Ranking Member Bob Corker

Chairman Robert Menendez

Chairman's Blog

The Venezuelan nightmare


Images of repression and brutality against peaceful protesters demanding democracy and the elimination of corruption are not limited to Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, Venezuelans are suffering at the hands of their own government. Violence and systematic human rights abuses have resulted in 41 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands detained.

These rights violations in Venezuela were chronicled this month by Human Rights Watch in a 103-page report, entitled "Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela's Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System."

The study pulls back the veil of President Nicolas Maduro's administration and shows its willingness to go to dangerous extremes to silence political dissent.

It depicts an unraveling situation in Venezuela far worse than suspected. The litany of rights violations is illustrated in graphic fashion: the unlawful use of force, violent mass arrests, crackdowns on free speech and press freedom, blanket denial of due process, and abuses in detention facilities, including electric shock torture.

Employing tactics perfected by the Cuban regime, marauding Venezuelan security forces are shown teaming up with armed gangs known as colectivos to beat unarmed demonstrators, firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds.

In one instance, according to the report, a member of the National Guard "stepped on (a young protester's) head and fired rubber bullets at point-blank range in his thigh. The shot struck a set of keys in his pocket, dispersing metal shards as well as rubber pellets into his leg." He was then taken to a military detention facility, denied medical treatment for hours, and lost so much blood that he was near death when finally permitted to see a doctor.

While pro-democracy protesters are not fault-free in the use of violence, the primary responsibility for the horrifying, unjustified use of force rests with Maduro and his band of apparatchiks.

Venezuela's alleged socialist paradise has morphed into a verifiable real-life nightmare.

At a time when many countries in the Americas are experiencing an economic ascent underpinned by growing middle classes, every indicator reveals that Venezuela is regressing at an alarming rate.

Frightening levels of criminal violence are coupled with economic freefall, punctuated by sky-high inflation and a scarcity of basic food items.

In Venezuela today, the rule of law is abandoned, the judiciary is hollowed out, freedom of the press is nonexistent, and corruption runs rampant. Drug traffickers collude regularly with government officials and the free flow of narcotics out of the country poses a threat to hemispheric security, as well as to the United States.

Last month, Maduro pleaded in The New York Times that "Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward" -- but instead, he has delivered discord and suffering.

With no alternative recourse against the crisis consuming their country, Venezuelan citizens young and old have been turning out in mass demonstrations since early February. Their courage has been met with repression, and the images flooding social media networks induce an outpouring of sympathy, mixed with terror and grief.

Attempts by South American governments and the Vatican to mediate talks between the Venezuelan government and political opposition have collapsed and mass arrests continue. The Organization of American States must take a forceful position and demand respect for human rights and democratic inclusion in Venezuela.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, playing the role of a bystander to this chaos is unacceptable.

My response to Maduro-inspired mayhem is authoring bipartisan legislation imposing targeted sanctions on those individuals responsible for violating the rights of peaceful demonstrators.

While designed to avoid hurting the Venezuelan people, these hard-hitting penalties include asset freezes and visa bans for high-ranking members of the Maduro administration who have terrorized large segments of the population with unflinching impunity.

The legislation also authorizes $15 million to defend human rights, support democratic civil society, and strengthen the rule of law.

The moment of action is upon us.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will pass this legislation. As a nation of the Americas guided by principles of liberty and democracy, we are duty bound to respond when the light of freedom is threatened.

#SOSVenezuela is a constant refrain on social media networks, galvanizing international attention to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

The U.S. Congress hears your cries and stands in solidarity.

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The world is watching


I honestly don’t think there’s a person in the world today who hasn’t heard of the horrific abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boko Haram – which means “education is forbidden.” These girls have been separated from their families for weeks and – no doubt – are terrified. My thoughts – as a father – are with the girls and their parents.

Frankly, the fact that incidents like this are happening at all in the 21st century should be deeply troubling to every one of us.  As parents – as human beings – we must insist women and girls be treated with dignity and allowed to live and learn in safety from extremism. Nick Kristof had it right when he wrote in the New York Times: ‘The greatest threat to extremism isn’t drones firing missiles, but girls reading books.’

While the scale of this incident is staggering, the Boko Haram threat isn’t new. They’ve led an escalating campaign of atrocities against their own people for years. They are extremists with a gangster-mentality who represent no interest but their own – targeting young women, young men, churches, schools. They do not represent Islam and their actions cannot go unanswered.

The mothers, activists, and concerned citizens who have taken their outrage to the streets and to social media deserve credit for focusing the world’s attention on this crisis and insisting that the Nigerian government bring them home. I’m glad a US team is now on the ground, but despite offers of assistance from the US and other international partners, the Nigerian government’s response to this crisis has been tragically and unacceptably slow. President Jonathan must demonstrate the leadership his nation is demanding.

