WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on U.S. policy towards Venezuela. The witnesses included The Honorable Brian Nichols, assistant secretary of State for Western Hemisphere affairs, and The Honorable Marcela Escobari, assistant administrator for the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:
“The political, humanitarian, and economic crises provoked by Maduro and his cronies in Venezuela are among the most pressing national security concerns in the Western Hemisphere.
“Since 2013, Maduro has dramatically deepened relations with the most dangerous forces in the world. On his watch, Cuba, Russia, China, Iran, and transnational criminal organizations have turned Venezuela into their playground and are using their presence to expand their reach throughout Latin America.
“Russian exports of sophisticated military technologies and repressive practices to the Maduro regime are a growing threat to the security of Colombia and the stability of northern South America.
“Venezuela’s $62 billion debt to China is a formidable challenge to its sovereignty, and its adoption of telecommunication technologies developed and controlled by firms vulnerable to pressure by the Chinese Communist Party undermines privacy and human rights.
“A series of unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to end Maduro’s illegitimate regime, compounded by his ability to stay in power through violence, have emboldened the regime and left Venezuelan democratic forces facing daunting challenges.
“Unfortunately, the Biden Administration has squandered the position of strength it inherited from the previous administration, which was a campaign of maximum and multilateral pressure on the Maduro regime.
“In 2020, candidate Biden promised the use of multilateral pressure and smart sanctions to stop the Maduro regime and transition to free and fair elections. Instead, the administration is pursuing flawed and incoherent efforts, which strengthen the Maduro regime and its criminal network, exacerbate the already horrific humanitarian crisis, and allow malign actors like China, Russia, and Iran to continue intervening in our hemisphere, putting American lives at risk.
“Nearly two years in, the administration has not sanctioned a single entity or individual tied to the Maduro regime, and the European Union has failed to match existing U.S. and Canadian sanctions. In fact, the administration is conceding to the Maduro regime by easing sanctions without any concrete progress towards democratic order. I say these things not to start a partisan brawl – I think it’s time to look forward. I think the chairman and I are in full agreement that it’s time to do things differently than what we have done in the past.
“It is past time we reassert American leadership in our hemisphere. The administration should reverse course and increase pressure on the Maduro regime and its enablers until unjustly detained Americans and political hostages are released, and the conditions are right to conduct free and fair elections in Venezuela. Over 10 unlawfully detained Americans languish in Venezuelan prison and detention sites.
“I also urge the administration to prioritize North American energy production and infrastructure, persuade our European allies to promptly match U.S. and Canadian sanctions on the Maduro regime, conduct robust freedom-of-navigation and counternarcotic operations targeting the Maduro regime’s transnational criminal activities, and enhance the capacity of democratic countries in the region to confront the humanitarian and security crises his regime is generating.
“I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on whether and how the Biden Administration plans to recommit to meaningful policies that address the security threat emanating from Venezuela. I fully agree with the description of the dire situation the chairman has laid out. I’m anxious to hear how we can all work together to try to move this forward. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on foreign.senate.gov.