The U.S. Navy is again deploying its medical ship Comfort to Latin America – this time from PortMiami. Vice President Mike Pence was here Tuesday to see Comfort off – and he made clear its key mission is to aid the exploding number of Venezuelan refugees.
Pence toured the Comfort before it visits 13 countries in South and Central America and the Caribbean. But he reminded the audience, filled with local Venezuelan expat leaders, of the country the ship cannot visit: Venezuela, where the government won’t let it dock.
"For the next five months," Pence said, "the crew of the USNS Comfort will continue America’s effort to bring desperately needed medical care to those in need – especially the men and women and children who are suffering under the unprecedented crisis and oppression in Venezuela.”
This month the U.N. said 4 million Venezuelans have left their country since 2015. They’re fleeing economic collapse, an authoritarian regime – and often deadly medical shortages. That massive refugee exodus has gone to many of the countries where the Comfort will stop.
But after Pence's speech, when he took questions, one expat quoted a Bible verse about moral duty – and she asked Pence, an evangelical Christian, if the U.S. doesn't have a moral obligation now to invade Venezuela militarily to oust its socialist regime. Pence was noncommittal.
“The good we can do," he replied, "in most respects we are doing."
Pence listed U.S. efforts such as moving millions of dollars in aid to Venezuela’s borders, putting tough economic sanctions on the regime – and recognizing opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate president.
But the moment was indicative of the frustration expats here are feeling as Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro remains entrenched in power.
Pence was joined by Admiral Craig Faller, commander of the U.S. military's Southern Command (Southcom) in Doral; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Guaidó's ambassador to Washington, Carlos Vecchio – who insisted "the only way to resolve Venezuela's crisis is taking Maduro out of power" so new presidential elections can be held there.