WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on Venezuela:
“Let me start by saying that the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is simply heartbreaking. Ninety percent of Venezuelans are living in poverty. More than one in 10 children suffers from malnutrition. And nearly 10 percent of the country’s population of 31 million has fled overseas.
“What makes it even more heartbreaking is that this crisis is entirely man-made. Venezuela should be one of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries in the hemisphere. It once was! But the corruption, incompetence, and mismanagement of Nicolas Maduro and Hugo Chavez before him have driven that country off the edge of a cliff. The blame lies squarely with the crooked officials who have repressed the Venezuelan people for years—doing everything from throwing political opponents in jail to rigging elections to gunning down protestors in the street.
“Now, some consider it a good soundbite to say that Venezuela represents the failure of socialism. But we should be honest that Venezuela is not a socialist country. It’s a kleptocracy. It’s a cruel and oppressive regime, pocketing every dollar it can even if it means that the country’s people are literally starving to death.
“Nowhere is Nicolás Maduro’s disregard for his fellow Venezuelans clearer than in his decision to block humanitarian aid from entering the country last week at the Colombia-Venezuela border. This was a disgrace. And we need to keep looking for ways to get this assistance to those who need it without provoking a confrontation that could lead to the loss of life.
“The Venezuelan people deserve better. They deserve the future they choose for themselves and their country.
“So our question is: how do we help them attain that future? How do we stand with the people of Venezuela as they seek a peaceful, democratic transition?
“First, governments around the world—and especially here in our neighborhood—need to support the Venezuelan National Assembly and Juan Guaido as they work toward free and fair elections—elections that must be monitored by credible international observers, including the OAS—the Organization of American States. The EU-Latin America Contact Group can play a potentially crucial role in laying the groundwork for these elections—an area where our own Administration can provide financial and political support.
“What about U.S. policy more broadly?
“I will credit the Administration: in the last few weeks, we’ve seen good, multilateral engagement to grapple with this crisis. I’m glad the White House rejects Nicolás Maduro. I think we should reject authoritarians regardless of their ideology, and that would include despots like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un.
“But I do worry about the President’s saber rattling, his hints that the U.S. military intervention remains an option. I want to make clear to our witnesses and to everyone else watching: U.S. military intervention is not an option. Congress decides when, where, and how the U.S. military is used around the world, and Congress would not support military intervention in Venezuela.
“Venezuela’s neighbors feel the same way. Just last week, Colombia’s deputy foreign minister said that, and I quote him, ‘in no way would the Colombian government permit or agree with any type of military intervention,’ unquote, in Venezuela.
“With respect to the new sanctions on PDVSA, I appreciate the need to squeeze Maduro. But the White House must think through the potential repercussions that these sanctions could have on the Venezuelan people if Maduro does not leave office in the coming weeks. We need to continually evaluate their effectiveness.
“My biggest concern about the Administration’s policy is what appears to be missing: what are we going to do about the more than three million Venezuelans who have already left the country? This has become Latin America’s biggest migration crisis in recent history, and I fear the United States may make things worse.
“For starters, we should be taking in more Venezuelan refugees, but our admission numbers are at their lowest in recent history. Worse, the immigration policies of the White House have resulted in more Venezuelans being deported back to Venezuela. That’s like sending people back into a burning building.
“The President could fix that with the stroke of a pen. He could grant Temporary Protected Status—or TPS—to Venezuelans living in the United States. I hope he does so. And I’ve also cosponsored a bill written by Representative Soto that would take this step.
“There’s more we can do legislatively. Mr. McCaul and I have spent the last two weeks trying to draft a bipartisan resolution on this matter. We were about 95 percent of the way there, but hit a roadblock—similar to the Senate—on how to deal with questions about the use of force in Venezuela. This is a policy difference, and it’s a debate worth having, including during this hearing.
“We also have pending a few substantive bills introduced by Representatives Mucarsel-Powell, Shalala, and Wasserman Schultz that would help alleviate the humanitarian crisis and dial up pressure on Maduro. I hope we’re able to move them forward during our next markup.
“For now, I’m eager to hear from our witnesses to get a fuller picture of the Administration’s approach to this volatile situation.”