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VIDEO: Rubio Chairs Hearing on U.S. Venezuela Relations and Path to a Democratic Transition
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, today convened a hearing titled “U.S.-Venezuela Relations and the Path to a Democratic Transition.”
Video of the hearing can be found here. A broadcast quality version of his opening remarks can be found here.
Photos used at the hearing can be found here.
A transcript of Chairman Rubio’s opening remarks can be found below.
Chairman Rubio: “Thank you for coming this morning. So I want to begin my remarks by answering the question of why should we care? It’s the most important question we must always answer any time the U.S. takes a foreign policy step.
“Why should America care about what’s happening and in particular why should America care about what’s happening in Venezuela and democracy and the support for the interim government of President Juan Guaidó? Let me begin by saying the first reason is that the humanitarian, political and economic crisis is not just a Venezuelan crisis. It’s a regional crisis.
“Since the year 2014, 3.4 million Venezuelans, by many estimates, have fled Venezuela. That is 10% of the nation’s population that has left the country. As a point of reference, it would be the equivalent if we said 10% of the U.S. population had left over five years, it would be the equivalent of every person living in Florida, Maryland and Massachusetts leaving the country over a five-year period. Beyond that, over 80% of them have migrated into the region, into Latin America. About half of them are in Colombia, in one country.
“Today, Colombia, in particular, but also Peru and Ecuador are bearing the burden of this mass migration. Further exacerbating it is that the United Nations has already projected that if all things continue on the current path this year alone — I mean the current path before the events of January — they estimated, this year alone, another two million Venezuelans will leave the country. And I’m here to tell you that if another two million people leave on top of the 3.5 or 3.4 that already left and 80% stay in Latin America, it will deteriorate and potentially collapse the public services of Colombia and severely impact the same in Peru and Ecuador and other nations. This has the potential to be a regional catastrophe of epic proportions. It is already at that level. And that is reason alone to care about it because the United States will be directly impacted by that, in particular, because of our close partnership with Colombia. The bottom line is if Maduro remains in power and things do not get better, it threatens to trigger a cataclysmic crisis, in our closest ally at this moment in South America in Colombia, our improving relationships with Ecuador and our important partnership with Peru.
“The second reason why we should care is because the Maduro crime family and the Maduro regime actively, not secretly, not covertly, actively participates in the trafficking of cocaine. Planes filled with cocaine operate out of Venezuelan airfields under the auspices and protection of the Venezuelan military and they deliver cocaine to airstrips in Central America. That cocaine is then handed over to drug networks. Drug networks that along the way destabilize El Salvador, and Honduras, and Guatemala, exacerbating the migratory patterns that we are seeing on our Southern Border. And then that cocaine enters the United States and winds up in our streets, in the hands of Americans. All under the auspices of the Maduro regime who charges a fee for this the service of escorting drug shipments out of Venezuela. By the way, if you don’t pay them the fee, they shoot down the plane.If you pay them the fee, they get rich and you get to traffic cocaine, and we see the flights and they’re protected by them.
“The third reason we should care is the Maduro regime provides safe harbor to terrorists groups like the ELN, the group that just killed over 20 police cadets in Colombia in a bombing, and they provide hospice and safe harbor to other narco-terror groups. And what I mean by that is these groups operate openly — openly — in camps within Venezuelan territory. Not hidden camps, not covert clandestine camps. Open camps that you can see from commercial satellite imagery, and they stage attacks against Colombia from Venezuela and they too traffic in drugs destined for the United States and they do all of this with the full support, the full cooperation, and the protection of the Maduro regime, who by the way also gets a cut of those proceeds.
“The fourth reason we should care is that the regime has openly and repeatedly invited Russia and Vladimir Putin to conduct military operations in our Hemisphere from their territory. They’ve offered them openly an air and naval base free of charge for the Russians to operate from. In fact just a few months ago, two nuclear capable Russian bombers flew a mission into the Caribbean Sea from an air base in Venezuela.
“The fifth reason we should care is the Maduro crime family has close ties to the regime in Iran. In fact, even as we speak, Maduro is working to offer the Iranians tons of gold stolen from the gold reserves of Venezuela in exchange for Iranian ‘projects and services.’ And there are no ‘projects or services’ offered by the Iranian regime that are good for the United States.
