The crisis in Venezuela is a crisis in America. Senator Rubio, Congressman Diaz-Balart and I have been talking about this for years and have worked with the White House on a comprehensive strategy.
More than 200,000 Venezuelans live in Florida, and their concerns are our concerns.
And make no mistake; this is a crisis. It’s a humanitarian crisis that threatens the lives of the people of Venezuela and has created a flood of refugees numbering in the millions.
But it’s also a crisis that threatens the safety and security of our allies in Latin America and of the United States of America.
The dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and the creeping influence and military presence of our global adversaries represent a clear and present danger to the entire Western Hemisphere.
There are some who say this is not our fight – that the millions of Venezuelans suffering 2,000 miles away are not our concern. Some have criticized the mere mention of the crisis in Venezuela by those like myself as American imperialism or a U.S.-backed coup.
I reject that. This is our fight. Freedom and Democracy in Latin America IS OUR FIGHT. And I remind these critics that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.
We cannot let evil triumph in Venezuela. It would be a failure of leadership with disastrous consequences.
There is only one option left to get aid to the people of Venezuela. It is something that no one is willing to talk about.
It is becoming clear that we will have to consider the use of American military assets to deliver aid. Maduro and his thugs have left us no choice.
I applaud President Trump and his administration for taking bold action by recognizing Juan Guaido as the legitimate President of Venezuela and organizing the international community to do the same.
The sanctions implemented by this administration against the Maduro regime and its puppet masters in Havana reflect their commitment to freedom and democracy in Latin America.
And yet, Maduro remains in power. The people of Venezuela continue to suffer. And the influence of Cuba, Russia, China and international terrorist organizations grows.
We MUST do more.
But in order to understand where we go from here, we need to look at history.
Hugo Chavez might have been elected democratically, but he never intended to govern democratically.
He built a socialist dictatorship by hollowing out all of the democratic institutions: the constitution, the electoral system, and the courts.
He made civil society and the business sector bend to his will or face elimination.
He nationalized entire sectors of the economy and used them to pay off his cronies. He took over the oil sector and made the national energy company his piggy bank.
And he made common cause with our enemies, most notably the Castro Regime. Cuba received, and continues to receive, free oil from Venezuela and in return provides political and internal security operatives…in other words, Cuba provided, and is still providing, military thugs to help stop freedom.
Chavez allowed his regime to engage in illicit trafficking of drugs and people. And he cooperated with Middle Eastern terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and the terror state of Iran. This cooperation has only intensified under Chavez’ successor Maduro.
The path of socialism chosen by the Chavistas inevitably led to a failed state that relies on the world’s bad actors for survival.
The result is one of the worst humanitarian crisis in our hemisphere’s history.
We CANNOT ignore the impact that the socialist policies of Chavez and Maduro have had on the people of Venezuela.
9 out of 10 households say they don’t have enough money to buy food. That’s socialism.
80% of children under 5 are in some state of malnutrition. That’s socialism.
Inflation is over 10 million percent this year and their currency is worthless. What does that mean for the average person? A bundle of carrots costs 3 million bolivars. A dozen eggs costs $150 US dollars. That’s socialism.
Venezuela has the highest murder rate in the world. That’s socialism.
More than 3.5 million refugees—about 12% of the population—have fled to neighboring countries because they can’t get food, water, medicine, or safety from their government.
Two million more Venezuelans are expected to flee before the year is out, with Colombia taking the brunt of this refugee crisis.
Colombian resources are strained as they do all they can to help the refugees fleeing persecution, starvation, and sickness—while the Maduro regime blocks aid caravans, sets them on fire, and continues to cooperate with the narco-trafficking rebels that plague Colombia.
I want to thank my good friend President Duque for all he’s doing.
Other nations in the region such as Brazil and Peru have also pitched in, accepting hundreds of thousands of refugees.
For weeks, millions of Venezuelans have been left without running water amid a series of massive blackouts.
Journalists report scenes that are now a part of the daily life for Venezuelans: dozens sleeping in line for their turn at a well in one of the city’s biggest slums. Three men tossing an old paint bucket tied with ropes down a well hoping to hit water. People parked by the highway waiting for their turn to place bottles under small streams that run down the Ávila Mountain.
Many Venezuelans call these conditions a “genocide,” because the violence and starvation is being imposed on the civilian population as a conscious policy of Maduro and his Cuban puppet masters.
