Americans should not mince words or turn a blind eye to atrocities, especially those in our own hemisphere. Nicolás Maduro, the dictatorial president of Venezuela, is systematically starving his people as a means of asserting control. He heads a criminal, narco-terrorist regime that is taking a once-wealthy nation to the brink of destruction.
While our sense of morality and decency alone should compel us to act, so, too, should our desire to keep our nation secure and our regional neighborhood safe. A crumbling Venezuela endangers our hemisphere, burdening our allies such as Colombia and Panama, and gives China and Russia increasing power over Venezuela through their financial support that keeps Maduro’s regime afloat.
The United States, working with allies in the Lima Group of nations seeking to restore democratic order in Venezuela, must do more before it is too late.
Two weeks ago, the world saw Maduro for what he really is. On a trip back from China, where he sought aid from the Chinese Communist government, Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, enjoyed an extravagant meal in Turkey. Thanks to social media, the world saw Maduro’s callous self-indulgence as his people starve and die. Last year, the average Venezuelan lost 19 pounds because basic food, supplies and medicine are in scarce supply. Because of hyperinflation, nine in 10 people in Venezuela say their income is not enough to feed themselves. Maduro obviously doesn’t have that problem.
America’s message has been clear. After multiple rounds of sanctions last year, the Trump administration issued more sanctions in May, a day after Maduro claimed to have won reelection in a sham vote. “We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people,” President Trump said at the time.
This week, I co-led a bipartisan group of senators to introduce comprehensive legislation to address the crisis in Venezuela. The Venezuela Humanitarian Relief, Reconstruction and Rule of Law Act of 2018 gives the U.S. government necessary resources and authority to carry out that mission.
There is no easy path forward for Venezuela, especially with Maduro and his cronies in power. The oil-rich nation was once the wealthiest in South America. Now its people are subject to daily blackouts, empty store shelves and a dehumanizing scramble to survive. Millions of Venezuelans have fled to other countries, triggering a migration crisis in South America.
First, we must lead in pressuring the regime to allow the import of food, medicine and other humanitarian relief. That will require a prioritization of resources, but the situation inside Venezuela is dire. The destabilizing impact is flowing across the borders to neighboring Brazil, Colombia and Guyana. We must also require and support the State Department and the United Nations to coordinate international assistance.
Second, we should focus on helping the Venezuelan people to restore their democracy. That begins by recognizing the democratically-elected National Assembly as Venezuela’s only legitimate government. In using diplomacy to increase to isolate Maduro, America must also make clear it will support international efforts to bolster the political opposition, achieve the release of all political prisoners, and hasten the quick return of secure, free and fair elections.
Third, we must be prepared to support the reconstruction of Venezuela after the restoration of democracy, and hold the current regime accountable for crimes against humanity. This will require our government to work closely with international organizations and implement a strategy to recover assets stolen by the Maduro regime.
Finally, in a post-Maduro Venezuela, we must work with the country’s people to ensure the rule of law is restored. This will require the cooperation of allies in the Western Hemisphere and the European Union. It will also require vigilance to ensure outside actors do not corrupt or undermine the Venezuelan government after Maduro.
We cannot think of this as an isolated problem, or nation building, or meddling in someone else’s affairs. The world does not work that way, especially with China on the rise and Russia resurgent. Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but its production is the lowest in six decades. China, under the leadership of Xi Jinping, is poised to further support its puppet Maduro.
Thirteen months ago, Maduro went on national television to say, “Go ahead, bring on your sanctions, Donald Trump.” The United States has imposed — and will continue to impose — sanctions until Maduro releases his grip on power.
As Maduro dines on overpriced steaks and begs China for a bailout, Congress must now help lay the groundwork for the Venezuelan people to take back their country after their dictatorial nightmare ends.
Marco Rubio represents Florida in the U.S. Senate.