U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Opening Remarks to the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women's Issues

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U.S.-Venezuela Relations and the Path to a Democratic Transition

For Immediate Release

Thursday, March 7, 2019
Office of Press Relations
Telephone: +1.202.712.4320| Email: press@usaid.gov

March 7, 2019
Capitol Hill
Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Chairman Risch and Ranking Member Menendez, Chairman Rubio, Ranking Member Cardin, members of the subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela, and thanks to all of you on both sides of the aisle for your leadership on this very important topic.

So, one of our challenges this morning may be that we're running out of terms to adequately capture the level of suffering that Venezuelan families are facing each and every day. Hyper-inflation, by some estimates, approaching 2 million percent, rampant food shortages have wrecked the ability of countless families to make ends meet. According to the Venezuelan Society of Pediatrics and Child Care, 80 percent of children under 5 are in some stage of malnutrition.* Nearly 90 percent of hospitals are experiencing medicine shortages, and almost as many are without reliable power or water. Infectious diseases previously eliminated or controlled are now surging. A diphtheria outbreak that began in July 2016 has now escalated to nearly 1,560 cases, including 270 deaths. All of this affects the larger region.

Of the roughly 17,000 measles cases recently diagnosed in the region, most have been traced to outbreaks inside Venezuela. While over 3 million Venezuelans have already fled into neighboring countries -- and as was stated, this is the largest cross-border exodus in the history of the Americas. Of course, the crisis is all the more outrageous because it is entirely man-made and regime driven. From government takeover of huge sectors of the economy to rampant kleptocracy, from destroying governing checks and balances and civil rights, to forcing doctors and other professionals to flee, the regime has caused a once prosperous nation to essentially implode.

As if all of this weren't enough, Maduro saves some of his worst for his treatment of humanitarian assistance. For one thing, he heartlessly continues to claim in the face of all of the suffering and sorrow that there is no crisis, that his government is already fully providing for the Venezuelan people. As recently as 2016, he claimed the country's health care system was among the best in the world. Far worse, his regime often uses his country's plight to increase his hold on power. He's regularly manipulated social assistance programs to reward supporters, enrich cronies, and influence votes. Credible reports show he has skimmed millions from social welfare programs, and there is evidence that he has used identification cards in ways that tied food assistance to votes and political support for the regime. Needless to say, USAID does not view the Maduro regime or the networks it controls as an appropriate means for delivering relief.

However, the good news is that we actually see rays of hope for both a real humanitarian partnership and a more democratic, prosperous future in Venezuela. That good news is the emergence of Juan Guaidó as interim president. Officially recognized by the U.S. and more than 50 other countries. I've recently spoken with Interim President Guaidó and his representatives both by phone and in person. They thanked us for USAID's support for democracy in Venezuela, and that should be particularly gratifying to all of you because of the democracy assistance programs for Venezuela that you've invested in over these last five years on a bipartisan basis. This assistance has supported local organizations working on human rights, civil society, independent media, electoral oversight, and the democratically-elected national assembly. Guaidó's team has also requested our assistance in their efforts to begin addressing some of the urgent needs of everyday Venezuelans. USAID with support from the Departments of Defense and State and others has responded.

First, we're continuing to provide support to the surrounding region in the form of urgently needed food, healthcare, protection, and shelter to both Venezuelans and host communities. Over the last two years, our assistance has totaled more than $195 million. Second, now that we have a leader with whom we can partner, we have taken steps to pre-position humanitarian assistance close to the border for eventual delivery into Venezuela. Since February 4, the U.S. government has prepositioned more than 525 metric tons of urgently needed humanitarian assistance, food aid, emergency medical items, hygiene kits, water treatment units, and nutrition products. In fact, this very day, Deputy Administer Bonnie Glick is accompanying our latest shipment of humanitarian assistance -- medical supplies aimed at helping hospitals and clinics to Cucuta.

The U.S. government is hardly alone. A dozen plus countries have made concrete pledges, and five, including the U.S., have already taken steps to pre-position assistance. In addition, we know that private sector sources are also attempting to respond to Guaidó's request. As you are no doubt aware, on February 23, Interim President Guaidó and courageous Venezuelan volunteers attempted to bring some supplies from the international community, including some from USAID across the border. Unfortunately, they were confronted by security forces alongside colectivos. It's clear that the Venezuelan people will not be deterred by Maduro's brutality or cowardice and neither will the U.S. Government.

We'll continue to support Interim President Guaidó's effort to deliver aid to his people in Venezuela, and we will continue to support Colombia and others that are hosting Venezuelans who have fled. We all recognize that humanitarian assistance, however badly it is needed, is treatment not cure. It cannot address the root cause of the problem. So long as Maduro and his cronies continue to crush the people, their economy and their hope, this crisis will worsen. They deserve a return to democracy, rule of law, and citizen-responsive governance.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you to all of you for your support. With that continued support, we will continue in our efforts to support the people of Venezuela, the interim president, to restore democracy and prosperity.

*This statistic comes from media reporting, not the Venezuelan Society of Pediatrics and Child Care.