USNS Comfort Deploys to Provide Medical Assistance, Including to Venezuelans in Need
By Steven McLoud/Diálogo June 18, 2019The U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort was in Port of Miami on June 18 to begin its deployment to Latin America and the Caribbean as part of mission Continuing Promise.
During its five-month deployment, the USNS Comfort will conduct medical assistance in support of regional partners and provide a medical response to the regional impacts of the Venezuelan political and economic crisis.
On hand at the press conference at the launch of the USNS Comfort in Miami, Florida, was U.S. Vice President Mike Pence along with U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), as well as Carlos Vecchio, the Venezuelan ambassador to the U.S. appointed by Venezuelan Interim President Juan Guaidó.
“Under President Trump’s direction, we announced last month that the USNS Comfort will deploy once again throughout the region of Latin America to address the suffering people of Venezuela,” said Pence. He also pointed to all the personnel being deployed with the ship, including partner nation members from Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, and Costa Rica, thanking them for their service, and adding, “you are embarking on a vital mission and are fulfilling this nation’s enduring promise — the very mission of SOUTHCOM — to improve public health, strengthen security, and grow prosperity throughout this hemisphere of freedom.”
Throughout its five-month deployment, the diverse crew of about 1,000 military and civilian medical, engineering, veterinary, logistics, and marine personnel, will visit numerous countries with their first stop beginning in Ecuador. Other port calls will be conducted in Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Panama, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis and Saint Lucia.
U.S. military medical personnel aboard the ship will work alongside a variety of governmental agencies to provide medical assistance to communities based on the needs identified by the host-nation health ministries. The majority of these patients will be treated at the ship's land-based medical sites, while select patients may be chosen for the hospital ship’s onboard surgical services.
The medical and dental capabilities provided during this deployment will assist communities with a wide range of health services, including basic medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution, general surgery, ophthalmologic surgery, public health training, and additional specialties as required.
For countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru, the arrival of the Comfort will be a much needed asset to relieve pressure on their respective medical systems, which received and attended to thousands of Venezuelans who have fled the country’s crisis.
Since 2018, Venezuela's economic collapse under the regime of Nicolás Maduro, and his predecessor Hugo Chávez, has caused the largest migration crisis in Latin American history. According to the United Nations, 4 million Venezuelans — more than a tenth of the population — have fled the country in the past four years.
“I’d like to take this opportunity to say something to the professional officers, noncommissioned officers, soldiers, sailors, and airmen in Venezuela's military,” said Adm. Faller. “You also made a promise — an oath — to protect your citizens and defend your country. And in that promise lies hope for a better future — for your families, for your institution, and for your country: that Venezuela will once again be free, democratic, and prosperous.”
The sailing from PortMiami marks the hospital ship’s seventh deployment to the region since 2007, and the second deployment to the Western Hemisphere in the last six months.
“And that’s why Comfort is returning to the region again — to extend hope, and an outstretched hand, to those in need,” Adm. Faller said. “Over the next five months, Comfort is hoping to visit 14 ports in 12 countries. But the one place she won’t go is where she’s needed most: Venezuela,” he added.