(PRESS RELEASE) – Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on the House floor in support of his bill, the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act (H.R.2658):
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this measure and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
“Mr. Speaker, I authored this bill—the Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act—in the House with our Chair Emeritus of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
“I want to say about the gentlewoman from Florida—there’s no member of this body who has done more to champion democracy and human rights in Venezuela than the gentlewoman from Florida, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen.
“I also want to thank her longtime Staff Director Eddy Acevedo, who is in his last week on Capitol Hill. Eddy has been such a positive force on Venezuela and the entire Latin American region in support of Ileana’s work. He has been a consistent collaborator with my staff, and his work here will be sorely missed.
“And I also want to say that I appreciate Chairman Royce’s steadfast commitment to the Venezuelan people and his support for this legislation.
“I also want to thank Senator Cardin for authorizing, for authoring this measure in the other body. I hope we’ll be able to work with the Senate, the other body, to get this bill to the President’s desk.
“Mr. Speaker, with its massive energy resources, Venezuela should be one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Unfortunately, irresponsible policies put in place by President Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have brought the country to near economic collapse and created a dangerous humanitarian crisis.
“The statistics tell a tragic story.
“Maternal deaths in the country increased by 66 percent from 2015 to 2016 while infant deaths increased by 30 percent. There were 240,000 confirmed Malaria cases in Venezuela in 2016 which is a 76 percent increase over 2015. And a survey carried out by three reputable Venezuelan universities found that nearly three quarters of Venezuelans lost an average of at least 19 pounds in 2016 as a result of a lack of proper nutrition.
“Despite massive shortages of food and medicine, President Maduro continues to reject efforts to bring humanitarian assistance into the country.
“Last summer, Mr. Maduro handed control of the country’s food supply over to the Venezuelan military. And while many Venezuelans starve, some of the military brass are making money hand over fist by selling the country’s scarce food supplies on the black market. That’s like letting the fox into the chicken coop.
“In short, President Maduro is running Venezuela to the ground. It’s horrific for that country’s people, and it’s a concern for our own security, as this country in our neighborhood becomes less and less stable.
“So I support targeted sanctions that hold corrupt and abusive Venezuelan officials accountable.
“But that must only be a part of our policy.
“We also must be focused on getting food and medicine to those in most need in the country. This bill calls on USAID and the State Department to develop a strategy to provide humanitarian assistance to Venezuela while at the same time instructing our Ambassador at the United Nations to work with partners at the U.N. Security Council and throughout the U.N. system to multilaterally address the country’s crisis.
“This is urgent business, Mr. Speaker. We need to put USAID, USAID and the United Nations on a path toward providing much-needed humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.
“We want to choke off the government. The government is a cancer on the Venezuelan people. But we don’t want to hurt the Venezuelan people.
“And that’s what this legislation is all about. That’s why I wrote it, that’s why I authored it, and that’s why we agree on a bipartisan basis.
“I urge my colleagues to join Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and myself in supporting this legislation, and I reserve the balance of my time.”