SEATTLE, Washington — Amid controversy over the reelection of President Nicolas Maduro and his defeat of opposition leader Juan Guaido, the United States Senate felt the need to respond. Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey introduced legislation to do so. Sen. Menendez introduced S. 1025, the Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development (VERDAD) Act of 2019. Despite appearing stalled, the bill eventually passed the Senate as a part of the December 2019 deal struck to avoid a government shutdown and pass the $1.4 trillion appropriations package. The VERDAD Act for Venezuela will provide much-needed relief arrived that will have a dramatic impact on global poverty that had developed under Maduro’s regime.
The Crisis in Venezuela
For a complete analysis of the current situation, a jump back to a historical perspective on Hugo Chavez is necessary. The late former Venezuela president has a well-documented history. In short, Chavez leveraged Venezuela’s impressive oil reserves into cash in the international market and funded an ambitious modern socialist system to improve life for the poorest Venezuelans. It worked from his election in 1998 up to and through his death from cancer in 2013. Chavez bestowed his blessing on Nicolas Maduro, naming him vice president, meaning he was sworn in as interim president when Chavez died. Maduro won an election to retain the presidency by less than 2 percent. The defeated Henrique Capriles Radonski demanded but was denied a recount as it was ruled unconstitutional by the courts.
The success Chavez and Venezuela enjoyed dissipated under the new president. As Maduro’s vulnerability increased, he consolidated his power in the executive branch, resorting to means of violence and intimidation to maintain his grasp. He also paid off the military by bribing them with interest in important industries. He furthered his descent into autocracy by calling for a new constitution to weaken the power of the opposition-controlled National Assembly in 2017, creating a new one called the Constituent Assembly. This action sparked many protests.
Anger stewed before it boiled over in May 2018 when coercion and vote-rigging marred the election that supposedly won Maduro a second term. The international community, led by the United States, Canada and Latin American neighbors condemned and rejected Maduro. Little change occurred until January 2019 when newly elected leader of the National Assembly Juan Guaido challenged his presidency, organizing protests and rallies that call for his ascension to interim president and new elections.
The Importance of US Involvement
As the ‘bastion of democracy’ and ‘leader of the free world,’ many in the United States look at the political and humanitarian crisis and see an obligation to intervene. Economically, Caracas reported hyperinflation increases of almost 10,000 percent since January 2019. The U.S. has long been indirectly involved, having imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil for many years dating back to the administration of George W. Bush.
Additionally, officials in the U.S. government see a moral obligation to aid in the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. Intervening potentially allows the United States to arbitrate an agreement between Maduro and Guaido to settle the political turmoil while simultaneously addressing the global poverty crisis by providing humanitarian aid and efforts. The VERDAD Act for Venezuela represents the physical manifestation of just that.
How the VERDAD Act for Venezuela Changes Things
The Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development Act of 2019 provides $400 million in relief to the Venezuelan people, including those who are currently living outside of the country. The political strife caused mass migration. As many as 4.6 million people have fled from Venezuela, according to the World Bank. It also designated money for the facilitation of future elections and publicizes congressional support for the Lima Group that formed in support of a peaceful end to the crisis.
Expanding on that sentiment, the VERDAD Act introduces policy initiatives to work on strengthening governance through democratic means while defending human rights in conjunction with non-government organizations. It tackles corrupt practices through investigations to recover stolen assets and developing ways for other countries to sanction Maduro’s regime.
The VERDAD Act and the Future of Venezuela
The VERDAD Act for Venezuela seeks to alleviate the misery that has fallen upon the country; however, it cannot by any means guarantee an end to it. It pressures Maduro’s regime and grants Juan Guaido some of the support he desperately needs to restore democratic cornerstones to Venezuelan politics. Perhaps most importantly, it assists in casting the international spotlight on Maduro, his presidency and the humanitarian crisis. It amplifies his actions and weakens his ability to continue the measures that exacerbate global poverty. With the eyes of the world upon him, Maduro faces a reckoning, one that seeks to improve the quality of life for Venezuelans.
– Alex Meyers
Photo: Wikimedia Commons