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Chairman Menendez’s Opening Remarks at Venezuela Hearing

Washington, DC – U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, delivered the below statement, as prepared for delivery, at today’s hearing: “Assessing Venezuela's political crisis: human rights violations and beyond.” The remarks follow:

“Let me welcome today’s panelists from the Department of State, Duke University, the Carnegie Endowment, and Human Rights Watch, which this week released a deeply troubling report on the scale of human rights violations in Venezuela – a report documenting human rights abuses far worse than I had anticipated.

“The report documents how Venezuelan security forces – often in collaboration with colectivos – armed pro-government gangs – have systematically violated the rights of students, women, men, members of the political opposition, and journalists. They have severely beaten unarmed Venezuelans, fired live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds.

“The report documents Venezuelan security forces subjecting detained protestors to severe physical abuse. I won’t go into great detail, but, in one case, members of the National Guard detained a young protester and – quoting from the report – “kicked him, beat him and fired a rubber pellet from point-blank range into his right thigh. [He] was driven to a military installation [where a] guardsman, who saw his bleeding leg, inserted his finger into the open wound, removed it, and then inserted it again.”

“The report goes on to say that the guards handcuffed him to a metal pole, gave him electric shock treatments, kicked him, and called him a fascist.

“Apparently, in some cases, prosecutors and judicial officials have been complicit in these reported human rights violations and when governments degrade and politicize a justice system long enough, as the Chávez and Maduro Administrations have done, the rule of law is abandoned and the judiciary becomes yet another tool of oppression.

“In fact, not a single member of the security forces has been sentenced for their role in these widespread human rights violations, but the courts have been used to remove and jail opposition mayors and imprison opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.

"We should not overlook the fact that there has been violence on both sides, but we should be perfectly clear that the primary responsibility for the excessive, unjustified use of force rests with the Maduro Administration.

“We must also be perfectly clear that a foreign power is acting openly in Venezuela, fueling the country’s instability and economic and political crisis. The Cuban government, its advisors, and its intelligence officers have penetrated and are influencing senior levels of the Venezuelan Government. This cannot be overlooked.

“Today’s hearing is an opportunity for us to understand what role the United States has played – and should play – given the current crisis in Venezuela.

“In the face of widespread human rights abuses in Venezuela and the lack of accountability for those crimes, I have introduced legislation – along with other members – that calls for targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for rights violations. 

“We also need to analyze what – in my view – has been a very weak response from the Organization of American States, look at what other South American governments are doing to mediate dialogue between the Venezuelan government and members of the opposition, and explore other options including action at the United Nations.

“We must also look at the future implications of the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Venezuela and its potential impact on Caribbean and Central American nations that have benefitted from subsidized oil shipments from Venezuela.

“Finally, we must assess the destabilizing role that Cuba is playing in Venezuela and the very real security challenges from transnational criminal enterprises operating in the country, as well as the signs of their collusion with members of the Venezuelan government.

“With that, let me recognize Senator Corker for his opening remarks.”

Panel One

“On our first panel today we have Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Tom Malinowski.

“Thank you both for being here.

“Let me remind you that your opening statements will be included in the record in their entirety, but I would ask that you try to summarize in five minutes so we can proceed with questioning.”

Panel Two

“Now, let me introduce our second panel. They are: Patrick Duddy, former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela and Visiting Faculty at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Moíses Naím Senior International Economics Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Jose Miguel Vivanco who is the Executive Director of the Americas Division at Human Rights Watch.

“Thank you all for being here.

“Again, let me remind you that your opening statements will be included in the record in their entirety, but if you could please summarize them in five minutes we will have more time for discussion.”