Dictators like Maduro recognize weakness as an opportunity. The hungrier and sicker his people are, the easier they are to repress. This is the kind of evil we are facing in our hemisphere.
But one thing is clear: Maduro underestimates his people. They may be oppressed, but they are not weak. They may be hungry, but their hunger is for freedom. And they are making their voices heard.
We need to listen.
Nicolas Maduro is an illegitimate President. His election was a sham, just like the elections in Cuba and Russia – a complete sham and a joke.
Dozens of countries across Latin America and Europe have recognized Juan Guaido’s constitutional right to the Interim Presidency.
As President of the National Assembly, the only democratic body left in Venezuela, Juan Guaido has the right and the duty to preside over new elections and the return to democracy.
The people still in power in Venezuela are corrupt bureaucrats and military officers engaged in embezzlement, narco-trafficking, and human rights abuses.
Since being tested by uprisings in 2014 and 2017, the regime has reinforced a repressive apparatus that uses armed mobile civilian gangs known as colectivos, specialized police units, and anti-riot forces of the National Guard to terrorize and control the civilian population through arbitrary arrests, beatings, detentions and killings.
The Maduro regime has gone so far as to arrest the Chief of Staff for Interim President Guaido, Roberto Marrero. I met with his wife, Romy, on Monday in Miami. She fled the country 3 weeks ago with their 7-year-old son, right before Maduro’s thugs destroyed their home.
The majority of the armed forces want change in their country. But they live under the repressive forces of control, threats, intimidation and violence.
Russian mercenaries protect Maduro because he can’t trust his own troops. And the Russian government has provided military advisors and specialists to maintain the Maduro regime’s defenses, including surface to air missile systems.
Russia has also sent nuclear capable bombers to Venezuela, in violation of the Venezuelan Constitution, to intimidate the United States and other countries in the region.
In short, Russia is expanding its military presence in Venezuela to prop up a regime hostile to the United States and create a foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis has Russia taken such aggressive steps to expand their influence in the region.
Meanwhile, China evades sanctions we have placed on the regime by investing in the country and extending generous loans to prop up the dictatorship in Caracas.
The United States faces a serious national security threat and a humanitarian crisis at our doorstep. This is becoming as dangerous for us as the Syrian Civil War has been for Europe, Israel, and Jordan.
Left unchecked, it will destabilize our regional allies and provide a base of operations for our enemies.
Today, I’m urging the Administration, Congress, and the American people to see the crisis for what it is: a rising tide of social and political collapse encouraged and funded by our enemies.
The socialist dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro and his Cuban, Russian, Chinese, and narco-trafficking allies do not care how many millions of Venezuelans suffer and die.
He is determined to remain in power, sucking the life out of a once vibrant nation and creating an outpost for our adversaries and a safe harbor for terrorists intent on harming Americans.
We cannot let this stand. We will be judged by our response to this crisis – not just the humanitarian crisis, but the threat to our hemisphere.
The credibility and security of the United States is on the line.
The question is not IF we can tolerate this crisis that is worsening daily. We surely cannot.
The question is WHEN we will act to end it.
Hostile regimes like Russia, China, and Cuba are digging in. They’re training killers, distributing weapons and placing military assets in Venezuela. Their message is clear: they don’t intend to give up without a fight.
History has proven that permitting the former Soviet Union to establish a presence in Cuba perpetuated a six-decade totalitarian dictatorship that has exported instability to the region and worked against U.S. national security interests.
Our safety, national security and the peace of our hemisphere demand that we take action.
We cannot allow this murderous regime to continue spreading misery within its borders and into neighboring countries.
There is a democratic government-in-waiting in the form of the National Assembly and Interim President Guaido. U.S. policy relies on rallying his internal support and forcing those around Maduro to see their future as brighter if they defect and support the movement towards freedom and democracy.
There are steps we can take to accelerate this process.
First, we must follow through on American policy and indict regime leaders for human rights violations and for narco-trafficking and money laundering crimes. The regime’s strongest supporters do not care if the people suffer. But they do care if their stolen fortunes and their freedom are at risk.
We must make clear to them that their future is in jeopardy if they continue to support Maduro and interference from Cuba, Russia and China.
There will be nowhere to run. There will nowhere to hide. The United States will give no quarter to those who support the brutal Maduro dictatorship instead of freedom and democracy for the people of Venezuela.
