Venezuela is collapsing. The economy is tanking. The health system has no medicine. Its democracy is dead. And there is no food. It is time for the elected representatives of Florida — where the greatest concentration of Venezuelan Americans reside — to speak out and take action.
Last week we saw our desperate brothers and sisters take to the streets to take a stand against the dictatorial edicts of President Nicolás Maduro. Hundreds were brutally detained in what were legitimate, legal and peaceful protests. Political figures continue to be locked up, media freedom is trampled upon, and food is trickled out to Maduro’s cronies while the average Venezuelan starves.
Maduro has blunted the constitutionally backed call for change. A legal petition, far exceeding the number of required signatories, calling for a referendum on the president’s rule is being blocked by every means at the his disposal. It now seems clear that there will be no recall referendum this year. Constitutionally, no new elections can take place if the referendum is scheduled after January 10. Thus, even if Maduro loses in a 2017 referendum, his vice president will take over: More of the same for the people of Venezuela.
That means no improvement in day-to-day life in Venezuela, where currently one in three patients taken into a hospital dies. “More of the same” means whereas just five years ago, one children’s hospital in Venezuela had a waiting list of approximately 200 patients, today, that same hospital has close to 6,000 children waiting for life-saving operations. For Venezuelan Floridians, this is our family. In the last few years, 13,000 doctors have left the country, many to these shores. We have a responsibility to speak up and take action for those who remain and suffer on our behalf. While our children enjoy the fruits of American democracy, newborn babies in Caracas are kept in cardboard boxes. Today, one in every four children suffers from malnutrition.
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Venezuela continues to break records. In September, there were nearly 500 homicides in Caracas, outpacing both Baghdad and Kabul. Likewise, the economy continues to shock even the most pessimistic analysts. The International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation will rise to nearly 500 percent this year and potentially by 2,200 percent in 2017.
At the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, we’ve had enough. More than 260,000 Venezuelans are registered to live in the United States.The number is increasing as the crisis worsens. Deep into election season, we have a real opportunity to make our voices heard as U.S. citizens. Call your members of Congress and demand they speak up and take action.
The Venezuelan American Leadership Council is calling for the creation of a Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Caucus in Congress, to serve as a platform to educate and legislate, to secure aid for the Venezuelan people, and to help alleviate the crises and human rights abuses taking place daily in Venezuela.
Maduro’s dictatorship already blames “American imperialists” for all the ills he and his predecessor have inflicted on the country. Now his regime must actually feel the weight of American influence, to experience isolation, through regime-focused, regionally supported sanctions.
Now is the time to speak up and demand action for Venezuela, because you can!
Carlos Marquez is executive director of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council.