March 02, 2017

Corker Opening Statement at Hearing on "Venezuela: Options for U.S. Policy"

 United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations 

Hearing: Venezuela: Options for U.S. Policy 

March 2, 2017 

U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Chairman 

Opening Statement

This morning, we will discuss U.S. policy toward Venezuela. We asked our witnesses to address three questions: What are our interests in Venezuela? What policy outcome should we seek in Venezuela? What policy tools will get us to that outcome?

Venezuela is a beautiful country with vast resources and talented people. Yet the situation is bleak. In 2015, Caracas suffered 119 homicides per 100,000 people compared to 4.9 per 100,000 people in the U.S. that same year.

As we will hear today, the mismanagement of Venezuela’s economy inflicts shortages, hyperinflation and unemployment on ordinary Venezuelans.

Not only has the Venezuelan government protected people wanted in the U.S. for drug trafficking, but Venezuela’s president has appointed known drug traffickers to high office, such as the current vice president.

Venezuela’s government blocked an effort by citizens to petition for a recall referendum against President [Nicolas] Maduro and failed to hold regional elections in December 2016.

The government actively represses dissent. A leading Venezuelan human rights group lists 117 people jailed for political reasons.

This committee has twice enacted legislation authorizing targeted sanctions. To date, in four separate actions, the U.S. unilaterally imposed targeted visa sanctions on more than 140 Venezuelans—including security forces—for human rights abuses and corruption.

The U.S. has moved to punish violations of our laws. On three occasions, the U.S. has named Venezuelan officials under the Drug Kingpin statute. These designations include a former Minister of Defense, a governor, an Army general, a National Guard captain and a member of the National Assembly and now the vice president. The U.S. has indicted high-ranking military officials and investigated criminal money laundering involving Venezuela by a bank in Andorra.

In the Western Hemisphere and Europe, governments have raised growing concern about the situation in Venezuela. However, they have not joined the U.S. in applying targeted sanctions.

Given the standards we apply, our government has no doubt about criminal activity and corruption in the Venezuelan government. Today, I hope we can also evaluate whether sanctions have altered the Venezuelan government’s behavior and why other governments have not joined us in this effort.

The Union of South American Governments supports a political solution through dialogue between the government and the opposition. While this effort continues, the mediation faltered when the Venezuelan government failed to meet its commitments.

Recent polls show that more than 60 percent of Venezuelans polled favor addressing the country’s problems through dialogue and 28 percent favor ending the dialogue. There are differing views in the opposition over this question.

The Organization of American States supported the dialogue, but the secretary general of the OAS, on the other hand, released a well-documented, critical report on Venezuela and invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

It is worth noting that Ecuador, which is also a polarized country, recently held the first round of its presidential election with OAS observation. By a margin of less than 1 percent of the vote, Ecuador will proceed to a runoff election. Something’s that quite surprising and yet very, very positive.

With that, I’ll turn it over to Senator Cardin for his opening statement.