Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Obama - Venezuelans need your support to bring democracy to their country

By Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) - 03/24/14 
The palpable absence of a coordinated strategy in support of the pro-democracy advocates in Venezuela is evident and yet another in a string of missed opportunities by the Obama administration to promote U.S. interests and freedom around the world.
For longer than a month now, a crisis in Venezuela has been escalating, but the stage for this had been set with the death of Hugo Chavez last March and the contested presidential elections that followed. Now, according to Venezuelan non-governmental organizations, the regime of President Nicolás Maduro is responsible for almost 30 killed, nearly 60 reported cases of torture, more than 1,500 people unjustly detained, and hundreds injured with very little attention from the Obama administration and with no reasonable end in sight.
The attacks against the Venezuelan people by the Maduro regime also have serious links to Cuba, a U.S. designated state sponsor of terrorism. The Castro regime uses military advisers and Cuban troops to help the Maduro regime suppress the calls of the Venezuelan people for democracy, freedom and human rights.
Furthermore, the Venezuelan mayors of San Cristobal and San Diego, and opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez have been unjustly arrested. And Diosdado Cabello — one of the country’s most dangerous goons — has threatened that another opposition leader, Maria Corina Machado, may be arrested and charged with bogus accusations as well.
On March 13, Secretary of State John Kerry testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and to my disappointment but not to my surprise, he failed to address the situation in Venezuela in both his written testimony and opening statement to the committee.  This lack of attention to this crisis is insulting and represents the foreign policy strategy of the Obama administration to stick their heads in the sand and hope these problems go away by themselves. When I pressed Kerry on Venezuela during the hearing, he responded that it is time for the Organization of American States (OAS), and neighboring countries, to focus on Venezuela and hold Maduro accountable.
I can only assume that Kerry forgot that the OAS has already tried to focus on Venezuela and failed miserably. On March 7, the OAS passed a watered-down declaration that failed to hold the Maduro regime accountable, which precipitated the U.S. permanent representative, as well as the Canadian and Panamanian representatives, to vote against this weak declaration. The lack of U.S. leadership in our region has only emboldened these tyrants to violate human rights with impunity.
Maduro’s bullying tactics have even extended as far north as Washington, D.C. On March 21, the OAS was set to convene an ordinary session of the Permanent Council, and Panama was willing to allow Machado to address the council as a member of its delegation. But Maduro and his Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America lackeys, such as Nicaragua, quickly moved to make the session private. Then the Venezuelan delegation successfully managed to lobby the council to remove the topic of the Venezuelan crisis from the agenda. Yet perplexingly, the administration falsely believes that the OAS shares our concern over Venezuela.
When Honduran officials acted in 2009 to remove former President Manuel Zelaya, in accordance with the country’s constitution, the U.S. led the effort to expel Honduras from the OAS and revoked visas of Honduran nationals. Yet, when students are being killed in the streets of Caracas by the Maduro regime, the Obama administration echoes the same hollow words and responds with no action.
The president has issued an executive order to sanction individuals who have undermined the democratic process and threatened the security of Ukraine, but no similar order has been signed to target Venezuelan officials who have acted in the same manner. And so, if the Obama administration will not act, Congress will lead the way.
Last week, I introduced, alongside more than a dozen congressional colleagues, a bipartisan bill: H.R. 4229, the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. It calls on the president to impose targeted sanctions on Venezuelan officials who have committed or have been complicit in human rights violations by denying them visas to enter our country, blocking their property, freezing their assets and prohibiting them from conducting financial transactions in the United States.
This bill will neither hurt the people of Venezuela, nor will it impact the Venezuelan economy. Instead, it is targeted to those Venezuelan officials who have fired rubber bullets and tear gas into crowds and those who are responsible for human rights violations. In response to this legislation, Maduro has blamed my colleagues and me for Venezuela’s ills. This is just another attempt by Maduro to distract from his failed policies that have caused staggering inflation and food shortages. It is a badge of honor to be attacked by an autocrat who disdains basic democratic principles.
Ros-Lehtinen has represented Florida’s 27th Congressional District since 1990. She sits on the Rules and the Foreign Affairs committees, and is chairwoman of that panel’s subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Please support S2142 - Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Venezuela's Queen of - Maria Corina Machado

