Congressman Sires Chairs Subcommittee Hearing on U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela
(Washington, D.C.) –Today, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, delivered the following opening remarks at the Congressional hearing he convened entitled “A Way Forward for Venezuela: The Humanitarian, Diplomatic, and National Security Challenges Facing the Biden Administration”:
“This is our first subcommittee hearing of the 117th Congress, so I want to welcome all of our new and returning members. I look forward to working with each of you, Democrats and Republicans, to advance United States interests and deepen our engagement with the Western Hemisphere.
I want to recognize my friend Juan Vargas, who will be our new vice chair, and I would like to welcome our new Ranking Member, Mark Green. Congressman Green and I met for the first time last week and I am optimistic that we will be able to work effectively together on a bipartisan basis.
I called today’s hearing because I wanted to begin this Congress where we began the last one; by shining a spotlight on the crisis in Venezuela. Two years ago, I chaired a hearing entitled “Made by Maduro” where we discussed the humanitarian crisis caused by Venezuela’s dictator, Nicolás Maduro. Unfortunately, while international attention seems to be shifting away from Venezuela, the crisis in the country has only deepened over the last two years.
A report issued by the United Nations last September confirmed that Maduro’s regime has committed crimes against humanity. Over ninety percent of Venezuelans are living in poverty, suffering under conditions made worse by the pandemic. Over five and a half million Venezuelans have been forced to flee their homes.
In April of 2019, I led a Congressional delegation to the Colombian border with Venezuela. I met mothers who had walked hours in the hot sun just to get a meal for their children. I heard stories about family members with chronic diseases who could not obtain the medications they needed in Venezuela and were struggling to survive. I saw firsthand the suffering this regime has caused.
For me, the Venezuela crisis has never been about politics. The question I have always asked is what can we, as the United States Congress, do to help end this humanitarian tragedy?
We have a moral obligation not to turn away from what is happening in Venezuela. I am proud that the U.S. Agency for International Development has led the way in providing humanitarian assistance to the region. I salute all those courageous Venezuelans and international aid workers who are working in the country to deliver food and medicine. I also want to recognize the efforts of Interim President Juan Guaidó and his government. They are prioritizing the needs of the Venezuelan people by pursuing an agreement on vaccine deployment and by calling for the World Food Program to be allowed to operate in the country.
I also want to applaud the Colombian government and particularly President Ivan Duque for his recent decision to grant temporary protected status to Venezuelans. In the face of one of the largest refugee crises in modern history, Colombia has shown tremendous generosity in providing safe haven for Venezuelans. I urge other countries to follow Colombia’s example and put an end to harmful policies like deporting Venezuelans back into harm’s way.
I also urge Congress to urgently pass legislation to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing the crisis. House Democrats did this in 2019 and I sincerely hope that all of my colleagues will join that effort this year to finally provide the relief that Venezuelans deserve. Ultimately, we know that an end to the humanitarian crisis requires a political solution. Ranking Member Green and I will introduce a resolution in the coming days expressing our bipartisan commitment to supporting the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people. We must pursue a solution to this crisis with the urgency it deserves.
I believe the U.S. must work more closely with our allies in Latin America and Europe to advance a coordinated diplomatic strategy. We should also be much more assertive in calling out the regimes that are helping to keep Maduro in power, including Turkey, China, Iran, and especially Cuba and Russia. I am confident that President Biden, who has demonstrated a lifelong commitment to Latin America, will bring the international community together behind the goal of pursuing a peaceful transition that swiftly leads to free and fair elections.
I look forward to hearing from the experts with us today about what the U.S. Congress and the new administration can do, in close coordination with our allies, to help the Venezuelan people reclaim their democracy.”