Florida Members Call on Congress to Fully Fund Efforts to Defend Democracy in Venezuela

October 23, 2019
Press Release

Florida Members Call on Congress to Fully Fund Efforts to Defend Democracy in Venezuela
Reps. Soto, Murphy, Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell, and Wasserman Schultz urge the House and Senate to support human rights in Venezuela and protect U.S. national security interests

WASHINGTON, D.C.—U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Stephanie Murphy, Donna Shalala and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, all from Florida, have called on the House and Senate to fully fund efforts to defend democracy and promote the rule of law in Venezuela. Earlier this year, the House passed the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (State and Foreign Operations bill), a government funding bill that provides over $20 billion for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and U.S. State Department to sustain and strengthen efforts to support the people of Venezuela. This month, the Senate began consideration of its own government funding bills. The two chambers must reconcile the differences between their bills before sending a final bill to the President for his consideration.

During the House’s consideration of the State and Foreign Operations bill, Murphy, Shalala and Soto passed an amendment to increase funds to defend democracy in Venezuela by $3 million —from $17.5 million to $20.5 million. The funding will support human rights defenders in Venezuela, help document abuses by the regime of Nicolás Maduro, support independent media outlets, and promote fair and transparent elections in this increasingly authoritarian country. U.S. programs in Venezuela are currently being conducted in conjunction with over 35 Venezuelan partner organizations.

 

“As the world continues to witness Maduro’s blatant disregard for human rights, we, as Americans, have a moral obligation to stand united with the people of Venezuela in their fight for the restoration of democracy,” Soto said. “By increasing funds, we not only counter the immense suffering and oppression of our Venezuelan friends, but we alleviate the possibility of a total economic collapse that could ultimately spiral into a failed state.”

“Helping the people of Venezuela is not only consistent with our longstanding role as a champion of human rights, it will also help us reduce the threat that a failed state poses to our hemisphere and to the national security interests of the United States,” said Murphy. “We must stand behind the proud Venezuelan patriots who are struggling to reclaim their country from the cruel and anti-democratic Maduro regime.”

“The situation in Venezuela has reached a critical stage,” said Shalala. “The United States must protect the Venezuelans fighting to preserve a free, democratic society. This funding will help Venezuelan democracy by providing the resources to help strengthen the few remaining independent and democratic institutions to continue the struggle against Nicolas Maduro’s tyrannical regime.”

“All nations have a responsibility to help the Venezuelan people during one of the greatest humanitarian crises in the Western hemisphere,” said Mucarsel-Powell. “The cruel Maduro regime is killing its own people—the Venezuelan people cannot wait. We must provide immediate assistance and stand by our Venezuelan brothers and sisters as they work to restore their democracy.”

“Congress cannot abandon the Venezuelan people when restoring democracy there is still within reach.“ Wasserman Schultz said. “Maduro poses a threat to the entire hemisphere, and we must stand with those who are brave enough to stand up against this brutal regime. We cannot afford to wait. The fate of the Venezuelan people, America’s standing as a human rights’ defender, and our own national security interests are all at stake.”

According to the organization Freedom House, conditions in Venezuela have grown sharply worse in recent years due to the continued concentration of power by Maduro and harsher crackdowns on opposition groups. Venezuela is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a human rights defender. The Maduro regime is being investigated for crimes against humanity by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Organization of American States has denounced the regime’s abuses.

Maduro has arrested and abused journalists. This harassment from the government has led most independent radio, TV, and print outlets to close.

In addition, the crisis in Venezuela has caused millions of its citizens to migrate to neighboring countries in Latin America and to the United States. Of the 420,000 Venezuelans that now live in the United States, over half live in Florida.

The full letter sent by the Members to congressional appropriators can be found here and below.

Dear Chairwoman Lowey, Chairman Shelby, Ranking Member Granger, and Ranking Member Leahy:

When the House of Representatives and the Senate meet to reconcile the differences between their versions of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020, we respectfully ask you to provide the highest level of funding feasible for Venezuela under the Economic Support Fund (ESF).

As you know, the House version of the bill (H.R. 2839), as approved by the Appropriations Committee, provided $17.5 million in ESF for Venezuela, the same as the Fiscal Year 2019 enacted level.  During floor consideration of the bill, an amendment was offered to increase that funding by $3 million, to $20.5 million, and that amendment was approved.  See Amendment #101 to H.R. 2740 (Reps. Murphy, Shalala, and Soto).  The Senate version of the bill (S. 2583) would provide $30 million in ESF for Venezuela.  We hope both chambers will agree to a final bill that provide the highest level of funding possible for this critically-important cause.

The situation in Venezuela is a political, economic, and humanitarian crisis, and the regime of Nicolas Maduro is responsible.  The citizens of Venezuela are suffering, and millions have migrated to other countries, including many to our congressional districts.  ESF for Venezuela will sustain and strengthen USAID and State Department programs to empower the people of Venezuela—defending human rights, strengthening civil society, improving governance, supporting independent media, and promoting fair and transparent elections.

We thank you for your consideration of this request.

Sincerely,

  

Stephanie Murphy
Member of Congress

Donna E. Shalala

Member of Congress

Darren Soto

Member of Congress

Debbie Mucarsel-Powell
Member of Congress

Debbie Wasserman Schultz

Member of Congress

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Congressman Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, which includes Osceola County, as well as parts of Orange and Polk counties.

Twitter/Instagram: @RepDarrenSoto | Facebook: CongressmanDarrenSoto | Website: https://soto.house.gov