On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, took to the Senate floor to call for democracy in Venezuela and taking aim at the Maduro regime. His fill speech is below:
Mr. President, I have, since the year 2014, come to the Senate floor on numerous occasions, perhaps more than I’d hope, to discuss the developing situation in the nation of Venezuela. And the reason why I’ve taken such an interest is because of the impact it has for first and foremost on my home state of Florida. We are blessed in Florida and particularly in my hometown in Miami and in South Florida to have a vibrant and diverse community of people from across the world, particularly from the Western Hemisphere. And that of course includes a very substantial number of people from Venezuela, some who live part of the year, some who have made it their permanent home. They’ve contributed greatly to our economy, to our culture, and to our lives. And it is through their eyes that I have witnessed the tragedy that has unfolded in that nation over the last five years.
And I use the word tragedy – I don’t use it lightly. Venezuela is one of the richest countries in the world, blessed with natural resources that God has blessed that nation with. The largest crude oil reserves on the planet, certainly more than the United States and Canada combined as an example. An educated people, a highly educated people, capable. And a long tradition of democracy. Venezuela has one of the oldest traditions of democracy in the Western Hemisphere. As much as anything else, not only is it a tragedy for the hemisphere and ultimately for the world. We look at some of the great causes that the world is confronting and think what a democratic and prosperous Venezuela could be contributing, what its people could be contributing.
My interest at the end of the day on the issue of Venezuela has never been the removal of one from power. It has been about the restoration of the democratic order so that the people of Venezuela can choose their path forward.
You look at the history of our hemisphere here in the Western Hemisphere up until about 25 years ago, most of the nations in the Western Hemisphere were governed by dictators and strongmen on both the left and the right. And few of any people in our hemisphere had a role to play in choosing their leaders. Today, but for the exception of a handful of places, predominantly Cuba in the Caribbean and some others, almost all the people in the region get to choose their leaders. And that has been the story of Venezuela up until very recently. And sometimes they choose leaders that agree with America and sometimes they do not.
But they choose their leaders.
And in the end, we know that democracies very rarely start wars because their people do not tolerate it. And democracies always seek stability and prosperity because their people demand it. And they get rid of leaders that don’t deliver.
So our goal from the beginning – my goal in particular, has often, consistently been the restoration of the democratic order and through that the respect for basic rights and the dignity of all people, particularly in Venezuela. And so it’s sad to see what has happened because I think it’s fair to say that the situation today in Venezuela is worse than it has been at any point since 2014.
We saw about a week ago the horrifying images of armed thugs storming the National Assembly – the democratically-elected National Assembly – and attacking members of that Assembly.
It would be the equivalent of protestors storming the Capitol doors and attacking senators and congressmen. We saw images of uniformed personnel, some of which basically are the equivalent of our Capitol police, roughing up the very members of that Assembly that they are supposed to be protecting. We’ve seen the images of the streets of protests, of National Guard troops firing on people with tear gas and rubber bullets, and in some instances with guns. And we’ve seen these irregular called “Colectivo” groups also going after people in the street.
And, by the way, in fairness, we’ve seen violence on both sides of it, although the vast majority of people are in the opposition, an enormous majority seek a peaceful resolution to this. Anytime you put hundreds of thousands of people in the street, chaos happens. You think, not just of the protestors, but you think of their family members on the other side of it. We forget that these National Guard troops holding up the shields and wearing the uniforms, they have sisters and brothers and husbands and wives and loved ones on the other side of that barricade, deeply dividing this proud nation with an incredible history of contributions that it has made. And it’s now reached what I believe is a tipping point.
Later this month, Venezuela’s government, I should say Executive Branch, under its current president, has scheduled an unconstitutional Assembly, what they call a Constituent Assembly. It violates the very constitution of the country. Not to mention that the Supreme Court has already kind of canceled the democratic order, this adds to that. And I just say this with deep sadness – if that goes forward, I think it fundamentally changes this permanently.
I had occasion earlier this morning to speak to the president on this topic for a few minutes, as I know he’s headed overseas. He expressed his continued dissatisfaction with the course of events. And I think it should be abundantly clear to everyone that this government in the United States is prepared to take on additional significant measures if in fact, that Constituent Assembly moves forward at the end of this month. Basically, admitting to the world what we already know. And that is that the democratic order in Venezuela has ended.
I do believe that there is still a path forward. A path forward that doesn’t involve vengeance, that involves reconciliation. A path forward designed to restore the democratic order, and I believe deeply that all of my colleagues here in the Senate and in the Congress and that the president of the United States is prepared to play whatever role it can to help facilitate that. I think that obviously, ultimately, it would involve restoring democracy. It would involve respecting its own constitution. It would involve holding free and fair elections internationally supervised, not by the United States, but by the United Nations or by neighboring countries.
I just left a meeting a few minutes ago with the Foreign Minister of Mexico, a nation that has showed that it’s willing to step forward and be constructive and productive in this endeavor. That is the goal. The goal is to restore peace and order and to restore democracy. And to grant amnesty and freedom to those who have been imprisoned because of their political views. And within that space there are those within the government who themselves perhaps seek the same thing, but feel trapped by the circumstances before the nation today.
So I do believe that there is a path forward, but I also think it would be unfair if I didn’t make clear that time for that path is running out and that the door will permanently close if at the end of this month the Maduro government moves forward with this assembly, which is illegal and unconstitutional. At that point it would be clear for all that they have no interest and no intent of restoring democracy. And I fear the consequences of that, not simply because of what the U.S. government and the Trump administration might do, but what it would mean to those on the streets who are already desperate as it is. I do think that that path is there. I do believe that that opportunity is still available. But it won’t be around forever. And so my hope is that cooler heads will prevail.
My hope is that patriots in Venezuela no matter what side of this debate they’ve been up to this point realize that the time is come to step up and further this process of reconciliation, not with the goal of vengeance or punishment, but with the goal of freeing those who have been imprisoned unjustly, with the goal of having free and democratic elections, with the goal of living up to its constitutional principles, with the goals of restoring democracy to a great people and a great nation. And I know that I for one, despite all my criticisms and all the speeches I’ve given and all the measures we’ve taken, I for one am prepared to do all I can to be helpful in that endeavor, to help the people of Venezuela take control of their destiny once again and restore the democratic order, the constitutional order in a way that unites the country, not further fragments it and divides it.
I know the president has expressed a willingness to be involved in that process, in whatever capacity is appropriate. And knowing that other nations in the region are prepared to lead as well. But I just thought it was important on this 11th day of July as we get closer to that measure which I think will do irreparable harm to this possibility, that I came here to the Senate floor and expressed this. Because in the end I think all of us in this hemisphere and ultimately the world would benefit greatly from a Venezuela that fulfills its potential, the potential of its people, potential of its economy, potential of its proud history of democracy. And whatever we can do to be helpful in that endeavor, I know that this nation is prepared to do it, in whatever capacity is appropriate in the eyes of the people of Venezuela.
But ultimately, the future of Venezuela belongs to the people of Venezuela, and that is who we stand for. And we hope that we can be helpful in a process that brings them together, not further divides them, and restores what they once had and deserve to have again: a proud democracy, a vibrant economy, and a people with extraordinary and unlimited potential to achieve great things on behalf of their nation, their countrymen, and the world.
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