The rise of groups like Boko Haram doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Nigeria has a long history of division along ethnic and religious lines – tensions that terrorists capitalize on. And as much as we’re appalled by the actions of Boko Haram  in using societal fissures to create chaos and distrust, we should also be troubled by a record of excessive force and human rights abuses by Nigeria’s military in dealing with the Boko Haram threat.

It’s time we elevate the issue of sexual violence and violence against women in general to the international arena. And the time is now for Congress to pass the International Violence Against Women’s Act.  The world is watching.  

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Let’s get the Asia rebalance right


President Obama has now returned home after visiting Japan, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines. At each stop on his trip, a key question he confronted was whether or not the administration's "strategic rebalance" to Asia is real and enduring.

As we move into the 21st century, the economies of the Asia-Pacific region are increasingly important markets for U.S. exports.  At the same time, an ever-larger proportion of global trade is passing through the region’s sea-lanes, underscoring the continued need for United States leadership to maintain maritime security and promote regional stability.

The strategic implications of Asia's dynamism are clear: Our future prosperity and security are intimately entwined with the prosperity and security of the Asia-Pacific region. U.S. policy and resources must reflect this reality and meet the strategic goals of enhancing prosperity, security, democratic values and human development in the Asia-Pacific region.
 
The Obama administration recognized this need when it committed to “rebalance” U.S. government attention and resources for the Asia-Pacific region. The strategy intends to strengthen U.S. economic, diplomatic, and security engagement throughout the region, both bilaterally and multilaterally, with a co-ordinated, “whole-of-government” approach to policy implementation.  In concept, the rebalance stands out as one of the Obama administrations most far-sighted and ambitious foreign policy initiatives.
 
As cxhairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, I believe that Congress has a duty and responsibility to assure national security resources are allocated efficiently and effectively to address U.S. foreign policy priorities -- and to promote the time, effort and attention needed to safeguard our security and prosperity, and advance our values.  That includes such traditionally under-resourced but critical areas as Latin America, and it includes the rebalance as well.
 
Yet a recent report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee finds that despite progress in some areas, implementation of the rebalance thus far has been uneven, and has created the risk that the rebalance may well end up as less than the sum of its parts.
 
To improve the effectiveness and sustainability of the rebalance policy and increase civilian engagement, strengthen diplomatic partnerships, and empower U.S. businesses, the United States should: 
 
• Renew our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
 
• Ensure the close partnership between the military-security elements and the diplomatic, economic and civil society elements of the rebalance.
 
• Increase personnel and resources to the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific affairs, and dedicate additional government resources to pursue trade agreements and promote U.S. businesses.
 
• Redouble efforts to support U.S. students to study in the region, ensure faster processing for non-immigrant visas for tourism and conferences, and increase resources for public diplomacy.
 
• Increase development assistance funding, public-private partnerships, and support the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) programmatic efforts.
 
• Devote additional resources for regional institutions, including for maritime security issues; and,
 
• Ensure that human rights and civil society institution-building efforts are strengthened to help advance U.S. values and interests in the region.
      
Although the rebalance is not “only” about China it is certainly “also” about China.  The rebalance should seek to shape and encourage the development of a positive and productive China that is fully supportive of cooperative and constructive regional norms and institutions, and that plays by regional rules-of-the-road and international law.
 
The Committee's report also recognizes that Congress has an important role to play in these efforts. We must ensure that the military and non-military aspects of the rebalance are coordinated and complementary. As a regional strategy, the rebalance cuts across a spectrum of U.S. interests, requiring intensive coordination across the whole of government.
 
Lastly, leaders in the United States must do more to make the case to the American people that the Asia-Pacific region deserves greater investment of government resources.  Sustained engagement in the region requires promoting economic growth and safeguarding American interests.
 
The American people need to be engaged on just how and why, in the words of President Obama, “Asia will largely define whether the century ahead will be marked by conflict or cooperation, needless suffering or human progress.”
 
The rebalance is underway. Now we must get it right.

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Afghan elections redefine U.S. role


On Saturday, Afghans will go to the polls to elect a new president, marking a critical turning point in Afghanistan’s history and our role in the country.

This election comes at an important time in U.S.-Afghan relations, which have been hindered by the erratic and often insulting behavior of President Hamid Karzai. The outcome will present an opportunity for the United States to redefine our relationship with Afghanistan in a way that addresses our shared security concerns and the long-term stability and viability of the country.

Make no mistake, the democratic transition to a new president would not be possible without the last 12 years of sacrifices made by the United States. The Afghan people and Americans owe a profound debt of gratitude to our armed forces, diplomats and U.S. Agency for International Development workers who helped transform Afghanistan from a failed state to fledgling democracy.

The United States has lost more than 2,300 servicemembers in Afghanistan and many thousands more have returned home with grievous injuries. USAID’s partner organizations have lost more than 400 people. We honor the memory of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, the sacrifices made by their families and those who will bear lifelong wounds of war.

