Venezuela on edge of precipice: Maduro using food as ‘tool of political coercion’


Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill) traveled to Venezuela on Wednesday as pressure mounted on President Nicolas Maduro to hand over a Utah man jailed in the turbulent South American country for nearly two years, according to reports. “The Venezuelan people continue to suffer immensely under the Maduro regime’s repressive actions,” Durbin tweeted, supporting sanctions while condemning the “criminal regime and its complete disregard for democracy.”

Durbin today spoke (above) about his meetings met with Maduro, members of the opposition, the President of the National Assembly, the Ministers of Health and Nutrition, business leaders, civil society groups, doctors, and humanitarian organizations.

“What I found was in fact a country on the edge of a precipice, facing overlapping economic, humanitarian, and political crises,” he said, condemning Maduro’s use of food as a “tool of political coercion.” 

“I was heartbroken by what I saw and heard, particularly regarding the collapse of the country’s ability to feed and medically care for its people and children,” Durbin told the AP“Republicans and Democrats don’t agree on much these days in Washington, but they do agree on Venezuela and the consequences of President Maduro continuing down the current path,” he added. As if to demonstrate Durbin’s point, ahead of the Summit of the Americas, fellow Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), urged the region to restore democracy in Venezuela.

A group of Venezuelan rock bands hope to popularize songs against Maduro by handing out a CD called “Rock Against Dictatorship” during a summit of Latin American and North American countries in Lima this week, Reuters reports:

The 16-track disc ranges from catchy pop tunes to angry punk anthems that denounce corruption, hunger and human rights abuses at the hands of the ruling Socialist Party, which has overseen a devastating collapse of the once-prosperous nation.

“Let’s go to paradise, to fiscal paradise,” sing Emigdio + Superpower on the CD’s opening track, a swipe at Venezuelan officials and government-linked businessmen who have been accused of stashing illicit cash in offshore havens. The track “Nazional” rages against the National Guard, which faced withering criticism for excessive use of force in breaking up anti-government protests in 2017. The often violent demonstrations over four months last year left 125 people dead.

The regime has spearheaded a program of mass domestic repression and humanitarian deprivation unprecedented in the country’s history, notes Policy Options Journal:

This is not a “bitter class war,” as some have described it, of rich versus poor; it is a struggle for dignity and justice for the Venezuelan people in the face of oppression from Maduro’s violent and kleptocratic elite. Indeed, those opposing the regime constitute a broad and inclusive cross-section of Venezuelan society — urban and rural, rich and poor, young and old — united in common cause.

As if it couldn’t sink any lower, the regime is now exploiting mass h hunger to get votes.

But beyond domestic ramifications, the spiraling international ramifications of the crisis demand sustained, focused U.S. leadership as well, writes Jason Marczak, the director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.

“As Latin American heads of state have made clear, the region wants and needs humanitarian assistance in the face of this crisis, and Washington shouldn’t hesitate to lead the charge. Doing so shouldn’t be seen as charity, but as a strategic imperative,” he contends. “Successful management of this refugee and migrant crisis will be crucial to the stability of the region — stability on which many of our national security and economic interests rest.”

Credit: HRW

Latin Americans and their governments should speak out and urge Maduro’s government to recognize and tackle the devastating human rights and humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, Latin music star Ricardo Montaner (left and below) and Human Rights Watch said about the #TodosConVenezuela (Everyone With Venezuela) campaign launched this week.

“Venezuela needs help to tackle an overwhelming crisis,” said Montaner, who has sold more than 30 million records and won numerous awards, including a Latin Grammy for Lifetime Achievement. “Join me. It’s not just my job or yours, it’s something we should all do. Tell your friends – let’s do this together.”

“Let me be clear in my concluding message to the Venezuelan Government, said Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip:

[S]pecifically to only proceed with an election that meets the following basic standards: all political prisoners must be released and all candidates and parties must be allowed to openly compete; there must be at least six months for legitimate campaigning; the National Election Council must be led by credible professional members who can carry out a legitimate election process; there must be no linking of food with voting or political party affiliation; the National Assembly must have its powers restored; and credible international and local election monitors must be allowed to observe the pre-election and actual election processes, with full accreditation and access.

Durbin also met with Josh Holt, a U.S. citizen being held by the regime on trumped up charges.

“I visited him in a prison known by its prisoners as ‘Hell on Earth,’ he said. “He and his Venezuelan wife have served 21 months with no end in sight. He is suffering and clearly a political hostage of the regime. I appealed to President Maduro to release him. I am one of a bipartisan group of members of congress who will continue to push for his immediate release

In February, Durbin led a group of ten senators in introducing a resolution condemning repressive and undemocratic actions taken by the Venezuelan government, and calling for free and fair elections for its people. In 2017, Durbin introduced the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act which directs the State Department to work through nongovernmental organizations to provide public health commodities, basic food commodities, and related technical assistance to Venezuela.


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