In-Depth: Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell (D-FL) introduced this bill to call on the Trump administration to form a long-term humanitarian aid strategy for Venezuela, provide up to $150 million in humanitarian aid directly to the Venezuelan people, and direct the US ambassador to the UN to make increased humanitarian assistance a priority of the international community:
“Maduro’s illegitimate regime plunged Venezuela into a deep political and humanitarian crisis that has spilled over into the rest of the region and the hemisphere. I support a quick restoration of Venezuela’s democracy, which means supporting interim President Juan Guaidó, and I strongly urge him to quickly hold free and fair elections. I believe providing increased humanitarian assistance – more than the $20 million that was announced by the Administration – directly to the Venezuelan people is imperative to their survival and will be a stabilizing force in the region and the hemisphere.”
Original cosponsor Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL) adds that humanitarian assistance is badly needed:
“Maduro’s dictatorship has caused famine in what once was the wealthiest country in South America. We continue to see images out of Venezuela of kids scavenging for food out of trash, hospitals with medicinal shortages overflowing with patients, and refugees surviving the immigration journey in precarious conditions. As Venezuela resolves its political unrest within the country, it is our duty and moral responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance for those in need. I join Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, and colleagues, in calling for an increase in humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.”
Morten Wendelbo, a research fellow at the American University School of Public Affairs, warns that U.S.-supplied aid could have substantial political consequences in Venezuela:
“As a political scientist who studies both the political ramifications of international assistance, and Venezuela’s growing instability, I find that humanitarian aid is rarely just about saving lives. In Venezuela, I believe that the U.S.-supplied aid may have substantial political consequences. USAID, the primary federal aid agency in the U.S., officially operates independently. However, in practice it has worked closely with the State Department, and the Trump administration discussed making it part of the department when Rex Tillerson served as secretary of state. The U.S. government generally considers aid and development assistance as part of their broader foreign policy. The State Department officially calls USAID an ‘important contributor to the objectives of the National Security Strategy of the United States.’ In other words, USAID’s work abroad is at least partially intended to safeguard American security and promote U.S. interests… Using aid to advance the national interest is not new. In 2001, when the war in Afghanistan got underway, the Bush administration used aid to complement the military effort to prevent terrorism. Because Afghanistan had harbored Osama bin Laden and others tied to the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, USAID got a broad mandate and billions of dollars to help win the hearts and minds of Afghans. That policy was essentially a bet that once military intervention had defused the hostilities, Afghans would have a more favorable view of the U.S. – reducing the risk that terrorists would use Afghanistan as a launching pad. USAID has also played an explicit role in attempting to win hearts and minds in Iraq in the early 2000s, Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, and elsewhere. However, it is probably the agency’s history in Cuba that Maduro has on his mind. In 2014, a year after Maduro succeeded Chávez, the Associated Press reported that USAID covertly funded and ran the Cuban social network ZunZuneo to help spur dissent in Cuba… As Cuba is one of Venezuela’s most important allies, the Venezuelan media followed the ZunZuneo scandal closely. Venezuela denounced the U.S. for its role with the platform, also known as ‘Cuban Twitter,’ so Maduro is no doubt watching out for what the U.S. may attempt in Venezuela through its use of foreign aid.”
This bill has 12 Democratic cosponsors.
Of Note: South Florida Democrats — specifically the Miami congressional delegation — have introduced multiple bills in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In addition to this bill, Rep. Donna Shalala's (D-FL) Venezuela Arms Restriction Act would ban the U.S. government from selling military equipment and riot-control gear to the Maduro regime and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s (D-FL) Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act would require the State Department to monitor and provide Congress with steps to curb Russian military influence in the country.
On February 25, 2019, Vice President Pence announced that the U.S. will be providing nearly $56 million in additional humanitarian assistance to support the regional response for the nearly 3.4 million Venezuelan who had fled Venezuela. In a statement, USAID said:
“The United States will continue to pursue all avenues to increase humanitarian assistance to Venezuelans both inside and outside Venezuela. We support the courageous efforts and leadership of Interim President Guaido, National Assembly members, citizens, and partners in the region to deliver humanitarian assistance immediately to those in need inside Venezuela, and we will continue to work with them towards that goal. Now is the time to strengthen our commitment to the brave Venezuelan people. With this new funding, since Fiscal Year 2017, the United States has provided more than $195 million, including more than $152 million in humanitarian assistance and approximately $43 million in development and economic assistance, since Fiscal Year 2017 to provide life-saving aid and critical basic services to Venezuelans and affected communities and to build the long-term capacity to assist those who have fled repression and chaos in Venezuela. In addition, as announced by Secretary Pompeo on January 24, the United States is ready to provide more than $20 million in additional funding to support humanitarian assistance activities in Venezuela. This additional funding is going, in part, to the procurement of the humanitarian supplies pre-positioned on the Colombia- and Brazil-Venezuela borders.”
The U.S. sent its first aircraft with humanitarian aid for Venezuelan citizens to Colombia in mid-February, but President Maduro didn’t allow the aircraft’s contents into Venezuela. He claims that U.S. aid is a Trojan horse meant to undermine his regime and serve as a pretext for a U.S. invasion.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / brazzo)