WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan legislation Wednesday to provide humanitarian assistance for the Venezuelan people, support a coordinated multilateral response to political and humanitarian challenges, and to defend democratic governance and combat widespread public corruption in Venezuela.
Joining the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017 as original cosponsors are U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).
Amidst a years-long economic crisis that has put food, medicine and basic services out of the hands of millions of Venezuelans, thousands of protesters continue to demonstrate across the country, hundreds of political prisoners remain in custody, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has recently announced he will seek the country’s removal from the Organization of American States, the hemisphere’s preeminent multilateral organization for upholding democratic principles and universal human rights.
“President Maduro has thrown his country into a deep crisis and set back the livelihood of the Venezuelan people in ways that are profound and tragic. It is in the strategic interest of the United States to support the restoration of democracy in Venezuela and work with regional partners to put the country back on a path to peace, prosperity and stability,” Senator Cardin, Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. “The United States must lead an expanded effort with countries across the Americas to stop Venezuela’s hemorrhaging, and our bill would give the Administration the tools and resources necessary to do so as well as support the basic human rights of the Venezuelan people.”
“Venezuelan civilians are being harmed and killed by their own government as the dictator Maduro and his thugs use violence to suppress peaceful pro-democracy protests,” Senator Rubio, Chairman of the SFRC Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said. “The United States must stand with and support the Venezuelan people as they struggle to defend their rights and restore constitutional mechanisms and bring back democracy in their country.”
Included in the bills multiple provisions are funding for essential medicines, nutritional supplements, and technical assistance to improve food and medical distribution; a strategy to engage governments and multilateral organizations throughout the Western Hemisphere in improving the humanitarian situation in Venezuela; support for the OAS ‘ democracy restoration efforts and future electoral-observation missions.
“As tens of thousands of Venezuelans bravely take to the streets in face of brutal repression, the United States must work with its regional allies to provide much-needed humanitarian assistance and demand the restoration of democratic order and release of all political prisoners,” Senator Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, said. “I am proud to join my colleagues to introduce this bill in solidarity with the Venezuelan people as we unequivocally denounce the Venezuelan government’s use of violence to further this crisis and undermine the country’s democracy.”
“The public demonstrations unfolding in Venezuela are a powerful expression of the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people. President Maduro must stop committing acts of violence against these peaceful demonstrators and respect his citizens’ basic rights, including freedom of expression and assembly,” Senator McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said. “Ultimately, it is in the national interest of the United States and the entire region for the Venezuelan people to live in peace and security. As the human rights crisis in Venezuela continues to worsen every day, this bill will help support the people of Venezuela in their struggle for a more free, democratic and prosperous country.”
“The United States Congress is forced once again to take forceful legislative action in light of the appalling dismantling of democracy, explosion of human rights abuses and boiling economic crisis in Venezuela,” Senator Menendez, Ranking Member of the SFRC Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, said. “The suffering of the people of Venezuela is real and harrowing, and it now appears evident Nicolas Maduro will continue abusing them without any accountability and will continue to drive his country’s economy further into the ground unless the international community steps up in a major way. So as the Venezuelan regime spirals out of control, this bipartisan legislation represents our resolve for the United States to speak unequivocally in our rejection of the abhorrent state of affairs in Venezuela and its potential destabilizing impact in our hemisphere.”
A section-by-section summary of the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017 follows:
Sec. 2 – Findings: Includes findings on the growing economic and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela; recognizes the presence of more than 100 political prisoners.
Sec. 3 – Sense of Congress: Calls on Venezuelan President Maduro to permit humanitarian assistance, immediately release all political prisoners, and seek assistance from international financial institutions; expresses support for a negotiated solution to Venezuela’s crisis.
Sec. 4 – Humanitarian Assistance for the People of Venezuela: Authorizes $10 million for the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to work through independent non-governmental organizations to provide essential medicines, nutritional supplements, and technical assistance to improve distribution of medicine and food.
Sec. 5 – Requirement for Strategy to Coordinate International Humanitarian Assistance: Requires the U.S. Department of State and USAID to establish a multi-year strategy to engage Latin American and Caribbean governments and multilateral institutions to secure financial and technical assistance in response to growing humanitarian challenges in Venezuela.
Sec. 6 – Support for OAS Inter-American Democratic Charter: Recognizes the rupture of constitutional order in Venezuela and urges the U.S. Department of State to take additional steps in support of efforts by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) to advance diplomatic initiatives that restore Venezuelan democracy.
Sec. 7 – Support for International Election Observations Missions and Democratic Civil Society in Venezuela: Authorizes $500,000 to support future OAS election observation missions and $9.5 million for democratic civil society organizations working to defend human rights.
Sec. 8 – Support for Caribbean Countries: Recognizes the role that Caribbean countries can play in addressing the crisis in Venezuela and expresses support for U.S. initiatives to advance Caribbean energy independence.
Sec. 9 – Concerns and Report on the Involvement of Venezuelan Officials in Corruption and Narcotics Trafficking: Requires the U.S. State Department and U.S. Intelligence Community to prepare an unclassified report with a classified annex on the involvement of Venezuelan government officials in corruption and the illicit drug trade.
Sec. 10 – Sanctions on Persons Responsible for Public Corruption and Undermining Democratic Governance in Venezuela: Codifies additional targeted sanctions on individuals undermining democratic governance and involved in corruption in Venezuela that were in Obama Administration Executive Order 13692.
Sec. 11 – Concerns over PDVSA Transactions with Rosneft: Recognizes that potential control by Rosneft, a Russian government-controlled entity currently under U.S. sanctions, of Citgo assets would pose a significant risk to U.S. national security and energy security; calls on the President to take all necessary steps to prevent Rosneft from gaining control of U.S. energy infrastructure.