“And sixth, as if we needed any more reasons to care, is that in the thirst for hard currency the Maduro regime is irresponsibly, recklessly and irreparably mining for gold to sell in global markets, and it is doing so in a way that’s creating an irreversible ecological and environmental disaster in some of the most sensitive areas of Venezuela. And future Venezuelans, and frankly the region, will pay a price for this extraordinary economic catastrophe that has not received nearly enough attention.
“So, they’re destabilizing our closest partners in South America. They’re driving violence in Central America with the drugs that they’re helping to ship, which is of course exacerbating illegal migration. They’re pumping cocaine into our streets. They’re providing Putin a military foothold in our hemisphere. They’re providing gold to Iran. They’re destroying the environment.
“It’s a very compelling reason to care about what’s happening. The Maduro regime is a clear danger and threat to the national interests, and I would argue, the national security of the United States. This sadly is not a new issue for me. It’s been in the news a lot lately but I’ve been working on this topic along with Senator Menendez since 2014, 2013. And we’ve been working closely, speaking out about this, since that time. The situation grows more dire by the day.
“It’s hard to imagine that Venezuela was once the wealthiest country in South America. Not 100 years ago, not 50 years ago, but within the lifetime of everyone in this room. Now, people of Venezuela are the subject of daily blackouts, empty store shelves, devastating shortages of food and medicine, and a dehumanizing scramble to survive. And lest anyone think this is the product of sanctions from the last four to six weeks, that’s a fraud, that’s a lie. This has been going on for years because they’ve stolen the money. They steal all of the money. None of the proceeds, none of the money they’re making from any of this are going into the hands of anyone but a small group of cronies who live a life of luxury around the world, their families most certainly do, while the people of Venezuela suffer. These 3.4 million people that left Venezuela over the last five years, left well before any sanctions imposed over the last five weeks. And previous to that, by the way, all the sanctions were imposed on individuals, not on the government, not on the economy. In 2018, a study found that 90% of Venezuela’s estimated 31 million people live in poverty and, worse, Venezuelan citizens involuntary lost on average 24 pounds in the previous year. Which is a stunning statistic when all of the leaders are overweight. All the leaders of Venezuela are overweight, and yet the people on average losing 24 pounds in a year.
“Chronic infections, diseases are rampant and hospitals lack adequate supplies to care for patients. We have here posted — picture number one over there — it shows a malnourished child in Dr. Domingo Luciani Hospital in Caracas, Venezuela. These are images we are used to seeing from other regions of the world, not the Western Hemisphere. This is the condition of children who today are dying — dying in Venezuelan hospitals. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) has indicated that outbreaks of diphtheria, measles and malaria have spread in the country. Which, by the way, also has a regional impact. Other areas of public health concerns include HIV, HIV/AIDS patients who have been denied medications and are going to die if they do not receive delivery of those medications. Not to mention an increase in maternal and infant mortality, limited access to medicines and adequate care for people with life threatening chronic conditions. Perhaps the most compelling of all is those in need of dialysis. Without objection I would like to introduce for the record the PAHO’s response on the need to maintain an effective technical cooperation agenda in Venezuela and neighboring countries. These are important statistics to keep in mind.
“Shortages in food and medicine and a total collapse of social services have created a Humanitarian Crisis and, as I mentioned earlier, migration flows that are destabilizing the entire region, including, as I already mentioned, Venezuela’s neighbors. I witnessed that firsthand in my visit to Cúcuta, Colombia, just two weeks ago. I would caution that over the next few weeks, and I say this with a sense of urgency that I cannot overstate, Venezuela because of graft and corruption and the unwillingness of the Maduro regime to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered in the country, by anyone frankly, although they claim they are open to it, they still deny that there is a humanitarian crisis despite compelling evidence to the contrary. Over the next few weeks, Venezuela a going to enter a period of suffering no nation in our hemisphere has confronted in modern history. As of today, Venezuela has about six, seven days left of fuel supplies. This in the most oil rich country in the world. And this is because they’ve destroyed the domestic production capacity. Venezuela is just a handful of days away from running out of basic staples, wheat and corn meal and cooking oil, again, because of complete and utter mismanagement. I assure you none of the regime cronies are going to go hungry, but millions of Venezuelans will continue to go hungry and exacerbated in way we have not seen.
