Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) today called on Secretary of State John Kerry to turn his attention toward the Western Hemisphere and provide Congress with a full assessment of the crisis in Venezuela.
Kerry is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of which Rubio is a member, on the State Department’s budget request tomorrow.
Rubio told Kerry in a letter today that he’s concerned about the administration’s “half-hearted response to this dire situation” of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s “brutal repression of peaceful demonstrations.”
“To date, the government’s barbaric repression has resulted in 39 deaths, more than 2,200 detentions, and at least 50 documented cases of torture. There is evidence that several of these atrocities are being committed by uniformed members of the Venezuelan National Guard, a component of the Venezuelan Armed Forces, as well as paramilitary elements of the so-called ‘People’s Guard’ that is closely affiliated with the National Guard. We have additional reports of radical leftist armed groups as well as Cuban regime intelligence officials and operatives working on behalf of the Maduro government to intimidate opposition members and, at times, carry out attacks against protesters,” Rubio wrote.
“As you would agree, it is more important than ever for the American public and lawmakers to clearly understand the nature of the situation in Venezuela and its repercussions for American interests and those of the broader Western Hemisphere. Therefore, I appreciate your assessment on the following concerns.”
Rubio asked Kerry to provide an assessment of the Venezuelan military’s involvement in the crisis as well as “the level of involvement of the Cuban government in the internal affairs of Venezuela.”
“Since March 17, the Maduro government has arrested and summarily convicted at least five democratically-elected opposition mayors, and is taking steps to selectively prosecute Assemblywoman Maria Corina Machado, a leading opposition member in Venezuela’s national legislature. The government’s actions are facilitated by the fact that 80 percent of Venezuelan judges and 95 percent of public prosecutors have not been properly installed in their posts, and instead serve under a provisional status hostage to Maduro’s whims. Other supposedly independent human rights guarantors in the Venezuelan system, such as the ombudsman, have attempted to deny the use of torture against demonstrators,” the senator continued.
“…Please provide an assessment of the Venezuelan National Guard’s involvement in illicit trafficking and other trans-national criminal activities. Please provide an update on the presence of individuals designated as ‘kingpins,’ under OFAC procedures, in high-level positions of the Venezuelan government, including in the security apparatus.”
Rubio said it’s “vital that the U.S. government stand with those Venezuelans who have bravely called out the brutality and dishonesty of the Maduro government.”
Venezuela has been getting infrequent mentions lately at the State Department and White House press briefings.
“Secretary Kerry has said, and I have said, certainly, that there are a number of policy options on the table for how we could help foster a peaceful solution here. We have said one of them could be sanctions, but I have nothing to predict in terms of what that might look like. What we’ve been more focused on, quite frankly, is what you’ve heard me talk a lot about – that the importance of getting a third-party mediator talking to both sides here to try and get some peaceful resolution of this going forward,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters on March 28.