Sen. Bill Nelson just finished speaking on the Senate floor about the situation in Venezuela. Below is a rush transcript and here’s a link to watch video of Nelson’s remarks:
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
July 31, 2017
Sen. Nelson: Madam President, we have chaos in Venezuela. It’s a protracted crisis in Venezuela which took yet another turn for the worse yesterday.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro pushed ahead with a vote despite so many people, including the opposition, to try to have him avoid and became a sham vote. Only about 10% of the population voted. The opposition stayed home. It was a vote — no wonder why people stayed home. It was a sham vote to form a constitutional assembly despite the vehement opposition of the Venezuelan people and the overwhelming international criticism.
Plain and simple: The vote was illegal and it was rigged. And once again on the streets and at the ballot box, the Venezuelan people have made themselves loud and clear.
Two weeks ago more than seven million Venezuelans voted against even holding this vote, and yesterday the numbers are millions stayed home. Maduro wants to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution so that he can cling to power.
And yesterday’s vote was only the latest attempt to undermine, if not to completely undo, Venezuela’s democracy. He continues to crack down on protesters. They’ve killed more than 100 and injuring and arresting thousands more. His thugs have raided homes, terrorizing the opposition’s families. He’s tried to strip the National Assembly of its powers, undercut the attorney general, and he has co-opted the courts. His thugs attacked the National Assembly, injuring opposition lawmakers. He blocked a lawful referendum to recall his election. His cronies steal the country’s money and enrich themselves.
All the while the Venezuelan people suffer. The people go hungry. Children are malnourished. There are no staple products, no medicines, no medical supplies for the people. Of course you know who gets the food and the medical treatment. It’s the privileged few, the Maduro ones that he protects.
Now this is Venezuela’s tragic reality. Maduro has made himself dictator and he and his cronies are bent on turning Venezuela’s once-vibrant democracy and once-vibrant economy into a Cuban-style regime.
Nevertheless, the Venezuelan people in the face of violence, oppression and deprivation, they continue to fight for their democracy, for the little bit of freedoms that they have left. They’re doing everything they can at great risk to themselves and their families to save their democracy and, thus, to save their country.
Well, the task just got a lot harder. So the issue before us, Mr. President, is: what can we do to support them since Maduro has now installed himself with this fake referendum on a national assembly? What can we do to support Maduro from being the dictator that he is. And so what we need to do is condemn the constitutional assembly as the sham that it is. It also means the United States increasing the pressure on the Maduro regime.
I’ve just spoken this afternoon with the Treasury Department, and the United States has announced a little earlier this afternoon, has frozen Maduro’s assets. I expect at least two other countries to follow suit, and probably more after they do. This is an important step, and I hope it’s the first in what, I hope, will be the strongest possible economic sanctions to stop Maduro.
It’s time that we consider cutting the imports of Venezuelan oil also.
Now what have we done thus far? Well, there were already a group of Maduro’s cronies, some in the private sector, some in the government, that the sanctions have been slapped on.
You say, well, what does that do? What good does that do? Listen, all of these cronies of Maduro, they love to come to Miami. They love to have offshore bank accounts and all kinds of assets stashed overseas. And if not in the U.S., perhaps in some of those other countries that are going to follow suit.
So we do that with his cronies. Now, what we have done today by the announcement from the Treasury Department is that we have frozen Nicolás Maduro’s assets. And if other countries follow suit, they’re going to freeze his assets as well.
Maybe we should take the next step. The next step is Venezuela exports a lot of its oil to the United States. It’s such a heavy, dirty crude, a good part of that has to go to the refineries in the U.S. because those refineries are the ones that are capable of refining that heavy, dirty crude. Maybe we just ought to stop our imports of the Venezuelan oil, absorb that percentage of loss of oil coming into the U.S. from Venezuela, clearly on the world marketplace, which oil is fungible. Maybe that’s what we ought to do.
We are now dealing with a Cuban-style dictator that’s the head of Venezuela. I think going forward, the United States must insist on the release of all political prisoners, that Venezuela has got to go back to when it was a thriving democracy, the rule of law. That was back when they respected human rights and the people had some freedoms.
And we ought, as the United States, to help rally the nations of the Organization of American states and to rally the support of the world to bring about a meaningful end to this crisis because it’s just going to get worse and worse.
The violence that you’ve seen on the TV yesterday and today, it’s going to continue as you continue to squeeze the people to starve them, to take away all semblance of human decency, what do you think they’re going to do? They’re going to revolt. And the violence isn’t going to stop.
Now, Mr. President, there is a role for Congress and there is an opportunity for the Congress to lead. The president’s budget eliminated funding for democracy programs in Venezuela that support the old National Assembly and civil society and those same democracy programs that promote human rights and the encouraging of an independent media.
Recently, I wrote to the Senate Appropriations Committee, along with a number of other senators, urging that the committee continued that funding for those democracy programs in Venezuela. In May, this senator joined Senators Cardin and Rubio and seven others in introducing the Venezuelan Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democracy of Democratic Governance Act. That bill addresses the many aspects of the crisis in Venezuela. It codified targeted sanctions on regime officials, something that we are now implementing, and thank goodness for the announcement by this administration. I give them kudos for that. That act would authorize badly needed humanitarian assistance. It would back the OAS efforts to bring about an end to the crisis and it funds election-observation organizations and groups working to defend democracy in Venezuela.
These are bipartisan efforts and I would urge our colleagues to support them. And I would urge that we bring them up as soon as possible. The situation is terrible in the country and the situation and that chaos, especially what we’ve seen in Caracas, is going to get worse. Time is of the essence.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.