U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took part in a conversation with the International Republican Institute (IRI) on Venezuela, hosted by the Heritage Foundation on Monday. Rubio, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues, and a member of IRI’s Boar, discussed the ongoing political developments in Venezuela, the new government of interim President Juan Guaidó, and next steps for U.S. policy.
A partial transcript of Rubio’s remarks is below.
The Maduro regime is best understood not as a government but as a criminal enterprise. Akin to what you see in organized crime rings. In essence you have a Godfather, the head, in Maduro, and then you have all of these individual “Capos” that he allows concessions. And so when we have a crime family, one guy controls the loan sharking, one guy has the drugs, one guy has the prostitution, one guy does whatever it may be, the bank heist. It’s the same thing. This is what they have done, they have divvied up pieces of the economy, and he has bought the “loyalty”, of the people by allowing them access to corruption opportunities, through oil, currency manipulation. Taking and importing food at inflated prices from abroad. Making a kickback commission off the inflated price and then taking a piece of the food and commercial goods and reselling them in the private market for a profit on top of it.
There are six people that are holding him [Maduro] up right now. The Defense Minister, the head of the Army, Navy, Air Force, National Guard, and then the sort of the joint chiefs head, six people. So, you’re them. They know Maduro is incompetent. They know he can’t turn this country around. They know — but they fear the opposition. They think, ‘if these guys take over, they’re going to purge the military and they’re going to put put all six of us in jail’, so they’re stuck between that fear and the reality that they know where the rank and file, their subordinates are. And if they order the rank and file to fire on the people or do something, they won’t do it and some event, soon, at some point, is going to force them to try to decide whether or not to carry out an order that a) they don’t want to carry out, potentially because of the repercussions and b) that they know the rank and file won’t carry out.
The Chinese want to get paid. They’re owed a bunch of money and want to get paid. That’s why they’ve got dialogue with both sides of the equation. Ultimately, they’re owed over $20 billion dollars and therefore the guy is going to pay them. Right now, they got a contract with Maduro, but if he’s out, as long as we get paid-that’s all they want. Right now they’re getting paid in oil, they’re not getting paid in cash. The second is the Russians. The Russians, in addition to being owed money, have a series of exploration leases, rights and concessions that the they’ve gained and they want to protect those. Every oil and energy company in the world’s future depends on access to exploration rights. That’s their primary focus. Secondary to it, it gives them sort of geopolitical presence in the Western Hemisphere, which they feel like there they have an outpost that gives them some voice of what’s happening in the region and allows Putin to project himself as a global power with global reach. The Cubans get over a billion dollars a year in cash, a country that has no cash, for what they do best, and that is repress people. Bottom line is the Cubans run their [Venezuela’s] entire intelligence and repression operation. One of the reasons why there was this “loyalty”, quote/unquote, from senior military officials is they’re all spied on by the Cubans. Every single one of them. You’ve seen a massive purge, hundreds of military officers in Venezuela who’ve been arrested all on the basis of collection that the Cubans have identified and turned them in.
So when people ask me what does this have to do with the United States? Look, number one, I think we always should be on the side of democracy because democracy is morally superior to dictatorship and tyranny. The second, is it’s in our national interests. If you look, it’s in our own hemisphere and this is no longer an issue of Venezuela. It is a million and growing number of migrants now in Colombia are putting tremendous stress on the Colombian healthcare system and Colombian society. We’ve seen the same play out increasingly in Peru, somewhat in Brazil. A lot in Ecuador. So what happens is these migratory flows continue. It puts stress on governments, particularly in Colombia, that are already facing other significant challenges. In that border region alone, between Colombia and Venezuela, you have a million and some vulnerable people, some of whom become prime targets for narco-trafficking networks to prey on and so forth. The societal pressures, we’ve seen the emergence only some, xenophobic style blow-backs in Ecuador after a murder that occurred there. The pressure put on these countries threatens to create instability not just in Venezuela but in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil in a way that it suddenly becomes a regional crisis. Any time you have mass migrations and a regional crisis in your own hemisphere, it’s eventually going to impact you pretty dramatically. Not to mention it has a direct impact on our counter narcotic efforts in Colombia, which in over the last three years has seen record coca production. Much of that cocaine ultimately headed to U.S. streets. There’s a lot of reasons to understand or to explain why this has direct implication on our national interests as a country because a continental South American collapse of multiple key partners would ultimately impact us directly and immediately. And it already started to.
I think it’s a mistake to view this as a U.S. action with Venezuela, it’s not. It’s an international effort. This is not one of the coalitions the U.S. started and forced everybody to be a part of. On the international stage, the most active leaders in this endeavor has been the Lima Group. The Lima Group, made up of 14 countries, not including the United States, but including Canada and all of Venezuela’s neighbors, have been most active on this effort for a year and a half now, by far. The OAS has been revitalized as an institution that is actually playing a meaningful role in this. You see it growing, over half of the European countries have signed on as well. Every day, some new country, somewhere, signs on to this endeavor. So this is truly– and the U.S. isn’t really working in them– these countries are coming there willingly, and agreeing with that, and I think that’s important. Let’s first understand what is the Maduro strategy. Maduro’s strategy is to buy time, buy time with a fake negotiation or whatever, to a) get the opposition to divide, and b) get the rest of us to sort of move on and pay attention to some other crisis and forget about Venezuela and forget about what is happening. That’s his plan. That’s the model he is trying to follow. It won’t work this time. This process we are on is irreversible. None of these countries are going to come back around. There’s no way you get 50 countries to re-recognize you after what’s happened, so that’s just the fact. As far as the next steps, my number one and number two priority right now are getting food and medicine to people who are starving to death, to infants who are dying in hospitals, to people who are waiting for HIV/AIDS medication and anti-virals, that if they don’t get they will die, and that is being blocked. That is our number one priority, by every way possible to continue to call attention to the global community about how these criminals are standing in the way of that being delivered. The second is to continue to find ways to support the legitimate government of Juan Guaidó, to get the resources they need to begin to frame out what a recovery plan is going to look like for Venezuela’s future. Their electric grid alone could cost upwards of $50 billion to rebuild. It’s funny, the other day, he [Maduro] was having a press conference at his palace, or whatever they call it wherever he is at, maybe he was there, I think he was, and he was saying, “there is no crisis in Venezuela,” and the lights went out in the middle of his press conference. So, in the middle of the conference the lights went out. So that whole grid has to be rebuilt, there is a lot of work to be done. And ultimately, the future belongs to the Venezuelan people. It belongs to them, this their fight, this is their cause, we are supporting them. So I think it is a mistake to say, what is America going to do next? What America should continue to do is support the legitimate democratic aspirations of the people of Venezuela, we take our direction from them. What I know this Administration will do is continue to hunt down the money that these individuals have stolen from the people of Venezuela and preserve it, so that it will be there for the people of Venezuela and frankly there will come a point, I believe, when there will be secondary sanctions against businesses or countries who are helping Maduro try to evade these sanctions.
I don’t think mafia needs any translation, but the question was, isn’t it difficult to deal with this when you are not dealing with political leaders and talks of amnesty, you’re talking about dealing with organized crime figures, and the Maduro crime family. I don’t understand how in a country where people are starving, both Maduro and this guy Cabello, they look like refrigerators, I mean they’re huge. And people are dying. I know it comes off as funny, but it’s true, there has never been a larger disconnect between a starving population and these overweight future cardiac patients.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., was first elected to the Senate in 2010.
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