Venezuela is experiencing one of the worst humanitarian and economic crises in the western hemisphere in recent history.
Food is scarce, malnutrition is widespread, and the nation’s medical system has collapsed. Ten percent of Venezuela’s population, more than four million people, have fled the country, with thousands following in the footsteps of so many others who have come to the United States and South Florida.
Despite harsh sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, Nicolás Maduro’s cronies continue to thrive, while nine out of 10 Venezuelans live in heartbreaking poverty. We support the administration’s efforts to unite the international community in support of the decision by the National Assembly —the only democratic institution still standing in Venezuela — to recognize Juan Guaidó as the country’s interim president until free, fair, and transparent elections can be held.
Yet, Maduro still reigns, and millions of Venezuelans still do not have food, medicine, or electricity.
So, we ask: what’s next, Mr. President? We need a more strategic plan.
To break the deadlock, the United States and the international community can put more pressure on the regime to facilitate a peaceful change in leadership, expose the corrupt networks that prop up the regime in Caracas, and meet the urgent, basic needs of the poor and hungry. These efforts will help push the parties to achieve a peaceful transition that precludes none, even key Chavistas players, in promoting stability in the country.
Alongside the people of Venezuela, and with the full force of the other 53 countries and important regional bodies like the Inter-American Development Bank and the Organization of American States that have recognized Guaidó, we must assert a bold approach that exposes the criminal and corrupt actions sustaining this regime so that loyalists break from Maduro and force him to leave office.
First, all countries supporting Guaidó must tighten the financial pressure on the corrupt members who continue to support the Maduro regime, including freezing assets, banning travel, and canceling visas of military leaders and their families. We know from sanctions imposed on past dictatorial regimes, such as Haiti’s coup-leaders in the ‘90s, that when the regime loyalists and their family members — those who escape the daily consequences of government mismanagement — feel their extravagant lifestyles are threatened, the leaders will break.
Part of that pressure must include further exposure of the criminality that enables the Maduro regime to survive crippling sanctions and keep the military leadership loyal. A new National Defense University study reveals that, in the face of declining oil revenues, a vast criminal network spanning over 26 countries has siphoned tens of billions of dollars from the Venezuelan government through illicit trading in drugs, gold, and oil.
Maduro’s network has murdered local dissenters, engaged in human trafficking, and wreaked havoc on the environment. Beyond the human toll, 84,000 acres in southern Venezuela have been deforested as the Maduro regime strip-mines the land in a desperate bid for revenue.
We need a U.S.-led international investigation to trace this criminal web and to name, shame, and prosecute those still involved. Such action can also help expose the true role of Hezbollah, Cuba, Russia, Iran, and Colombian former guerrillas in the networks.
Second, the nations that support Guaidó must join our regional allies to galvanize immediate and generous support to the four million Venezuelans who have fled the repressive regime, and the 2.3 million more expected by the end of this year. That means immediately meeting the UN’s call for nearly $1 billion in refugee resettlement and humanitarian aid.
We have demanded that the administration grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to the approximately 72,000 Venezuelans in the United States, many of them in South Florida, but our requests have been met with silence. In the face of unconscionable inaction by President Trump, the House Judiciary Committee last month passed a bill to grant TPS to Venezuelans in the United States, bringing it one step closer to becoming law.
Third, we must prepare for the hard work of rebuilding Venezuela in a post-Maduro era.While Venezuela’s vast oil wealth can help, significant amounts of humanitarian and financial assistance will be critical to assist the desperate population struggling to find food and medicine. We must use our influence with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and the support of our allies to devise a substantial post-Maduro assistance plan to help the rebuilding process; meet the people’s health, food, and education needs; and prepare for new, internationally-monitored elections.
We welcome the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passage of the bipartisan Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development (VERDAD) Act. The Senate bill — incorporating bills that we introduced in the House — authorizes $400 million in aid to the Venezuelan people, restrictions on arms sales, as well as targeted sanctions. We need to pass the VERDAD Act to help the Venezuelan people survive this devastating crisis and galvanize other countries to help.
As we work to convert this pressure into progress, an approach to Venezuela that respects our regional allies and takes tougher diplomatic actions againstMaduro’s criminal networks will pave the way for democratic transition. These tactics, with real commitments of resources to help the country get back on its feet, offer the proper balance to achieve peaceful, democratic, and lasting change in Venezuela.
South Florida congresswomen Donna Shalala, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell represent districts in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. They wrote this article for the Miami Herald.