WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authored an op-ed in Univision that proposes an international relief exchange program where revenue from oil sales could be used to purchase food, medicine and other necessities as a means to help the Venezuelan people suffering under the Nicholas Maduro regime. The piece also criticizes the administration’s “maximalist approach,” emphasizing the need to pursue a negotiated solution to the crisis. Murphy also marks almost ten months since the Trump administration recognized Juan Guaidó as the interim leader of Venezuela and outlines how our lack of a realistic strategy is further cementing Maduro’s hold on power.
Murphy wrote: “Almost ten months ago, Vice President Pence declared on behalf of a confident Trump administration: ‘Today, freedom broke out in Venezuela with the recognition of a new interim president in Juan Guaidó.’ As is sadly clear nine months later, those words did not herald freedom’s return to Venezuela, but were instead the first in a string of bold – but ultimately empty – proclamations and failed efforts by the Trump Administration in Venezuela.”
“The Venezuelan people need to be the focus of our policy, because they are suffering. 3.7 million people are malnourished, and 4 million people have already fled the country. Maduro’s corruption and incompetence set the stage for the current crisis, but the Trump administration’s decision to compound early strategic mistakes by imposing oil sanctions, without any realistic plan to oust Maduro, risks implicating the United States in Venezuela’s humanitarian nightmare.” Murphy continued.
Proposing the program, Murphy wrote: “…Trump doesn’t have to give up sanctions for them to be effective; all he needs is to create a relief valve to address Venezuela’s food crisis. Trump could do this through an international relief exchange program, where revenue from oil sales could be used to purchase food, medicine, and other necessities. Of course, the one time we tried something similar—namely, Oil-for-Food in Iraq—it was a case study in corruption… But we can learn from those mistakes to develop a robust, transparent relief exchange program for Venezuela.”
Earlier this year, Murphy authored an op-ed in the Washington Post urging Democrats to stand for democracy in Venezuela. In June, Murphy and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) led a group of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging his administration to grant Temporary Protected Status to Venezuelans fleeing the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis in their home country.
More excerpts from the op-ed are below and can be viewed here.
“Venezuela imports roughly 70 percent of its food, using money it generates through oil sales. But since the sanctions were put in place, imports have been cut in half as Venezuelan oil production has fallen by 36 percent. By crippling Venezuela’s economy even further, our sanctions are making the limited amount of food in the country even scarcer and contributing to the exodus of Venezuelans from the country.”
“President Trump clearly hopes his oil sanctions will topple Maduro’s dictatorship. There is no sign that this strategy is succeeding, just as sanctions didn’t topple Castro or Putin or Khomeini. In fact, U.S. sanctions that lead to food shortages are playing right into the hands of Maduro, allowing him to avoid blame for the humanitarian nightmare by shifting responsibility to the “imperialist Americans.’”
“The program allowed Baghdad to choose both oil buyers and food vendors, and Saddam exploited this loophole to tack $1.7 billion worth of kickbacks onto transactions, widening his corrupt control of oil revenues. But we can learn from those mistakes to develop a robust, transparent relief exchange program for Venezuela.”
“Revenue from Venezuelan oil sales could go into escrow accounts partially managed by the democratically-elected National Assembly. Distribution of food, medicine, and other necessities purchased through these accounts could be handled by a combination of the National Assembly, international organizations, and NGOs. This would block Maduro from using oil revenue illicitly, while also alleviating the adverse impact of oil sanctions on food imports.”
“Trump’s maximalist approach to Venezuela isn’t working. Worse, it’s making a mockery of U.S. policy, as Maduro and his allies thumb their nose at our tough talk. A relief exchange program would be a good first start to both relieve the legitimate economic hardship of the Venezuelan people and begin to undercut Maduro’s hold on power.”
“The White House needs to stop pretending that chest thumping is policy, put aside the triumphalist rhetoric and maximalist strategy, help revitalize the Norway-facilitated talks, and lend a hand to the Venezuelan people to break the current, unsustainable stalemate.”
Read the full op-ed here.