Congressmen Coffman and Polis: The fight for Venezuela’s future

The people of Venezuela deserve better. As President Maduro and his cronies continue to demonstrate they care only about solidifying their grip over the nation, the international community must begin to advocate on behalf of those who are suffering under this dictatorship

Imagine waking up afraid to walk down the street because you fear being killed, or unable to feed your child because there is a severe shortage of food, or mournful because your brother recently died due to a lack of access to medication. Such hypotheticals may seem distant, even hard to imagine, but for Venezuelans this has become their day to day. This is made all the more tragic when one considers that just a few decades ago, Venezuela was one of the wealthiest nations in Latin America.

Despite this rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis, President Nicolas Maduro – a leader cut from the same authoritarian cloth as his predecessor, Hugo Chavez – has opted to tighten his dictatorial grip over the Venezuelan people by undermining the country’s democratically elected National Assembly and instituting an illegitimate National Constituent Assembly. He effectively controls this new Assembly that has been tasked with drafting a new constitution to govern all Venezuelans.

These shameless actions occurred despite four months of protests that resulted in the death of some 125 people, many of them underage. Last week’s local elections were also marred with irregularities and intimidation continuing the cycle of unrest and desperation.

Make no mistake, the centralization of power by President Maduro worsens the current humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, cripples the nation’s economy, and severely impacts the lives of Venezuelans.

Since 2014, the Venezuelan economy has suffered an economic collapse worse than the U.S. Great Depression. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is 35 percent below 2013 levels, and per-capita GDP is down more than 40 percent in that same time frame. The unemployment rate is north of 20 percent, and inflation averaged over 250 percent in 2016 and is expected to exceed 1,100 percent by the end of this year. Over 70 percent of Venezuelans have lost more than 19 pounds, as a growing number of the population must pillage for food. Children have not been spared the crisis. According to a recent study, 11.4 percent of children under five are suffering either moderate or severe malnutrition, with rates rapidly rising.

This past August, in response to President Maduro’s efforts to install a fully-fledged dictatorship, President Trump announced sanctions that restrict Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from creditors based in the U.S. This step by the administration is positive and aims to punish those who benefit from – and are responsible for – the current economic conditions in Venezuela.

We hope that these measures are just the beginning of the international response to President Maduro’s inexcusable actions in Venezuela.

It is also important that we support Venezuelans currently living in the United States. Many of them are experiencing the systematic dismantling of their country of origin through immediate and extended family members who currently live in Venezuela. Additionally, immigration enforcement apparatus should avoid forcibly removing individuals to a country that is ill-equipped to handle their return, and one where people face significant risk of violence.

The people of Venezuela deserve better. As President Maduro and his cronies continue to demonstrate they care only about solidifying their grip over the nation, the international community must begin to advocate on behalf of those who are suffering under this dictatorship. We hope well-targeted sanctions of varying degrees combined with coordinated diplomatic efforts may prove effective in pressuring the Maduro regime to hold free and fair elections and allow for the peaceful restoration of democracy and the rule of law to Venezuela.

The United States can and should play a multi-lateral leadership role in this endeavor.

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Boulder, was first elected to represent Colorado’s Second Congressional District in 2008.  He serves on the powerful Committee on Rules, the Committee on Education and the Workforce, and the Committee on Ethics.  He is the former chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, and the founder and former superintendent of The New America School – a network of charter schools in several states serving new immigrants and English-language learners – as well as the Academy for Urban Learning for homeless and at-risk youth.

U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, is the only veteran in the Colorado delegation and the only Member of Congress to have served in both Iraq Wars. Congressman Coffman represents the 6th Congressional District of Colorado and serves on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee and the Armed Services Committee where he is the Chairman for the Subcommittee on Military Personnel.