The people have awakened!" shouts a somber woman in a blue blazer and white blouse. She goes on to enumerate, in a voice fraught with measured emotion, the facts of daily life in Venezuela that have finally driven its opposition into the streets. Among them are inflation, the destruction of state institutions, unemployment, corruption, and an epidemic of crime that is "killing our children." With its harsh response to mass demonstrations, she says, "the regime has taken off its mask and shown its totalitarian nature, its weakness, and its desperation." She calls on her citizens to act "calmly, with firmness, and above all, confidence" in the face of even violent repression. "We will remain in the streets until we achieve our goal" -- a free, sovereign, and democratic Venezuela.
There is little reason to doubt her. María Corina Machado, 46, is a woman who knows the true nature of the Venezuelan regime founded by Hugo Chávez (and continued today by his chosen successor Nicolás Maduro). What's more, she has every reason to fight it. 
A recognized politician and orator in her own right, she has often occupied the podium alongside Leopoldo López -- or at least she did until last week, when he was arrested. Like López, she has suffered violence from chavista supporters. 
She has been physically attacked on several occasions -- once even on the floor of the National Assembly, when members of Chávez's socialist party tried to beat her up. Also like López, she is fit, attractive, and exudes competence. In a country where women have made advances in recent years, but which remains deeply patriarchal, Machado has stood out among both sexes -- and has been recognized for it, now more than ever. 
As one of the opposition's key leaders, she has been organizing demonstrations, addressing crowds, and posing a direct challenge to President Maduro, who was elected in April 2013 with only 50.6 percent of the vote.
Since López's incarceration on Feb. 18 -- he faces trumped-up charges of murder and terrorism for deaths that occurred in recent opposition protests -- Machado has traveled Venezuela, comforting the mothers of the opposition's fallen and urging Venezuelans to stand up for their rights. On Saturday's march in Caracas, apparently one of the largest ever, she tightly embraced López's wife, Lilian Tintori, on the podium, and expressed the country's solidarity with her. She thundered against a regime that has robbed Venezuela of its future and reduced it to ruins, and warned the government that Venezuelan mothers are willing to sacrifice their lives for their children: "It is time to reconquer our future! Venezuela is determined to struggle peacefully until it achieves victory!" In contrast to the deliberately earthy Chávez, Machado, dressed as if for the country club, conveys outrage, but with style.
Opposition to chavismo has always been strongest among Venezuela's middle and upper classes. An industrial engineer by training, Machado was born into a professional, upper-class family. She speaks English fluently. She cut her teeth in politics as a founder of Súmate (Join Up), a civil rights organization that aims to reverse the rollback of freedoms Chávez began imposing soon after taking office in 1999. In 2004, Súmate welcomed a national referendum to remove the increasingly radical Chávez from the Miraflores Palace, contesting, ultimately to no effect, the validity of the results, which gave his opponents only 39 percent of the vote.
In 2002, during an abortive attempt to overthrow Chávez in a coup, she was among the signatories of a decree -- perhaps less than convincingly, she says she signed it by mistake -- that prematurely declared a transitional government. This act landed her on Chávez's enemies list. She soon became one of the Comandante's most reviled bêtes noires. In fact, the New York Times called her the Venezuelan government's "most detested adversary," and her 2005 visit to George W. Bush in the Oval Office only hardened negative sentiments in the chavista camp. She faced charges of conspiracy for Súmate's acceptance of a modest grant from the National Endowment for Democracy, and went on to become an independent National Assembly deputy for the prosperous, heavily populated state of Miranda, an opposition stronghold bordering Caracas.
As discontent with Chávez grew, Machado, in 2012, sensed that her time had come. She vied with Leopoldo López for the then-fractured opposition's blessing to face the cancer-stricken president in national elections scheduled for later in the year. She and López both lost out to Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles, who went on to suffer defeat. (Capriles, once the leader of the opposition, has lost credibility with his increasingly angry constituents by advocating compromise. He is now calling on regime opponents to continue their street protests.) In the fight against the Maduro regime, López gained the upper hand, which now, by default, has largely fallen to Machado.
Yet despite previous rivalries, she has stood beside López as resistance to Maduro has mounted, along with the opposition's chance to gain power. López is in jail, but Machado is not to be counted out.
Jeffrey Tayler is a contributing editor at The Atlantic Monthly 