America’s investment and sacrifice have paid real dividends for the people of Afghanistan. Life expectancy has doubled. Maternal mortality has been cut in half. More than 9 million children are in school, 3.5 million of them girls, compared to 1 million in 2001.

The Afghan National Security Forces, which did not even exist in 2001, now have more than 350,000 personnel and are proving increasingly capable on the battlefield.

The Taliban, however, have made clear their desire to return Afghanistan to an era when it was one of the world’s most isolated and repressive countries. Women were publicly tortured and executed. Girls and women were prohibited from attending school. Al Qaeda was free to plan and launch attacks against the United States and our allies.

Though time may have stood still for the Taliban, it has not for the Afghan people. With support from the United States, they have proven they want a different future for their country. They have built schools and an increasingly open society — where women can run for parliament, join the security forces and participate in civil society.

Over the past two weeks, the Taliban have launched attacks in Kabul against election workers, democracy advocates and journalists in an effort to subvert the elections. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of men and women have signed up to monitor polling sites and millions have registered to vote. The Afghan people have shown they won’t be intimidated by the Taliban.

The commitment to Afghanistan and its future development, however, cannot be open-ended or without conditions. The United States can remain substantively engaged if three criteria are met.

First, the elections must be seen as credible and legitimate by the Afghan people and the international community. Afghan election monitors will be the eyes and ears for the world on Saturday and we look forward to their report. It should be clear that U.S. support could wither in the face of an illegitimate transfer of power.

Second, the new government must move swiftly to sign a Bilateral Security Agreement with Washington, which will provide the necessary legal protections for a small U.S. training and counterterrorism mission.

Third, the incoming government should recommit to a series of accountability measures to ensure that U.S. funding is not wasted. The Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, agreed to in 2012, included a pledge by the international community to continue to provide development funding in exchange for concrete Afghan reforms. This framework provides a key starting point for dialogue with the new president.

By taking these steps, Afghanistan will begin to restore much of the goodwill that was lost during the final and frustrating days of the Karzai regime.

I am hopeful that the election will result in a smooth transfer of power, and that the will of the Afghan people will be represented in the results.

If successful, this transition will mark the first time in Afghanistan’s history that an elected president peacefully and democratically hands power to a successor. The United States is prepared to support one of our most important allies in the region — the Afghan people.

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Time to hold Russia accountable for its aggression


During this period of stunning upheaval and chaos, where Russian actions in Ukraine are reminiscent of a bygone era of Soviet rule, we’ve come to a crossroads for the international order. The question before us, from Washington to Warsaw, is not which direction to turn, but rather how decisively to support Ukraine in the face of Russia's illegitimate annexation of Crimea.

The aggression against Ukraine by a Russian president who romanticizes about Soviet greatness is the most recent in a string of disruptive Russian behavior throughout the world. In Syria, President Vladimir Putin is actively propping up President Bashar al-Assad and perpetuating the world's worst humanitarian disaster. In Iran, the ink of the Joint Plan of Action signed last November was barely dry when reports said Tehran and Moscow were negotiating an oil-for-goods swap and plans were made public for joint Russia/Iran cooperation in building a new nuclear plant. 

Putin has miscalculated. He’s ignited a dangerous Soviet-style game of Russian roulette with the international community, and we cannot blink. He must understand that we will never accept this violation of international law in Ukraine.

The unity of purpose displayed at the U.N. Security Council, by the EU and G7 nations in support of Ukrainian autonomy and in opposition to Russian authoritarianism demonstrates the world's outrage. That collective attitude was punctuated by the EU agreeing on a framework for its first sanctions against Russia since the Cold War. 

This Committee is also playing an integral role in the U.S. response. Yesterday, the Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation I sponsored with Ranking Member Corker that provides $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine. It authorizes $50 million for democracy, governance and civil society assistance and $100 million for enhanced security cooperation for Ukraine and other states in Central and Eastern Europe.

It requires additional sanctions against Ukrainians and Russians responsible for violence and serious human rights abuses against anti-government protesters and those responsible for undermining the peace, security, stability, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Ukraine.  And it authorizes sanctions on Russians complicit in or responsible for significant corruption in Ukraine.

Our international message of unity must be supported by demonstrating that the annexation of Crimea will not stand. We’re at a dangerous moment in history with global consequences. The world is watching. If we do not act, what will China say when it's looking at its territorial desires in the South China Sea? What will Iran say when we are negotiating about nuclear weapons? What about North Korea, whose march to nuclear weapons on a greater scale is still in play?

Ukrainian sovereignty cannot be violated for simply embracing ideals rooted in freedom. Those principles are the guideposts of our trans-Atlantic strategic response to international events, and we must respond together. The challenge that faces us is clear: Can a united trans-Atlantic vision and our collective commitment to bold actions in this century match the vision and commitment of those who created the international institutions which brought peace and prosperity to millions in the last century?

If the U.S. and our European allies live, lead, and govern, guided by shared values and united by our common concerns, we can play the stabilizing force for the world through these challenging times.

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