This weekend, the people of Venezuela — whose country is mired in a major political turmoil that has thrown the economy into a free fall and jeopardized their once-stable nation — got exactly what they needed: A couple of Florida lawmakers using their plight for political leverage.
Aid sent by the the United States sits at the border between Venezuela and Colombia, and so Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans, headed to the border to give Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro a piece of their mind.
Talking to CNN on Sunday, Rubio said that Maduro and the military have no choice but to let aid into the country, as Venezuelan children are “starving to death” and “families are dying in hospitals because of preventable diseases and they don’t have the medicine for it.”
Rather ominously, Rubio added, “If there’s violence next week and people are harmed here, we know who’s responsible for it and every single one if them will pay a price.”
But the Florida senator also tipped his hand by noting that the Cuban government is “controlling everything” in Venezuela. Maduro is supported by the Cuban government and military, and Rubio and Diaz-Balart have long been critics of former President Barack Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba. The two are very much part of President Donald Trump’s Cuba crackdown policy.
Aside from National Security Adviser John Bolton telegraphing the idea of sending 5,000 troops to border there by scribbling it on a notepad and holding it in plain view of television cameras, there is no public discussion of U.S. troops charging into Venezuela. Yet.
At times sporting a “Venezuela Libre” hat, Rubio, along with Diaz-Balart, posted himself at the border entry in Cucuta, Colombia. But while that particular entry is currently blocked, there are two other entries that are not — footbridges that allow Venezuelans to go back and forth, and where food and medical supplies are being imported by Venezuela.
It is unknown whether the supplies currently being imported and distributed via food co-ops are sufficient to meet demand, but according to an Al Jazeera report, what has been coming in on a daily basis is an amount equivalent to the U.S. aid currently stuck in Colombia.
Maduro has denied the entry of U.S. aid because Trump has publicly declared his support for Juan Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly who declared himself president in January. Many other nations — notably, European ones — followed suit, recognizing Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president and demanding fresh elections.
Maduro has declined, and has accused the United States of attempting to engineer a regime change. Referring to the aid as a “Trojan horse” and citing the fact that Venezuela has the world’s largest reserves of oil, Maduro has contended that a U.S. invasion is in the offing.
Nevertheless, conditions have been worsening in Venezuela over the past four years.
Over 3 million Venezuelans have left their country over the past couple of years as protests against the Maduro’s rule have grown. Many people in the country blame him for both the widespread governmental corruption and the nation’s disastrous financial state (a currency devaluation, coupled with unfathomable hyperinflation projected to reach 10 million percent in 2019).
Those Venezuelans who have taken to the streets to protest have paid a heavy price for their dissent. More than 100 protesters have been killed, while thousands more have been rounded up and arrested.
Tensions have been escalating at Venezuela’s border with neighboring Colombia for months, and recent U.S. pressure on Venezuela has only exacerbated these conditions. Maduro currently enjoys the support of the military — most notably, high-ranking generals — who are unlikely to relinquish control and force him to step down.
There’s also the question of U.S. motivations: While it’s certainly true that Venezuelans are suffering, Rubio hasn’t traveled to the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen or otherwise lent his voice to speak out against the suffering of the nearly 100,000 children who have starved to death as the United States continues to support Saudi airstrikes on Yemen in its fight against Houthi rebels. In fact, Rubio voted against ending the war in Yemen.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration, while publicly fretting about the welfare of Venezuelans, has reimposed sanctions on the country, which will hurt ordinary Venezuelans. It’s the same response the president is imposing upon Iran (where sanctions are also causing painful shortages in medical supplies) as well as on millions of Palestinian refugees, who have had vital humanitarian aid cut by his administration.