WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and a former Chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere; and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Chair Emeritus of the Committee today announced the Committee’s unanimous approval of their legislation to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Venezuela. The Committee’s action on their Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act (H.R.2658), originally offered in the Senate by Foreign Relations Committee Ranking Member Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), clears the way for consideration by the House.

“Venezuela’s oil reserves should make it the wealthiest country in South America. But President Maduro has squandered that potential and instead, the people of Venezuela are literally starving to death. It’s past time that we take direct action relieve the suffering going on in Venezuela,” said Rep. Engel. “I’m grateful to Representative Ros-Lehtinen for working with me on this bill and for her tireless advocacy for human rights. We need to continue raising the alarm and pushing back against the Maduro government’s relentless assault on the rule of law.”

“Eliot Engel continues to be one of the leading voices in our Congress who stands up for freedom and his decision to spearhead legislation regarding Venezuela humanitarian effort is a testament to his commitment to advance democratic principles in many parts of the world. The House Foreign Affairs Committee has once again proven, in a bipartisan manner, that it stands with the people of Venezuela and against their oppressor Nicolas Maduro. This bill calls for a plan to be created to provide health and medical supplies as well as basic food commodities to the people of Venezuela through independent and credible non-governmental organizations.  This important piece of legislation also states that the United States and the United Nations must urge the corrupt Maduro regime to permit the delivery of international humanitarian assistance to address the food and medical shortages without delay. I am honored to work with my friend Eliot on this measure and look forward to bringing it to the House floor for its consideration very soon,” said Rep. Ros-Lehtinen.

From 2015 to 2016, maternal deaths in Venezuela increased by nearly two thirds, infant deaths increased by 30 percent, and a recent survey showed that nearly three-quarters of Venezuelans lost an average of at least 19 pounds in 2016 due to lack of proper nutrition.

The Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act would instruct the Secretary of State and the USAID Administrator to provide humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people. It would also instruct the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations to use her voice and vote to push for humanitarian aid to Venezuela through the UN, while continuing to raise the profile of the country’s political prisoners and the government’s efforts to undermine the rule of law.

Francisco Marquez, a former Venezuelan political prisoner, attended today’s markup to raise awareness about the case of Congressman Wilmer Azuaje. Mr. Azuaje has been imprisoned, tortured, isolated, and denied medical attention as well as access to his lawyer and family. He was seized by Governor Adan Chavez, a top government official linked to drug trafficking and sanctioned by the State and Treasury Departments.

# # #