“I regret to report that the suffering people of Venezuela are about to experience the most dramatic shortages they have ever faced, the implications of which we cannot fully predict, but none of it is due to any of the actions taken by the United States up to this point. It is entirely the result of the fact that its leaders have stolen literally everything they can get their hands on and continue to do that to this very moment. The regime in fact has used the suffering as a political weapon, 42% of the people in Venezuela depend on a government food program they call a ‘CLAP’. First of all, it’s also the subject of corruption, that food is imported, that cronies steal a percentage of it to resell on the private market for their own profit, and then the rest is distributed to those compliant or loyal to the regime. So if you go a Maduro rally, you get food. If you don’t show up at the rally, you don’t get your CLAP box. If you vote for Maduro, and they know how you voted, you get food. If you don’t vote or don’t vote for him, you don’t get food. They have used it as a weapon.
“This is why he objects to humanitarian aid, because he doesn’t want to lose the leverage he has over the people of Venezuela by using food and medicine against them as a weapon. And that’s why the United States and our partners from around the world have provided and stationed food and medicine on the border to try to avoid this humanitarian catastrophe. Not to politicize it, but to prevent not just human suffering but additional mass migration that threatens to destabilize the region. And because denying people food is one of the ways the regime controls the population, that’s why two weeks ago we watched the maduro regime violently, violently and brutally, block food from entering the country. Any regime who is threatened by food and medicine, that tells you everything you need to know about them. They didn’t just block it by the way. They burned it. They set it on fire. You see in picture number two a truck carrying humanitarian aid burned on the Francisco de Paula Santander Bridge. Set on fire by armed criminal gangs of the Maduro regime. Aid, by the way, that non-violent civilians begged them to allow in. In picture number three, right here before me, you see a woman kneeling in front of the National Guard officials, begging them to permit the entrance of Humanitarian Aid. The regime’s response, by the way, was not just to use military force, but they have armed paramilitary gangs. Armed these paramilitary gangs that operate in these little scooters. They have armed them, and they’ve done worse, they’ve armed felons. They’ve released felons from jail and told them go out and kill people, and earn your freedom that way.
“I want at this moment with the indulgence of the committee just a brief 30 second video. It’s captioned in English. It is from a member of the Maduro military who crossed the border and I want you to read the caption of what he says were their orders as he crossed the border.”
Video of the below, that was showed at the hearing can be found here.
VIDEO: “¿Cuál es su nombre?
Miguel Torosa, Miguel Torosa
¿Que rango es usted?
Sargento Mayor de Tercera
¿Porque hoy hace esto?
Me declaro leal a Juan Guaidó, Presidente, nuestro Comandante de Jefe, Juan Guaidó.
Ahora, ¿qué está pasando, qué está pasando?
El gobierno quiere masacrar al pueblo. El gobierno quiere masacrar al pueblo. La orden es masacrar al pueblo. Sacar a los colectivos y sacar a los presos a la calle para darle plomo al pueblo.”
Chairman Rubio: “I declare myself loyal to Juan Guaidó, President and Commander in Chief Juan Guaidó. The government wants to massacre the people. The government wants to massacre the people. The orders are to kill the people, to release the colectivos — those are the armed gangs — and release prisoners on the streets to attack the people. That’s not me saying it. That’s not a U.S. politician saying it. That is a member of the armed forces of Venezuela saying it as he crossed the border. Their orders were to kill people. In fact at one point, what he says, he uses the term ‘plomo,’ which means lead. Their orders were to use lead, bullets, against the people. That’s what it means.
“And they’ve only grown more brazen since that day. For example, Univisión reporter Jorge Ramos and his crew were detained — detained personally by Maduro. And their cameras seized and, to this day, not returned because they didn’t like the questions that he asked. They literally detained them, took their cameras, and haven’t released them to this day. Just yesterday another U.S. journalist Cody Weddell was arrested by the military intelligence services in an early morning raid and held for 12 hours and then put on an airplane and sent back. This is an effort to intimidate the press. This is an effort to send a message to the press, you report on things we don’t like, this is how we treat you. In the month of January alone Maduro detained 24 journalists including the recent U.S. citizens detained for hours. I want to include a document in the record with the number of journalists that have been detained. They’re from all over the world. And without objection I want to introduce that into the record. The OAS Secretary General has said that, ‘the systematic attack against the civilian population in Venezuela includes murders, imprisonment and torture and it’s evident in the eyes of the international community that we are in the presence of crimes against humanity.’
