The medical assistance, which included more than 100 surgeries, benefited the least privileged communities, as well as Venezuelan migrants in Colombia. According to July 2019 figures from Migración Colombia, 1.4 million Venezuelans have fled to Colombia. The Santa Marta region is home to about 70,000 Venezuelans, many of whom do not have access to health services.
U.S. Navy Admiral Craig S. Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said at the start of Continuing Promise 2019: “U.S. Southern Command is committed to the region in support of our Caribbean and Latin American partners, as well as displaced Venezuelans who continue to flee the brutal oppression of the Maduro regime and its interlocking, man-made political, economic, and humanitarian crises.”
Colombian President Iván Duque visited the ship during its stop in Colombia and thanked the United States “for the significant support provided in the care of nearly 6,000 patients. We saw the medical and humanitarian work the professionals of hospital ship USNS Comfort carried out. We thank the U.S. government for assisting vulnerable communities, especially Venezuelan migrants,” said Duque.
For his part, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar also stressed the importance of Colombia’s solidarity in the face of the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis, which led 4 million Venezuelans to migrate in the last four years, according to a June 2019 report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. “I would like to highlight the amazing work the USNS Comfort team carried out, which is a great symbol of U.S. generosity.”
One of the Venezuelan patients seen during the mission expressed her thanks and said she had to leave her country due to the lack of medical services and medication. “Hyperinflation in Venezuela is what has affected us most, all because of a very corrupt government. Health services are deplorable; the country’s situation is deplorable. Newborns and people who could be saved die every day, but Maduro’s government is letting us die,” said Maria Alvarado who is from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and has been living in Colombia for two and a half years with her husband and three children.
Continuing Promise has been in operation for 12 years, conducting trips to Latin America to provide health care and surgeries to underprivileged people, and helping with school construction, veterinary services, and medical exchanges with specialists from the mission’s host countries.