Editor’s Note: Marco Rubio is the Republican senator from Florida. He chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere and is member of the Senate’s Intelligence Committee and Appropriations Committee. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Venezuela has reached an inflection point for its people and the Western Hemisphere. The crisis in Venezuela is not just a regional irritant. Its socialist government has become a danger to its neighbors and our own national security.
The regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro threatens US interests. While the Maduro regime has denied such charges, it is a state sponsor of drug trafficking. The United States has sanctioned the country’s vice president, calling him a “drug kingpin,” and the nephews of the first lady were sentenced last year to 18 years in prison for drug trafficking charges in the United States. The regime provides safe harbor for US-designated foreign terrorist organizations like the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and ELN (National Liberation Army). It has attacked the regional democratic order, and actively allies itself with enemies of the United States, including the Cuban dictatorship, Russia, as well as Iran and Hezbollah.
The spillover effects of the Maduro regime’s authoritarian actions are undermining efforts by the United States and its regional partners to promote democracy, human rights and stability in the Western Hemisphere. The Venezuelan dictatorship’s corrupt governance, economic mismanagement, and violent suppression of popular dissent have yielded a grave humanitarian crisis of historic proportions. In turn, the destabilizing flow of millions of Venezuelan migrants has strained the resources of surrounding countries like Colombia and Brazil.
While the United States and our partners have repeatedly condemned the Maduro regime and demanded an end to the crisis, we must now follow our words with decisive actions. It is time for the region’s democratic nations to work together and hasten Maduro’s exit from power.
Earlier this month, I traveled to the Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru, where the crisis in Venezuela dominated nearly every discussion among our allies. In turn, the United States issued a joint statement with the so-called “Lima Group” of 16 regional neighbors to reject Maduro’s plan for a sham presidential vote on May 20. Together, we called unequivocally for free elections and urged the Venezuelan dictatorship to release all political prisoners.
In an ideal world, the Organization of American States (OAS), a group of 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere, would provide the forum to coordinate multilateral action on Venezuela. But a small minority of the OAS’s member states remain economically or ideologically aligned with Maduro and are doing all they can to prevent the organization from fulfilling the promise of its charter to protect peace, justice, and solidarity.
As an alternative, I urge the United States to persuade the Lima Group nations and other like-minded neighbors to hold meetings with our respective foreign and finance ministers in May and chart a regional way forward on Venezuela based on three core elements.
First, the United States should work with the Lima Group countries to coordinate their national-level sanctions with our own growing efforts to target the Maduro regime’s criminal elements, its access to international banking and financing, and those individuals, shell companies and other entities that it is using to evade foreign financial pressure. The goal is to maximize the pain felt by corrupt, oppressive, and illegitimate government officials in Venezuela who are undermining democracy and human rights, as well as those actors who are keeping them in power.
Second, we should coordinate our efforts to alleviate Venezuela’s spiraling humanitarian crisis. As millions of Venezuelans have fled their country to escape starvation, deprivation and violence, neighboring states have borne disproportional burdens and need foreign assistance, including continued aid for migrant programs.
It’s critical that we also make clear to the Venezuelan people that food, medicine and international humanitarian aid are ready to be delivered to them in their country, but their dictatorship cynically will not allow it. The Maduro regime should face mounting international pressure to allow humanitarian assistance inside Venezuela’s borders, and to let it be distributed by credible charities and nongovernmental organizations.
Finally, we must stand ready to help rebuild a free and democratic Venezuela after Maduro leaves power. We need a multilateral equivalent of the Marshall Plan, the American initiative to rebuild Europe after the end of World War II, for post-Maduro Venezuela. This plan should include investment from the Inter-American Development Bank, which the United States contributes to, and from other international economic organizations aligned with our interests.
At the same time, we must be prepared to help the Venezuelan people to restore their democratic institutions and processes. Given the Maduro regime’s efforts to prevent opposition leaders from going abroad to criticize the dictatorship and rally international support, the United States and our regional partners must work to enable all legitimately-elected members of the country’s National Assembly the ability to travel freely, including by providing visas and permitting expired passport travel or other alternatives. It also means cooperating with the legitimate constitutional courts of Venezuela that Maduro has undermined.
The crisis in Venezuela has become a complex regional challenge. The United States should therefore persuade our liked-minded neighbors to support a regional solution aimed at increasing pressure on the Maduro regime, alleviating the country’s dire humanitarian crisis, and laying the groundwork for international efforts to rebuild a free and democratic post-Maduro Venezuela. It’s high time for the democracies of the Western Hemisphere to back up our words of support for the suffering Venezuelan people with decisive, collective action.