Here is a summary of President Donald Trump’s April 1 COVID-19 coronavirus press conference:
The U.S. is launching enhanced counter-narcotic operations in the Western Hemisphere. We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic. With 22 partner nations, U.S. Southern Command will increase seizure of drug shipments. We are sending more Navy destroyers and other assets to double our capabilities. They have protective equipment.
Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper:
Today, DOD began drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea. This includes Navy ships, Coast Guard cutters, aircraft and an Army defense force. Twenty-two nations have joined. Last year, Southern Command seized over 280 metric tons of drugs.
Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro relies on drug smuggling profits to maintain his hold on power. Drug traffickers are increasing their activities.
As nations focus on COVID-19, many criminal operations are stepping up their efforts.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Mark A. Milley:
There are thousands of service members involved.
We received intelligence the drug cartels would step up their efforts to smuggle drugs as we dealt with the coronavirus. Seventy-thousand Americans die of drug overdoses every year; that is unacceptable.
He likened the operation against drug smugglers to a war, just as the nation is at war against terrorists and COVID-19.
“We will defend our country, regardless of the cost.”
Attorney General William Barr:
The Department of Justice aims to destroy the Mexican cartels, which are responsible for most of the deaths of 70,000 Americans per year.
The president made clear we are not interested in half measures and this is not just a criminal matter, but of national defense.
The president asked me to meet with the Mexican government. We had some successful visits and have some operations underway. IT became clear we can get the most immediate results where we increase the assets for interdiction in the oceans. We know where the traffickers are but have had limited assets to interdict. Now, we are doubling our capacity.
Last week I announced the unsealing of charges against the former Maduro regime in trafficking and terrorism. A lot of that comes by sea. Our pressure has led to an attempt for an air route out of Central America. The cartels have got to be defeated.
What has changed to allow these assets to deploy now? Esper: The president told us his priorities, which are to protect Americans. I had already been looking at how to free up assets. Our team felt we could free up these assets.
How long will this last? Esper: I won’t say how long but we will assess this.
Trump: This will impact the coronavirus because people are trying to get in.
Question: Can you expand this and cartels? Trump: We are focused on so many areas. The wall is at 161 miles. Any areas where we have the wall … it is stopping everybody. We are now focused on so many things … it is a horrible phenomenon.
Did China underreport the number of cases and deaths? And would that affect our relationship? An official said there is no way to confirm the numbers from China. We have a great relationship with them. Trump: We had a great call and are working on things like trade, they are paying our farmers for their product.
Question: You tweeted there was an attack being planned in Iraq against our troops. Trump: It was led by groups supported by Iran. We are saying don’t do it.
Question: Did you receive an intelligence report on China’s numbers? Trump: The numbers we saw were on the light side. We discussed that with their president. Our relationship is good. They may be spending $250 billion buying our products, to farmers alone, $250 billion for other things.
Question: China is sending PPEs around the world. We are pushing the narrative they are taking on a leadership role in this crisis. Trump: We don’t have a problem with that. We are building thousands of ventilators right now; it will take time to build them. Even after we stockpile, we will have more than we need and will send them around the world.
Trump: I spoke today with Doug McMillon of Walmart and gave him a big order for protective gowns. They will be shipped directly to hospitals.
Question: Are we losing ground on the drug war? Trump: We are not losing ground. We don’t want to lose ground. We are heavily focused on the virus. After this, we will never have been as focused on drugs. As the wall gets bigger, that will help us a lot.
Are other governments helping? Trump: Yes. There are 27,000 Mexican troops on our border, keeping people out of our country. The president of Mexico is a great guy who has helped us a lot.
Are narco-militants like from Columbia or the Maduro regime, are they working with the Mexican cartels? Trump said he knows but cannot tell people that.
Have troops in Iraq taken precautions? Trump: Yes. We’re down to a small number there now but we have air power.
Question: USS Theodore Roosevelt status? Officials said over 1,000 sailors have been removed, and 2,700 will have been removed by Friday. The ship is fully operational.
There was a question on how sailors are being protected. An official said sailors are quarantined for 14 days before a ship leaves port. The Navy is increasing testing equipment.
Question: There was a report the national stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPEs) was nearly out. Trump: Yes, because we are shipping PPEs to the states and telling them to get more supplies directly from the manufacturers. We have nearly 10,000 ventilators in the stockpile. As the virus moves, we need flexibility on where to move ventilators. We agreed today to send over 1,000 ventilators to different locations.