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Senator Menendez Opening Remarks at Subcommittee Hearing on the Deepening Political and Economic Crisis in Venezuela

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the following remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the subcommittee hearing titled “Deepening Political and Economic Crisis in Venezuela: Implications for U.S. Interests and the Western Hemisphere.”

“Last May, after 40 deaths, more than 50 documented cases of torture, high profile political persecutions, and thousands of arbitrary and unlawful detentions by the Venezuelan government, this Committee met to review the shocking pattern of systematic human rights violations by the Maduro government, its security forces, and its judicial system – which continues today and has only gotten worse.

“Venezuela is awash in a culture of gross impunity at every level. Checks and balances on executive power have completely eroded. There is no accountability for the crimes against Venezuelan citizens by an out-of-control regime.

“It should come as no surprise, as Venezuela’s fiscal and economic crises deepen, the Maduro government is radicalizing its tactics. Last month, the Minister of Defense, Padrino Lopez, signed a decree authorizing security forces to use lethal force against civilians.  And, with that decree, came the tragic death of fourteen-year-old Kluiverth Roa, who was shot in the head by the National Police.

“We saw the elected mayor of Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, forcefully removed from his office and jailed on trumped up charges. And, more than a year after his arrest, Leopoldo Lopez, the continent’s most high profile political prisoner, continues to languish in prison without a trial, without any semblance of due process. And, just last week, in an unacceptable and utterly grotesque statement, Venezuela’s Ambassador to the OAS, Roy Chaderton, actually joked about shooting members of the Venezuelan opposition in the head.

“Against this backdrop of persecution, violence, and outrageous human rights violations, now even more disturbing trends have started to emerge. Just last week, the Treasury Department announced that the Banca Privada d’Andorra – BPA – was involved in a complex scheme to launder nearly $2 billion – let me repeat $2 billion – in funds from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA.  BPA then moved these funds into the U.S. financial system.

“In December, a private jet trafficking millions of dollars in cocaine was captured in Fort Lauderdale. In September, a truck carrying $10 million in cash coming from the United States was captured in Venezuela. And all of this is on top of the thousands of pounds – literally tons – of cocaine trafficked by the Venezuelan National Guard – that has been seized in Europe.

“The United States and the international community cannot tolerate such blatant violations of international law. I’m pleased that Treasury has named senior Venezuelan officials as kingpins and acknowledged that the Venezuelan National Guard is deeply involved in drug trafficking. Obviously, in today’s Venezuela, we are not just watching the rise of an authoritarian regime, we are watching the emergence of a drug-trafficking regime involved in networks that threaten and endanger the hemisphere.

“I welcome the Administration’s decision to move forward with implementation of the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, which I authored, and the announcement last week of targeted sanctions against seven Venezuelan officials, including senior members of the military, intelligence services, and judiciary. In my view, we could have gone further, but this is an important first step. Let me also re-emphasize: These are targeted sanctions, not sanctions against the people of Venezuela.

“That said, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing the Administration’s strategy for addressing the political, diplomatic, and security challenges that Venezuela presents. At the end of the day, it’s important for us all to recognize that the solution to this crisis must come at the ballot box. And I hope we have a chance to discuss the Administration’s diplomatic strategy for ensuring that the elections Venezuela is scheduled to hold later this year will take place under free, fair and transparent conditions.

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses.”