For over two weeks, Venezuela has been engulfed in massive anti-government protests and violent reprisals from the government. Yet attention to the situation has been minimal. As Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) stated Tuesday, “There is no indication that the administration is even thinking too much about Venezuela.”
Last week a prestigious panel of speakers gathered at The Heritage Foundation to bring attention to this critical situation. The speakers included Otto Reich, former ambassador to Venezuela and Assistant Secretary of State; Marc Wachtenheim, president of the Center for Freedom and Democracy; former Venezuelan congressman Leopoldo Martinez; and Beatrice Rangel, former chief of staff under Venezuelan President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
Wachtenheim described the way the Venezuelan government operates, stating that it has created an economy that fully relies on its oil resources and uses those resources to ensure its monopoly of power by paying off political allies and strengthening its authoritarian rule rather than investing in the safety and prosperity of the Venezuelan people.
Ambassador Reich spoke about the actions that the U.S. could take to pressure Venezuela and crack down on Venezuelan officials who use the corrupt authoritarian regime to make themselves rich. The ambassador described the case of Alejandro Andrade, a close friend of Hugo Chavez and former treasurer of Venezuela, who is estimated to be worth over $1.5 billion and was, up until recently, living comfortably in West Palm Beach, Florida.
While Andrade’s visa was eventually revoked, Ambassador Reich explained that there are still hundreds of Venezuelans like Andrade who are using “ill-gotten money” and “enjoying the safety and security and transparency of the U.S. after having destroyed all those things in Venezuela.” The ambassador went on to suggest that these individuals should be targeted for sanctions and have their visas revoked.
Martinez and Rangel provided insight into the plight that the average Venezuelan faces every day and has caused thousands to take to the streets in protest. Martinez commented that the Venezuelan “oil bonanza,” with $100 a barrel oil prices, has brought no progress or relief from inflation and shortages on basic goods.
The panelists also discussed the lack of security in Venezuela, which has led to an average of 25,000 homicides per year and has created an environment of impunity. Rangel pointed out that violence and impunity have become institutionalized as pro-government gangs known as “colectivos” attack protesters and destroy property without police interference. Despite Venezuela’s rapid degradation, the government rarely has an answer apart from blaming the media, the opposition party, and the United States.
For two weeks, the Obama Administration sat idly by, allowing the Venezuelan government to brutalize unarmed protestors. Only four hours after the event aired live on C-SPAN, Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement condemning the actions of the Venezuelan government. Maybe the White House is paying attention now.
Andres Martinez-Fernandez is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.