VENEZUELA; Congressional Record Vol. 160, No. 37
(Senate - March 05, 2014)

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[Page S1309]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]




                               VENEZUELA

  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, we are all painfully aware of the many 
resource rich countries whose leaders care far more about maintaining 
their grip on power and enriching themselves than addressing the needs 
of their people. The departed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych was 
a good example, and in this hemisphere Venezuela's late President Hugo 
Chavez and his successor President Nicolas Maduro stand out.
  President Chavez, a former army officer who was swept into power in a 
wave of popular discontent after decades of corrupt, elitist 
governments, mastered the art of deception. He was a cult personality 
and virulently anti-United States, who dished out favors to poor 
communities as he ruined the country's economy, destroyed any semblance 
of an independent judiciary, changed the constitution so he could hold 
onto power indefinitely, and used the police to intimidate the press.
  In the year since Chavez' death, President Maduro has tried to fill 
his shoes. He has adopted Chavez' divisive, anti-U.S. rhetoric, but he 
lacks Chavez' charisma, and the prognosis for positive change in 
Venezuela is increasingly bleak.
  Early last month a few student demonstrations quickly spiraled into 
the largest public protests against President Maduro since he came to 
power. Having been elected by a razor-thin margin, the smallest in 
nearly half a century, many Venezuelans hoped the stultifying reality 
of widespread unemployment and economic stagnation would inspire 
reforms. Regrettably, President Maduro did not heed the people's 
message.
  Instead, inflation has skyrocketed in the oil-rich country and food 
shortages have plagued local markets. Additionally, the World Economic 
Forum's Global Competitiveness Report for 2013-2014 ranks Venezuela 
number three on its list of economies damaged by high crime rates and 
violence, contributing to the resolve of the thousands of Venezuelans 
who took to the streets in protest. From San Cristobal, to Maracaibo, 
to the capital city of Caracas, the demonstrations have attracted 
students, merchants, and middle-class professionals in a challenge to 
government repression and mismanagement.
  For several weeks images of the protests trickled out of Venezuela 
through various social media platforms, offering a limited, unfiltered 
perspective amidst the state-run media's censorship of impartial 
coverage. Because of the fog caused by this lack of objective 
information, it took nearly 2 weeks for many major U.S. news sources to 
arrive in country to begin coverage.
  The distorted, self-serving portrayal of the protestors as treasonous 
fascists by the Maduro administration and the state-run media has been 
compounded by the deaths of some 18 people and the arbitrary arrests of 
hundreds, and risks inciting a further crackdown against the 
opposition. Additionally, there have been reports that foreign 
journalists have been detained while trying to cover the protests, with 
up to 20 having been physically assaulted, according to a Colombian 
news source that has since been banned from Venezuela for covering the 
protests.
  The U.S. State Department's recently released Country Reports on 
Human Rights Practices for 2013 describes the Maduro government's 
efforts to impede freedom of expression. The increasingly heavy-handed 
and violent actions over the last few weeks have exacerbated the 
situation.
  As one of Venezuela's most important trading partners, and as a 
nation whose people take note of the well-being and basic rights of 
other peoples in our hemisphere and beyond, the United States has an 
interest in ensuring that human rights are not violated with impunity. 
I hope President Maduro will not continue to make the mistake of other 
messianic, autocratic leaders who demonize their opponents. In 
Venezuela they represent roughly half of the population. He would do 
far better to work with all Venezuelans to reduce tensions and find 
real solutions to the country's problems. The people of his country 
deserve nothing less.

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