Duncan Holds Hearing on State and Criminal Actors in Venezuela

Sep 13, 2017 Issues: Foreign Affairs

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Congressman Jeff Duncan (R-SC-03), Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, delivered the following opening statement at the Subcommittee hearing entitled, “The Venezuela Crisis: The Malicious Influence of State and Criminal Actors.”

“Today in Venezuela, there are over 600 political prisoners. The country is a failed state and a humanitarian disaster. Since April, more than 125 people have died and over 2,000 have been injured in protests at the hands of the government. Food, medical supplies, and basic goods remain scarce. The legitimate democratically-elected National Assembly has been silenced in favor of a sham constituent assembly full of President Maduro’s supporters. The previous Attorney General has fled the country after publicly opposing Maduro’s abuse of power. Today, Venezuela has entrenched itself as a dictatorship, unmoved by international condemnation and the pleas of its people.  The political, economic, and human rights crisis in the country is appalling for the 30 million citizens of Venezuela, and it threatens to destabilize the region.      

“The United States has very clear interests in Venezuela. We want regional peace without masses of refugee flows or public health threats from rising cases of malaria, diphtheria, or zika. We want to see a democratic country that respects the rule of law and that is accountable to its people. We want to see a country that doesn’t use its power to beat up, prison, torture, and kill its citizens. We want to ensure that Venezuela does not become a narco-state that provides safe harbor to terrorists or transnational criminals. We want a stable energy market that promotes energy security. We also want to certify that Venezuela does not become a pawn for Russia, China, or Iran to exploit for their own geopolitical purposes. We care about the Venezuelan people, and we want to see them prosper.

“To those ends, the U.S. Congress has issued public statements and passed legislation calling for the Maduro government to return to a democratic order. This Subcommittee has held four hearings on Venezuela just over the past two years. President Trump has affirmed that Venezuela remains a U.S. priority, and his many efforts combined with Vice President Pence’s recent visit to the region, underscore U.S. solidarity with our partners in the region and with the Venezuelan people in our commitment to see the Venezuelan government end its embrace of tyranny. I commend President Trump and his Administration for their efforts, and I want to underscore that we support further U.S. and international action to pressure the Maduro regime and to convince those who follow his leadership that they will not succeed in destroying the country.

“While the U.S. under President Trump’s leadership has been unwavering in our support for the Venezuelan people, many other countries in Latin America, Europe, and Asia have also demonstrated courage and conviction in jointly condemning the “breakdown of democratic order in Venezuela” and in offering full support and recognition for the democratically-elected National Assembly. I believe it is critical that we continue to speak – and act – together in our support for the Venezuelan people. Dialogue alone is fruitless without a series of pre-conditions that level the playing field for democratic actors and without corresponding, simultaneous multilateral pressure. Therefore, I strongly urge other countries to continue their efforts to step up the pressure.

“Recently, I along with Ranking Member Sires led a Congressional delegation visit, which included Ms. Kelly, Ms. Torres, and Mr. Espaillat of this Subcommittee, to the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Colombia, and Peru. In our meetings, we emphasized U.S. Congressional commitment to supporting democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Venezuela and urged greater regional cooperation to call out the Maduro government for its reprehensible behavior against its people and to pressure the Venezuelan government to restore the country’s democratic institutions. Decisions like MERCOSUR’s suspension of Venezuela and the recent Lima Declaration, which was signed by 12 Latin American countries, are important steps in that direction. With that in mind, I strongly urge the European Union to enact sanctions on the Venezuelan dictatorship to cut off another important source of financing and ratchet up the pressure on the Maduro regime.

“Yet, regardless of any strong measure the U.S., other countries in the Western Hemisphere, and the European Union may take against the Maduro government, various state and criminal actors have undermined those measures’ effectiveness and blunted our objectives. Cuba, China, Russia, and Iran are the underlying supporters of the Maduro regime. Beginning with the rise to power of Hugo Chavez, the Cuban dictatorship has exported its system of oppression to Venezuela under the guise of medical doctors and teachers. For their part, Russia and China have funded the expansion of Venezuela’s military arsenal and invested heavily in Venezuela’s corrupt state-owned oil company, PDVSA. Iran has attempted to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with Venezuela through visits in 2016 by Iranian President and Foreign Minister, and multiple reports exist of Hezbollah’s activities in the county. Just earlier this week, President Maduro met with President Rouhani to strengthen their cooperation.

“In addition, criminal organizations also operate in the country with unfettered access, fueling corruption, graft, and an increase in narcotrafficking and other illicit activities. A few years ago, U.S. government drug trafficking maps showed virtually all suspected drug trafficking flights from South America originated in Venezuela. Today, we are seeing drugs from Venezuela entering neighboring countries as well as heading to the U.S. Yesterday, the State Department affirmed that in Venezuela, drug trafficking organizations have “completely penetrated virtually every security, law enforcement, and justice-related institution” in the country and any solution to the Venezuela crisis requires “a solution to the drug trafficking organization presence.

“In February 2017, the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s Vice President, designated him as a drug king, and revealed the Venezuelan government’s complicity in drug trafficking. Questions remain regarding the Venezuelan government’s ties to foreign terrorist groups and concerns about Russian and Chinese arms falling into the hands of these or other criminal actors. Today, we want to examine the role these actors play in sustaining the Venezuelan dictatorship and consider what might constitute an effective U.S. and international response. With that, I turn to Ranking Member Sires for his opening remarks and look forward to hearing from our witnesses.”

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