“One of those civilians, who has of today has now spent 212 days in jail, is Juan Requesens a 29-year-old member of the National Assembly, the democratically elected National Assembly. Basically their unicameral elected legislative body. He’s also a former Venezuelan student leader. He was dragged out of his home by masked thugs for simply voicing his opposition against the regime. His sister, Rafaela, whom my office has been in close touch with and is also a student leader in her own right, is here with us today. And I wanted to take this moment to recognize her and I thank her for joining us here today. She does so at great danger and personal risk, but that’s how important the cause is for her and for the people she represents. Your presence, your voice and support of not just your brother but also for the hundreds if not thousands of political prisoners in Venezuela is a testament to the suffering of the Venezuelan people and the injustice committed by the Maduro regime.
“Maduro doesn’t do any of this on his own. It’s done with the help of three specific nefarious actors. The enslaved island nation of Cuba’s government, which has infiltrated all of their security forces and is in de facto control of the country. I’m not exaggerating this. Anyone who knows anything about this will tell you, Cuban agents are all through every level of that government. Russia, which continues to provide them with opportunity to evade sanctions and support them in international forums. And China, which goes around acting like they’re the non-interference people but in fact are helping lead Maduro’s effort to block the internet. Among the tactics used by the regime, I’ve outlined it already, under the direction of Cuba the armed gangs known as the colectivos. These gangs have a presence in the Bolívar and Amazona states where the trafficking of illegal gold mining, as I said earlier, has devastated the environment and created unforeseen problems for the ailing economy. Picture number five, which is up here, is a picture of those armed gangs and how they use them in the streets. It’s in Ureña, Venezuela. It was these gangs along with elements of the military that on the 23rd of February carried out a massacre whose toll is still not fully known. A massacre of members of Venezuela’s indigenous communities on the border with Brazil, who were seeking to help get humanitarian aid into the country. And that is our final picture, a picture of an injured Pemón Indian. Natives to the area, an indigenous community, who has been the subject of a massacre, that history will write about and whose numbers we do not fully know. Unfortunately, that massacre has been largely ignored in the mainstream media and outlets as they opened fire, and military forces and other irregular forces opened fire on them and prevented the delivery of aid from the Brazilian border.
“But fortunately the world is waking up to the true nature of this crisis. 54 nations, not the United States alone, 54 nations, the vast majority of the nations of this hemisphere, including under the leadership of the Lima Group — which the United States isn’t even a member of, but involves the most important regional partners we have — have recognized Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. Last week, the United States introduced a resolution at the U.N. Security Council supporting interim president Juan Guaidó and calling for free and fair elections. It was supported by a majority of the members of the Security Council. You can of course guess who vetoed it: China and Russia.
“Before I close I want to recognize and I want to thank the many, many Venezuelans both in the U.S. and from abroad who are here with us today. I know there are many that have traveled from my home state of Florida and many other parts of the United States. And I want to applaud your perseverance and your fight in this cause. And I would close with this message to those here in the room and watching elsewhere, especially those in Venezuela. Your fight for freedom and restoration of democracy is our fight. And the free world has not and will not forget you. Maduro’s regime believes he can wait us out. That’s been his strategy all along. Hold on wait it out, the world will lose focus, they’ll stop paying attention, they’ll move to other things and the opposition will fracture. We’re not going to forget about it. We’re not going to lose attention. We’ll be on this as long as it takes and no matter how hard it is. It is in our national interests. It does honor to our legacy as a nation that believes in the dignity and human rights of all people. And it is something that we have strongly committed to as I hope you will take away from today’s hearing. There may be debates about tactics, but there is no debate, I believe, no real disagreement among our parties here in the United States that the people of Venezuela deserve far better than to be in the grips of a criminal organization as they are today.”