The Venezuela Humanitarian Assistance and Defense of Democratic Governance Act of 2017, H.R. 2658, was introduced in the House in May of 2017. The legislation was referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and was marked up in the last week of September 2017. The bill has also been sent to the House Judicial Committee to continue through its mark-up, before making its way back to the House of Representatives for a vote.
This bill directs the Department of State to work through nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to provide public health commodities, basic food commodities and related technical assistance to Venezuela. Legislation to provide increased aid to Venezuela is critical, as the country is experiencing massive inflation and a full blown economic crisis.
H.R. 2658 also directs the Department of State to “combat government corruption,” a rampant problem in Venezuela. Other State department charges in the bill include supporting local media outside of the government-sponsored channels (presumably dissident publications), defending internationally recognized human rights and supporting free elections.
The language here is vague, so, considering the history of U.S. covert action in Latin America, will hopefully be more clearly defined. As it stands now, this bill seems to give discretion to the State Department regarding the ways in which they will use the humanitarian aid secured to manipulate Venezuelan society. It is crucial that this bill is legislation to provide aid to Venezuela, rather than give a green light for covert regime change.
Another troubling section of the bill mentions that the State Department must report to congress, “the full extent of the Government of the Russian Federation’s cooperation with the Government of Venezuela and the Venezuelan armed forces.” The bill also mentions that PDVSA – Venezuela’s national oil company – has taken a loan from a Russian-owned oil company called Rosneft. The Cold War undertones in this section are troubling, especially in a region like Latin America, and hopefully this section will receive attention in the further mark-ups to the bill.
Overall, this bill is a positive step toward aiding the economic recovery of Venezuela, by allocating a total of $10 million towards providing basic food, medicines and medical supplies, and the infrastructure of distribution through nonprofit NGO’s. However, the reach of the State Department in a socialist country – especially when Russian influence is invoked – is dubious and must be watched closely.
If the focus of this bill remains humanitarian aid – and this is authentic legislation to provide aid to Venezuela – this bill could be a huge boon to the floundering Venezuelan economy. It is crucial that this bill is supported through its mark-up process and that it has popular backing in the House and Senate. Calling your local representatives, especially if they are on the House Foreign Relations Committee or the Judicial Committee, is crucial to seeing this bill succeed and to providing much needed aid to the poor in Venezuela.
– Jeffery Harrell