will continue to bring the full measure of American economic and diplomatic power to bear until democracy is restored in Venezuela.

As President Trump has made clear, "We have many options for Venezuela." But the President and I also remain confident that working with you and all our allies across Latin America, we will be able to achieve a peaceable solution to the crisis facing the Venezuelan people.

Mr. President, I can assure you as well that what we do for Venezuela, we will do together.

Because, Mr. President, as you know, a failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal drug trafficking with its murderous criminal consequences radiating to Panama and to our country to the north. A failed state in Venezuela will drive more illegal migration, compromising our borders, and damaging our economies. And ultimately, a failed state in Venezuela will endanger the security, prosperity, and well-being of the people of Panama, the United States, and the entire region.

As you and I discussed, we all live in the same neighborhood. We succeed when our neighbors succeed. We struggle when our neighbors struggle. And so we will continue to act together to support the people of Venezuela in their fight for freedom. And I believe with all my heart with your support, with the growing support of all of our partners and friends across Latin America, the Venezuelan people will be free once more.

Freedom is the cord that binds the United States and Panama together. Today, we rededicate ourselves to this most cherished value. And we pledge to strengthen our bond, to deepen our friendship, and to continue to work together to advance freedom, security, and prosperity for all our people, for both our nations, and for the wider world.

The United States and Panama stand together, and so we always will.

President Varela, thank you again for your hospitality. It's a great honor to be here with you today.

Mike Pence, Remarks to the Press by the Vice President and President H.E. Juan Carlos Varela Rodriguez of Panama in Panama City, Panama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/330882

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