Second, we must break the hold the Cuban government has on Venezuela. It is imperative that the United States fully implement the sanctions contained in the Libertad Act to allow U.S. nationals to sue over property confiscated by the Cuban Government and to deny entry to those who traffic in stolen property.
Cuba CANNOT continue to freely incite violence and instability in Venezuela while profiting from the use of stolen property and human trafficking.
Chavez and Maduro kept the Cuban regime afloat for decades, and now Cuban operators are keeping the Maduro regime in power. It is time we recognize that these problems are one and the same.
Third, we must encourage our allies in the region to join us in this effort.
President Trump has repeatedly called on regional counterparts to exert more leadership. And he is right to do so.
The United States has implemented strong sanctions on Venezuelan leaders, on oil, and on trade. Our allies MUST join us in this effort.
The Lima Group, made up of our friends in the region, has given broad support to the strategy of isolating the Maduro regime in favor of interim president Guaido, urging additional sanctions. And that is welcome.
But they should not rule out the possibility that they will need to pursue more aggressive means to remove this threat.
Their security and economic well-being are also at risk. They should remember, the Maduro regime and its supporters want Venezuela’s neighbors to live in fear.
Even before this crisis began in earnest, Colombia and Guyana faced regular interventions and threats from the Venezuelan regime.
Maduro and his supporters do not want peaceful relations with other countries except on their own terms. I am quite sure that Cuba, China, and Russia do not have the best interests of the region in mind.
I was glad to see the Organization of American States accept the appointment of the Designated Permanent Representative of the National Assembly Gustavo Tarre Briceno. Consistent with the Inter-American Democratic Charter, the Organization of American States MUST expel Maduro’s representative.
The Maduro regime is not a legitimate government and has no right to send a representative to the very body in the Western Hemisphere charged with protecting and promoting democracy in the region.
Fourth, we must not appear weak in the face of Chinese, Russian, and Cuban determination to prop up Maduro. Our adversaries question our will and our determination. Put simply, they don’t think we’re serious.
We should disabuse them of that notion. All options, including the use of American military assets, must remain on the table.
If sanctions can cripple the Maduro regime, we must continue on that path.
But so far, sanctions alone aren't stopping the Maduro regime and the United States needs to start considering the use of military assets to bring aid to the millions of starving and sick Venezuelans. And I call on all of our allies and those supporting Guaido to help us in this effort.
Let me repeat that: the United States MUST consider the use of military assets to bring aid to the people of Venezuela.
But that doesn’t end the conversation.
If embargoes and blockades can help, we should consider them.
And if military force on the part of the United States and our allies in the region is necessary to rid us of the scourge of Maduro and his thugs, then we cannot rule it out.
If the Venezuelan people, through their elected National Assembly and their own laws and Constitution, request assistance to restore constitutional government and democracy, we should be ready to answer that call.
The Maduro regime has not broken yet, and it can count on billions of dollars looted from the Venezuelan people and generated from 20 years of narco-trafficking.
The Cubans, Russians, and Chinese see Venezuela as an economic opportunity, but more importantly, they see a chance to intimidate the United States, to be a thorn in our side.
This is a “great power” confrontation and one that our National Defense Strategy might not explicitly contemplate. But it is confrontation that we MUST be willing to meet with decisive action.
The Venezuelan people want change, and even now they think of survival as much as they think of a democratic future.
They are looking to the United States and democratic countries to help them. We MUST answer that call.
After we do, we must be prepared, funded by their own oil revenue, to help rebuild their productive industries and every aspect of their once thriving economy—including infrastructure, public services, industry, energy and power sectors, telecommunications and mining.
Restoring a failed state is not an easy task. But Venezuela’s vast natural resources and the Guaido government’s desire to once again enter the community of democratic and peaceful nations are a strong foundation for a free and prosperous future.
They cannot defeat these powerful forces of evil without significant support from the international community.
My message today is this: the United States stands with the patriots of Venezuela fighting to defend their lives, their liberty, and their sacred honor.
Here’s the truth – we simply cannot allow our adversaries in Russia, China or Cuba to gain a foothold in Venezuela. We cannot allow it, and we must stop it. The American people need to understand what is at stake here. It’s time to tell them.
Sen. Rick Scott, former two-term governor of Florida, delivered this speech Thursday before the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.