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Congress Talks Tough on Venezuela
Amid Questions of Intervention

February 27, 2019 by Tom Ramstack
Agentes de las fuerzas de seguridad venezolanas se enfrentan con los manifestantes en el Puente Internacional Santander de Francisco de Paula en Cúcuta, Colombia, el 24 de febrero del 2019. (Pedro Portal/Miami Herald)

WASHINGTON — Tough talk about the troubled Venezuelan government during a congressional hearing Tuesday raised more questions about whether U.S. military intervention is possible soon.

A House Foreign Affairs subcommittee called the hearing to determine how the U.S. government should respond to an economic and humanitarian disaster in Venezuela.

Congressmen blamed the turmoil on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who refuses to leave office despite the fact the country’s National Assembly appointed a replacement for him in December. The National Assembly acted partly on a belief that Maduro corrupted the last election in his favor.

The replacement, Juan Guaido, has won recognition as Venezuela’s interim president from more than 50 countries, setting off a power struggle that is worsening the humanitarian crisis and spilling about three million refugees into surrounding countries.

The Venezuelan people “are demanding an end to Maduro’s reign of terror,” said Rep. Albio Sires, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security and Trade.

He blamed Maduro for holding political prisoners, murdering some of them, supporting illegal drug trafficking and money laundering and enriching himself at the expense of his countrymen.

“I believe the U.S. must work closely with allies in Latin America and Europe to help the Venezuelan people reclaim their fundamental rights and restore democracy,” said Sires, a New Jersey Democrat.

Rep. Ted Yoho, a Florida Republican, said Maduro is holding power partly through financial and logistical support of U.S. adversaries, such as Cuba, Russia and China.

“Russia and Iran see Venezuela as a disruptive thorn in the side of the United States,” Yoho said.

He advocated using economic sanctions to help force Maduro out of power.

The witnesses included Moises Rendon, a Venezuelan citizen and an associate director for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based public policy foundation.

“Venezuela has not been a truly sovereign nation for years,” Rendon said.

Instead, it has turned over some of its economic power and political influence to countries like China and Russia. Maduro has given the Chinese a right to extract oil from some of Venezuela’s most prosperous oil fields, he said.

He cautioned against military intervention, saying it “would send the country deeper into chaos.”

“We have not exhausted all humanitarian options,” Rendon said.

So far, Maduro’s military supporters have blocked food and medicine sent by the United States. Much of it was redirected to neighboring Colombia, where refugees have been pouring into the country and clashing with Venezuelan soldiers along the border.

The fighting that has spilled into Colombia might also give the United States and other countries a justification for military intervention if they want it.

Under the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance signed by the United States and Colombia, an attack on any of the treaty nations is considered an attack against all of them.

Advocates of intervention include U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican. On Saturday he tweeted, “Maduro Regime has fired into territory of Colombia. Receiving reports of injuries after this attack on sovereign Colombian territory. The United States WILL help Colombia confront any aggression against them.”

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