My native country of Venezuela is starving; the U.S. can make a difference
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My native country is starving and it is time the elected representatives of my adopted country, and our proud democracy, spoke out.   Today, Venezuela is hungry, poor, and dangerous, but there is something we can all do about it.

First, a few facts.

Venezuela’s health services have reached a new nadir.  One in three patients taken into hospital in Venezuela dies, while statistics show that there are 15 deaths for every 1,000 births – double the rate in the US.  Just five years ago, one children’s hospital in Venezuela had a waiting list of approximately 200 patients. Today, that same hospital has close to 6,000 children waiting for life saving operations.

The Washington Post recently reported how a scraped knee almost killed a 3 year old, simply because Venezuela’s medical system is lacking even the most basic provisions. In the last few years, 13,000 doctors have left the country. Venezuela has been stripped of medical expertise when it needs it the most.  Newborn babies are kept in cardboard boxes.  One in every fourth child is now suffering from malnutrition.

Meanwhile, rule of law in Venezuela is now worse than in Iraq and Zimbabwe.  Prisoners in Venezuela are starving to death, with pictures echoing some of the worst human catastrophes of the last century.  Caracas now holds the ‘honorable’ title of officially being the world’s most murderous city.   In September alone there were 474 killings, outdoing Baghdad and Kabul.

On a macro level, the economy is tanking.  The IMF is predicting that inflation will rise to nearly 500 percent this year and potentially by 2,200 percent next year.  The state-run oil company, PDVSA is struggling to swap its bonds.  The President, having mishandled the economy so dramatically thus far, continues to undermine the opposition-led NationalAssembly by recently passing a budget by executive decree,disregarding (yet another) basic constitutional obligation.

And as President Maduro destroys his own economy, he arrogantly mocks the United States.  Last week Venezuelan prison guards forced an American attorney, Joshua Holt, a Utah man, to strip naked and perform exercises, in blatant violation of international law.  In the same week, Maduro announced the creation of the “Hugo Chavez Award for Peace and Sovereignty of the Peoples”, and awarded the dubious honor to none other than Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, opposition figures are thrown in prison, media freedom is trampled upon, and food is horded and dished out to party cronies while the people starve.  This is all compounded by Maduro’s determination to snuff out the last remaining hope for change. A legal petition, far exceeding the number of required signatories, calling for a referendum on the president’s rule is being rendered useless by the regime’s cynical, manipulative foot dragging.  The president and his supporters are using every trick in the book to ensure that the referendum cannot be held in 2016.  Under the Constitution, new elections cannot take place if the referendum is scheduled after January 10th.  In this case, even if Mr. Maduro loses in a 2017 referendum, his VP will serve the remaining two years, ensuring more of the same suffering for the people of Venezuela.

We, however, can do something about this.  There are over 260,000 Venezuelans registered living in the United States with increasing numbers migrating to escape the hardships in Venezuela. We have a serious round of elections now in the US, an opportunity for all of us to make our democratic voices heard as US citizens.  Call your members of Congress today and demand they speak up.  The State Department should be feeling the heat from the elected representatives who care about human rights, dignity and democracy.  

The Venezuelan American Leadership Council is calling for the creation of a Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Caucus in Congress, to serve as a platform to educate and legislate, to secure aid for the Venezuelan people, and to help alleviate the crises and human rights abuses taking place on a daily basis in Venezuela.  The Socialist Maduro already blames ‘American imperialists’ for the ills he has inflicted on his own people. The time has come for his regime to feel the genuine weight of American influence, to experience real isolation, through regime-focused, and regionally supported sanctions.

With Venezuela in a period of almost unprecedented turmoil, the formation of this Congressional caucus to pursue common legislative proposals, letters and resolutions to pressure the regime, has never been more important.

Carlos Marquez is Executive Director of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council, a 501c3 non-profit dedicated to raising awareness about Venezuelan issues through grassroots advocacy and congressional outreach.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.