Menendez Opening Statement at Hearing Exploring Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis

Menendez Opening Statement at Hearing Exploring Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis

 

WASHINGTON – Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following statement today at a Foreign Relations Subcommittee Hearing titled “U.S.-Venezuela Relations and the Path to a Democratic Transition.” 

“Today, Democrats and Republicans are untied as one on behalf of the people of Venezuela, on recognizing Interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela, and in our pursuit of democracy and human rights for the Venezuelan people,” said Menendez. “Despite our collective hopes, the events of the last several weeks did not lead to the quick win the Administration seemed to expect. As we have learned throughout our history as a nation, confronting tyranny requires sustained commitment.”

“It is increasingly clear that the struggle for democracy and freedom in Venezuela is going to take time, discipline, and a strategy based on keen understanding of the complex situation on the ground. But Maduro is not invincible; he’s far from it…So we must ask: where do we go from here? As the Guaidó Government works to restore democracy, the global community must not waver in our support for the Venezuelan people.”

  

Below are the Senator’s full remarks as delivered:

“I want to start by commending Senators Rubio and Cardin for convening today’s hearing. I think it’s a critically important time to be talking about the Western Hemisphere. Nothing rises to my mind higher, at this time, than Venezuela, and, of course, Nicaragua, as well. And thank you Administrator Greene and Special Envoy Abrams for being with us today. 

I think that the one thing we should walk away from this hearing with is that, today, Democrats and Republicans are untied as one on behalf of the people of Venezuela, on recognizing Interim President Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela, and in our pursuit of democracy and human rights for the Venezuelan people. 

Venezuela is at crossroads: one in which a dictator clings to power amidst the ruins of a failed state, and one in which democratic actors seek a peaceful transition and the reconstruction of their country and their society.

The Maduro regime has inflicted widespread suffering on the Venezuelan people. From a man-made humanitarian crisis, to an economy in freefall, to the violence perpetrated by security forces, colectivos, and the regime’s death squads.

Maduro is a criminal dictator who has destroyed a country. His election and inauguration are illegitimate – not because we say it, but because the world says it – and his grip on power comes only from the oppression of his people, the assets he has stolen from them, and the military leaders he has paid for their loyalty. 

The fact that he is closely advised by Cuba and bankrolled by Russia and China only complicates matters. 

There is, however, a democratic process by which members of the legitimately-elected National Assembly exercised their power under the Venezuelan Constitution to designate Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Interim President of Venezuela.

Embracing this process to restore democracy in Venezuela, it was critically important that more than 50 countries recognized Guaidó as the Interim President.  

This unprecedented coalition spans our hemisphere and the world, from Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, and Brazil to the UK, France, Spain, Germany, and Japan – to mention a few.

I strongly support the Administration’s decisions to recognize Guaidó, as well as its efforts to expand sanctions against specific individuals, and to work with regional partners to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid.  And I believe firmly in the full use of U.S. political and economic pressure to create the conditions necessary for a negotiated solution that includes Maduro’s departure and Venezuela’s peaceful return to democracy.   

So we must ask: where do we go from here? As the Guaidó Government works to restore democracy, the global community must not waver in our support for the Venezuelan people.

In 2014, when I was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, we passed the first set of sanctions and efforts to restore democracy to Venezuela. 

Last week I authored bipartisan legislation to extend Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans in the United States, and in the coming weeks I plan to introduce comprehensive legislation aimed at pressuring the Maduro regime and helping the Venezuelan people rebuild their country.  

My legislation will expand humanitarian assistance. My bill includes provisions to increase pressure on the regime, but it will also send a message particularly to the military inside of Venezuela and to regime officials: if you want a future in Venezuela and if you want a future free of U.S. sanctions which will follow you anywhere in the world, then you must the legitimate Interim President Juan Guaidó and you must not have blood on your hands.

However, for our economic and financial sanctions to be truly effective, they must be matched by actions from our allies. We must, by example, encourage our partners to make similar investments.

During my travel to Europe for the Munich Security Conference last month, I took every opportunity to raise Venezuela with European leaders, stressing the importance of coordinating our humanitarian and our sanctions efforts, and the Interim President’s push to organize new democratic elections. 

What I would caution, however, is that the support that we have lent unequivocally to Venezuela, does not include the use of force. The Administration’s comments threaten the international consensus that has created an opening for positive change and a return to democracy. 

Despite our collective hopes, the events of the last several weeks did not lead to the quick win the Administration seemed to expect. As we have learned throughout our history as a nation, confronting tyranny requires sustained commitment. 

It is increasingly clear that the struggle for democracy and freedom in Venezuela is going to take time, discipline, and a strategy based on keen understanding of the complex situation on the ground.  

But Maduro is not invincible; he’s far from it. Since January 23, more than 500 soldiers and several high-ranking regime officials have defected, including two generals and the former head of the intelligence service.  Moreover, President Guaidó further exposed Maduro’s weakness by returning to Venezuela on Monday—doing so not by sneaking across the border, but by landing at Caracas airport. 

We have a unique opportunity before us. 

So, in closing: I know that I have heard that the Administration has a Plan A, B, C, and D, I look forward to hearing what they are at this hearing, and how we can strategize together, coordinate together, to achieve the ultimate goal of freedom and democracy for the Venezuelan people, and the opportunity to restore democracy to the people of Venezuela and to make it once again a nation among the family of hemispheric nations that observe the rule of law and have the respect of its people.”

 

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