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela

Cuba fed a president’s fears and took over Venezuela
Published by Moises Naim in Financial Times
By Moisés Naím
Caracas is paying the price for Chávez’s misplaced trust, writes Moisés Naím.
The enormous influence that Cuba has gained in Venezuela is one of the most underreported geopolitical developments of recent times. It is also one of the most improbable. Venezuela is nine times bigger than Cuba, three times more populous, and its economy four times larger. The country boasts the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet critical functions of the Venezuelan state are either overseen or directly controlled by Cuban officials.
Venezuela receives Cuban health workers, sports trainers, bureaucrats, security personnel, militias and paramilitary groups. “We have over 30,000 members of Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution in Venezuela,” boasted Juan José Rabilero, then head of the CDR, in 2007. The number is likely to have increased further since then.
A growing proportion of Venezuela’s imports are channelled through Cuban companies. Recently, Maria Corina Machado, an opposition leader, revealed the existence of a large warehouse of recently expired medicines imported through a Cuban intermediary – drugs allegedly purchased on the international market at a deep discount and resold at full price to the government.
The relationship goes beyond subsidies and advantageous business opportunities for Cuban agencies. Cuban officers control Venezuela’s public notaries and civil registries. Cubans oversee the computer systems of the presidency, ministries, social programmes, police and security services as well as the national oil company, according to Cristina Marcano, a journalist who has reported extensively on Cuba’s influence in Venezuela.
Then there is military co-operation. The minister of defence of a Latin American country told me: “During a meeting with high-ranking Venezuelan officers we reached several agreements on co-operation and other matters. Then three advisers with a distinctive Cuban accent joined the meeting and proceeded to change all we had agreed. The Venezuelan generals were clearly embarrassed but didn’t say a word . . . Clearly, the Cubans run the show.”
Why did the Venezuelan government allow this lopsided foreign intervention? The answer is Hugo Chávez. During his 14-year presidency he enjoyed absolute power thanks to his complete control of every institution that could have constrained him, from the judiciary to the legislature. He could also use Venezuela’s oil revenues at will.
One of the most transformational ways in which Chávez used the complete power he wielded was to let the Cubans in. He had many reasons to throw himself into the arms of Fidel Castro. He felt a deep affection, admiration and trust for the Cuban leader, who became a personal adviser, political mentor and geopolitical guide. Mr Castro also fed Chávez’s conviction that his many enemies – especially the US and the local elites – were out to get him and that his military and security services could not be trusted to provide the protection he needed. But the Cubans could reliably offer these services. Cuba also provided a ready-to-use international network of activists, non-government organisations and propagandists who boosted Chávez’s reputation abroad.
In return, Chávez instituted a programme of financial largesse that keeps Cuba’s economy afloat to this day. Caracas ships about 130,000 barrels of oil a day to the island on preferential terms – a small part of an aid programme that remains one of the world’s largest.
The extent to which Chávez was beholden to the Cuban regime was dramatically illustrated by the way in which he dealt with the cancer that would eventually kill him last year: he trusted only the doctors whom Mr Castro recommended, and his treatment mostly took place in Havana under a veil of secrecy.
Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, has deepened Caracas’s dependency on Havana even further. As students have taken to the streets in protest against an increasingly authoritarian regime the government has responded with a brutal repression that relies on many of the tools and tactics perfected by the police state that has run Cuba for too long.
The writer, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment, is a former Venezuelan minister of industry and trade

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Ros-Lehtinen on the Unjust Removal of Maria Corina from the Venezuelan Lider