The U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations held a session on Venezuela today, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The sessions had two panels:
The Honorable Roberta S. Jacobson
Assistant Secretary Of State For Western Hemisphere Affairs
Department of State
Washington , DC
The Honorable Tomasz P. Malinowski
Assistant Secretary Of State For Democracy, Human Rights, And Labor
Department of State
Washington , DC
The Honorable Patrick D. Duddy
Visiting Faculty, The Fuqua School Of Business
Mr. Moisés Naím
Senior Associate, International Economics Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Mr. José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas Division
Human Rights Watch
It proved to be an explosive session, due to:
· the shocking admissions made by Roberta Jacobson,
· the incisive questioning of both senators Menendez and Rubio,
· the strong recommendations made by Moisés Naím and
· the report on Venezuelan government brutalities summarized by Jose Miguel Vivancos.
The complete testimonies can be read using the links listed above. In particular, I recommend reading the complete testimonies of Naím and Vivanco.
*** Members of the Venezuelan opposition, MUD, asked the U.S. government not to sanction Human Rights violators.
Forced to answer very direct questions from Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez, the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roberta Jacobson, admitted that members of the Venezuelan opposition, specifically belonging to the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática), had asked the U.S. government not to sanction Human Rights violators, since, in their opinion, this would harm the process of dialogue going on at this time between the MUD and the Maduro government. This was a shocking revelation by the high-level officer of the Department of State and confirmed rumors that had been advanced in the Venezuelan press, specifically by Alberto Franceschi. This represents, in my opinion, a political disaster for the MUD, as it will reinforce the position of those who reject the dialogue because they consider it an unethical negotiation between the Maduro regime and an over-pragmatic opposition represented by the MUD.
*** The testimonies of the Executive branch of the U.S. Government clearly showed that they only were listening to the Venezuelan opposition represented by the MUD. They showed themselves clearly unwilling to move against the Maduro government, in spite of its obvious human rights violations. They claimed to be waiting for “the right moment” to do so, depending on the results of the so-called dialogue between the regime and MUD. They expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of the dialogue and stated that they felt they had to give foreign ministers of UNASUR and the Vatican representative a vote of confidence. Although they felt the other opposition groups should also be represented in the dialogue they did not seem willing to press this issue with the Venezuelan regime.
*** The position of the Senators, particularly Menendez and Rubio, was very severe and clearly demonstrated the differences between the Senate Committee and President Obama’s policy regarding Venezuela. The senators could not understand why the U.S. Executive would wait so long to adopt sanctions against the Venezuelan regime, in light of its increasing human rights violations. They asked: How many more Venezuelan citizens have to die, how many more have to be tortured, before the U.S. acts?
*** The extraordinary statement by Moises Naím on behalf of the Venezuelan people. Naím provided an unequivocal description of the Venezuela regime as authoritarian, still pretending to be democratic. He elaborated on the reasons why the regime cannot be considered a democracy. Within the short time allotted for his oral presentation he listed his five recommendations for a U.S. posture regarding Venezuela. They are:
(1) Help Venezuelans and the world understand the real impact of fifteen years of
the model of governing that Hugo Chavez put in place;
(2) Help uncover and publicize the level of corruption and foreign influence in the
present [ Venezuelan] government;
(3) Sanction those responsible for human rights abuses, as well as the oligarchs
connected to the Chavez elite who have amassed unimaginable fortunes through
corrupt deals and criminal undertakings;
(4) Prevent measures which will fuel the “blame others” tactic of avoiding
responsibility for a failed state and a collapsing economy that the Venezuelan
government and its apologists at home and abroad so often use; and
(5) Encourage Latin American allies to abandon their silence about government
abuses in Venezuela that they would not tolerate in their own country. I am not
asking Venezuela's neighbors or the Organization of American States (OAS) to
intervene in Venezuela's politics. But it is absolutely valid to expect decent
governments --and decent leaders--not to remain indifferent as the Venezuelan
government brutally represses its opponents.
*** The Human Rights Watch report on the violation of Human Rights in Venezuela. Vivanco advised the members of the Committee to read all of the report prepared by the organization after a lengthy stay in Venezuela and the examination of specific cases of excessive force, use of weapons against unarmed civilians and inhuman treatment that could be defined as torture under international law.
This session was extremely important in several ways. It indicated the strong decision made by influential members of the Senate of the United States to fight for democracy and freedom in Venezuela. It made evident the accommodation of the U.S. Executive branch with a sector of the Venezuelan opposition that is placing all its bets in a dialogue that looks, at best, unethical and, at worst, a way to extend the suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of the brutal regime. It showed the MUD under very unfavorable light, as political manipulators looking to obtain short term, sectorial benefits, instead of representing an honest and all –out opposition to the regime. It found in Moisés Naím a strong and articulate voice on behalf of the People of Venezuela.
We might analyze, in a second post, the potential impact of this session on future developments in Venezuela.