Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Venezuela

Menendez Opening Remarks at Committee Hearing on Venezuela

“We cannot continue on the same course and expect to achieve different results. I fear the administration may very well have squandered a limited window of opportunity crafted by valiant Venezuelans. I hope it is not too late to open that window again.”

  

 

WASHINGTON — Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered opening remarks at today’s committee hearing entitled “Venezuela in Maduro's Grasp: Assessing the Deteriorating Security and Humanitarian Situation.” Testifying at the hearing were Elliott Abrams, Special Representative for Venezuela, U.S. Department of State, and Joshua Hodges, Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Latin America and the Caribbean, U.S. Agency for International Development. 

“We face a critical moment for Venezuela’s interim government, as the Maduro regime seeks to consolidate a criminal dictatorship, with a helping hand from Havana. This crisis directly affects U.S. national security interests, and our geopolitical competitors — Russia and China and Iran — seek to undermine American influence,”Ranking Member Menendez said. “Moreover, the people of Venezuela continue suffering grave human rights abuses, a humanitarian catastrophe worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and mass displacement across the hemisphere.” 

Last week, Ranking Member Menendez, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) led a group of 23 senators in once again calling on President Trump to support the victims of the Maduro regime by granting Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Venezuelans fleeing the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in their home country.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn converging on the crisis of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, the United States must mobilize international partners to further expand assistance and protection for the Venezuelan people,” Ranking Member Menendez added. “If the current trajectory continues, more Venezuelans will be displaced from their homes than the number of Syrians displaced during that devastating, nearly decade-long conflict. Yet, while other countries are generously hosting millions of Venezuelans, the Trump administration has ignored my repeated requests to grant Temporary Protected Status to some 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States.”

Below are Ranking Member Menendez’s full remarks as delivered:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for working with me on this hearing. I appreciate it.

Mr. Abrams, you come before the committee at an urgent moment for Venezuela — one with implications for the United States and our entire hemisphere.

We face a critical moment for Venezuela’s interim government, as the Maduro regime seeks to consolidate a criminal dictatorship, with a helping hand from Havana. This crisis directly affects U.S. national security interests, and our geopolitical competitors — Russia and China and Iran — seek to undermine American influence.

Moreover, the people of Venezuela continue suffering grave human rights abuses, a humanitarian catastrophe worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic, and mass displacement across the hemisphere.

As Venezuelans struggle to survive and restore their democracy, legislative elections are scheduled for this year. Not surprisingly, the Maduro regime has rigged every aspect of the electoral process, thereby ensuring increased instability and more widespread suffering. The evidence is already there.

After two decades of U.S. investment in Colombia’s security, we now see Colombian guerillas operating openly across Venezuela in large swaths of ungoverned territory. They join a wide range of armed actors promoting and profiting from the drug trade, illegal gold mining, and human suffering.

Most tragically, of course, is the daily suffering that Venezuelans endure. Femicide, sexual violence, and trafficking of Venezuelan women and girls are reportedly on the rise. Dramatic increases in maternal and infant mortality reflect the dire state of Venezuela’s health system. And the World Food Program assessed in February that one third of Venezuelans face moderate or severe food insecurity.

Additionally, Maduro’s brutal regime has perpetrated more state-sponsored murders than any Latin American government since the ‘dirty wars’ of the 1970s and ’80s. In the last two years, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported over 8,000 extrajudicial killings by Maduro’s security forces,’ as well as grotesque patterns of torture and rape.

These conditions have forced more than 5.2 million Venezuelans to flee their country in search of protection and assistance. I traveled to Cúcuta, Colombia a year ago, where I heard heart-wrenching stories from individuals fleeing the humanitarian tragedy in Venezuela.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn converging on the crisis of Venezuelan refugees and migrants, the United States must mobilize international partners to further expand assistance and protection for the Venezuelan people. If the current trajectory continues, more Venezuelans will be displaced from their homes than the number of Syrians displaced during that devastating, nearly decade-long conflict.

Yet, while other countries are generously hosting millions of Venezuelans, the Trump administration has ignored my repeated requests to grant Temporary Protected Status to some 200,000 Venezuelans in the United States. It has turned away Venezuelan asylum seekers at our southern border, and that is absolutely unacceptable.

The administration must change course.

Through my VERDAD Act last year, Democrats and Republicans, in concert with the administration united in our recognition of Interim President Juan Guaidó. However, in June, President Trump stated that he did not think this decision to recognize President Guaidó was ‘very meaningful’— sending the wrong signal to our allies and our adversaries.

We must be purposeful and lead the formidable coalition we helped build to support President Guaidó. So, I expect to hear a strategy about how we will work with our partners to ensure that Maduro doesn’t use fraudulent elections to strengthen his dictatorship.

Moreover, with Maduro and his cronies facing charges in the U.S. for drug trafficking and graft, there should be no doubt about their criminal credentials. We are dealing with a massive law enforcement challenge in Venezuela. Never have so many in our hemisphere fallen victim to a cabal of criminals so willing to destroy their own country for the sole purpose of enriching themselves and avoiding justice.

We must coordinate an international campaign to confront the regime’s criminality, and I look forward to hearing from you, Special Representative, on what changes we will make to increase our chance of success in the next six months. Yes, I said changes.

There has been bipartisan support for most of our sanctions and the $600 million in foreign assistance we have used for humanitarian aid. But Maduro remains entrenched in power and humanitarian access into Venezuela is extremely limited.

We cannot continue on the same course and expect to achieve different results. I fear the administration may very well have squandered a limited window of opportunity crafted by valiant Venezuelans. I hope it is not too late to open that window again.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”

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