Congress Can Support a Political Solution and Provide Multilateral Humanitarian Assistance
As the House Foreign Affairs Committee takes up important legislation related to the crisis in Venezuela, we take this occasion to offer some considerations regarding the most effective way to address both the political and humanitarian aspects of the crisis in Venezuela. It is important for Congress to stand against U.S. military intervention in Venezuela, as does H.R. 1004, the Prohibiting Unauthorized Military Action in Venezuela Act. U.S. intervention would be counterproductive, costly, and would—above all—worsen the suffering of the Venezuelan people.
At the same time it is important to recognize that Venezuela is in the midst of a deep political and economic crisis, fueling a humanitarian emergency that has forced more than three million people to flee abroad. The May 2018 electoral process that Nicolás Maduro used to claim a new term lacked the fundamental guarantees of a free and fair process. The only viable path out of this crisis is a multilateral process that leads to free and fair elections, in which Venezuelans can choose their leaders. This must include a multilateral plan to address the humanitarian emergency on the ground without instigating armed conflict.
1.) Members of Congress should support Latin American and European-led International Contact Group efforts to facilitate a negotiated, democratic solution:
- The International Contact Group brings together three countries from Latin America (Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Uruguay) as well as eight European Union member states.
- There have been many rounds of failed dialogue in Venezuela. The major obstacle has been Nicolas Maduro’s failure to negotiate in good faith or make significant democratic concessions in the past. As a result, both the Vatican and Uruguay have recently declined to serve as dialogue mediators.
- The International Contact Group is a different approach from previous failed dialogue processes. In fact it is a more robust diplomatic initiative to facilitate a negotiated, democratic solution. Its starting point is that new elections are necessary, and it has a specific mandate create the necessary trust-building measures and conditions for credible elections, as well as to support methods to bring in humanitarian aid into the country while avoiding conflict. Among these conditions are the creation of a fair electoral authority, the release of political prisoners, and the end to political restrictions on the opposition.
- The International Contact Group has engaged with actors in both the Maduro government and the democratic opposition. It has credibility and access in both camps.
- The International Contact Group has been very active behind the scenes after their February 7 first meeting in Uruguay. From February 20-22 an International Contact Group technical team was in Caracas and quietly carried out meetings with stakeholders in the Maduro government, the opposition, and civil society. Another meeting of the group will take at the ministerial level in late March.
2.) Members of Congress should also take the following actions to alleviate suffering and provide humanitarian assistance:
- In discussions on humanitarian aid, including H.R. 854 (the Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019), Congress should support humanitarian assistance in Venezuela through existing multilateral channels and in keeping with humanitarian principles. It should encourage the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to increase funding for experienced humanitarian groups already working on the ground in partnership with active UN agencies in Caracas, including WHO-PAHO and UNICEF. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO) have been funding increasingly large-scale humanitarian operations in Venezuela for some time, and USAID should join with them;
- Endorse Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Venezuelans;
- Increase funding to strengthen refugee and migrant reception systems in Latin America;
- Insist that countries receiving refugees from Venezuela take steps to allow Venezuelan migrants and refugees to access education, healthcare, and legal employment. Countries that receive U.S. assistance should adjust their migration policies to accept expired travel documents as valid for migration purposes, as many countries have already agreed to in principle in the Quito Declaration of 2018;
- Endorse coordinated, multilateral pressure on the Maduro government through diplomacy and targeted sanctions that avoid deepening the suffering of the Venezuelan people. To be effective, sanctions should be:
- Multilateral, and coordinated with European and Latin American allies;
- Explicitly tied to concrete outcomes under which they can be eased or lifted; and
- Conditions for sanctions relief must be clearly communicated, with respect to their purpose, targets, and scope, as well regarding conditions that would allow for sanction relief.
- Request that the Departments of State and Treasury work jointly with other countries imposing sanctions on the Maduro government (the European Union, Canada, Panama, and Switzerland) to develop a clear and coherent set of conditions under which existing sanctions—whether sectoral or against individual actors—can be eased or lifted;
- Ensure that pressure is paired with engagement, including through the International Contact Group as well as direct U.S. government backchanneling with actors in the Maduro government; and
- Encourage the U.S. Mission to the United Nations to continue to use its voice and vote to elevate the political and humanitarian response to Venezuela’s crisis within the priorities of the United Nations, to ensure a peaceful return to democratic governance and avoid armed conflict and bloodshed.
CONTACT WOLA’S VENEZUELA POLICY EXPERTS:
For more information, visit WOLA’s Venezuela Policy and Human Rights blog, moderated by WOLA Senior Fellow David Smilde, or contact WOLA Assistant Director for Venezuela Geoff Ramsey: [email protected].