TACOMA, Washington — On April 28, 2021, Senator Ted Cruz [R-TX] proposed bill S.1417, which will mainly serve to establish a reconstruction fund for Venezuela. This comes to help the country recover from the extreme poverty and humanitarian issues it has been facing. The bill is nicknamed the Preserving Accountability for National Assets Act of 2021 (PANA Act). If it passes, the bill will allow U.S. funds to provide aid to Venezuela, support Venezuelan civilians’ rights and combat humanitarian issues. Currently, the bill is with the Committee on Foreign Relations.
A Breakdown of The PANA Act
The PANA Act would let the U.S. Treasury establish a fund created with money seized from criminals with ties to former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez or current President Nicolas Maduro. As of April, the U.S. has $1.5 billion in seized funds that can help Venezuela.
Specifically, the bill dictates that this $1.5 billion must go toward counteracting President Maduro’s policies that directly impact Venezuelan’s rights. The funding must support Venezuela’s independent media and defend undermined or ignored civil rights.
Poverty and the Media in Venezuela
Venezuela has a 90% poverty rate and a 64% extreme poverty rate. As of July 2021, the country is in the worst economic crisis it has seen in decades. Venezuelan oil prices for abroad purchasers began dropping in 2015. This was the beginning of the economic crisis. After oil prices crashed, inflation began. The latest business sector impacted by the economic crisis is the media. The Maduro regime has attempted to silence critics by closing traditional media outlets like newspapers, radio and television channels. The president wants to have control over the content Venezuelan citizens see. Further, the Venezuelan government has increasingly censored topics related to civil rights since December 2019.
A member of Venezuela’s government established websites that are duplicates of original independent media sites but with many featured changes. These changes make the websites appear to support President Maduro. These duplicated sites redirect internet traffic flow away from independent media sites. Without reliable readers or support for the individual sites, Venezuelan independent media is becoming defunct. The sector is collapsing during Venezuela’s economic crisis. Without access to transparent media coverage, the public often has little knowledge of poverty and its effects on Venezuelan citizens.
Social Media Access
With the lack of independent media, Venezuelans have turned to social media to get information. However, less than half of Venezuela’s population has a smartphone, and only 70% has internet access as of 2017. Further, internet reliability in Venezuela deteriorated by the end of 2019 and has not improved since. So, many citizens do not have any reliable source of information. Even those who can access social media might be getting false information, as information on social media is not always verifiable.
Without trustworthy news sources, Venezuelans are stuck in a limbo of misinformation. Due to the economic crisis, Venezuela has no path forward to fund and support non-government censored news and media outlets. Thus, the funds allocated by bill S.1417 would help restart many trustworthy and independent news sources.
Humanitarian Rights in Venezuela Impacted by Poverty
In 2020 and 2021, food insecurity became one of Venezuela’s most significant humanitarian issues. In early 2021, the World Food Programme (WFP) surveyed the food conditions of approximately 8,000 Venezuelans and found that 9.3 million Venezuelans are likely living with food insecurity.
Thus, the WFP has pledged to focus its efforts and provide free meals to Venezuelan children. Their plan coordinates with community centers and schools with the youngest children in Venezuela. WFP’s help is vital, as many world officials have criticized the Venezuelan government’s plan to treat food insecurity. Specifically, many view it as a way to take more money from poor Venezuelans via taxation.
Food insecurity has been a strain in every community in Venezuela, as the agriculture industry cannot keep pace with the demand. Without any intervention, rights will continue to dwindle and poverty rates will not improve. The country’s food insecurity struggles would be considered a humanitarian crisis eligible for the PANA Act’s aid to Venezuela.
How Would The Bill Impact Poverty in Venezuela?
If passed, the PANA Act, or bill 1417, would prevent the economic crisis in Venezuela from worsening. The U.S’s aid for Venezuela would release funds into its communities and help information spread. Further, it would reconnect communities and increase awareness of poverty’s impact on each region of Venezuela. As the finer points of the PANA Act are being discussed, Venezuelans await aid from allies. This bill is a step in the right direction.
– Clara Mulvihill