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Sires and Colleagues Demand Answers from Michael Pack on Visa Denials that Undermine U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela

Oct 8, 2020
Press Release

(Washington, DC) – Today, Congressman Albio Sires (D-NJ), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, and Trade, along with 14 of his colleagues sent a letter to U.S. Agency for Global Media CEO Michael Pack. The letter highlighted the impact of his refusal to renew J-1 visas for foreign national journalists on a special Voice of America program focused on the crisis in Venezuela, and urged him to cease his attacks on independent journalists:

“As members of Congress who care deeply about the continued suffering and democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, we condemn Mr. Pack’s refusal to renew the visas of foreign national employees who were doing important work to advance U.S interests in supporting a return to democracy in Venezuela,” the members wrote.

“U.S. Agency for Global Media outlets like Voice of America have for decades provided independent reporting throughout the world, including in contexts like Venezuela where access to information is heavily restricted. Countless foreign national employees have contributed to these efforts, providing unique skills and perspectives that have helped USAGM reach audiences around the globe. In 2019, two such journalists were recruited by Voice of America for a special new program, Venezuela 360, to provide in-depth investigations and original analysis of the humanitarian and political crisis in Venezuela. After Mr. Pack took over at USAGM, he terminated their visas, placed them on leave without pay, and bought them a ticket home.

“We have seen the Maduro regime use the pandemic as an excuse to crack down even further on all forms of dissent. We are committed to calling out such authoritarian tactics, and believe it is in the U.S. interest to promote freedom of expression globally. We are gravely concerned that Mr. Pack’s actions could endanger journalists working on Venezuela and elsewhere. We urge Mr. Pack to immediately reinstate these journalists and cease his persecution of foreign national employees working to promote U.S. values through their contributions to free and independent journalism.”

The letter was signed by Congressman Albio Sires (NJ-08), Congressman Eliot L. Engel (NY-16), Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (FL-23), Congresswoman Donna Shalala (FL-27), Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20), Congressman Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Congressman Juan Vargas (CA-51), Congresswoman Norma Torres (CA-35), Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (FL-26), Congressman Darren Soto (FL-09), Congressman Ted Deutch (FL-22), Congressman Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY-05), Congressman Brad Sherman (CA-30), and Congressman Dean Phillips (MN-03).

The full text of the letter can be found here.