In-Depth: Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL) introduced this bill to require the State Dept. to step up monitoring and provide Congress with threat assessments and strategies to curb Russian military influence in Venezuela:
“The growing military relationship between Nicolas Maduro and Vladimir Putin will severely obstruct any effort to restore real democracy in Venezuela. This kind of military alliance poses an imminent threat to our allies in the region, namely Colombia, and will only strengthen the foothold of Maduro’s brutal regime.”
Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), an original cosponsor of this bill, adds:
“The United States, the European Union, Venezuela’s own neighbors, and most importantly, the people of Venezuela are clear: we stand united with Interim President Guaidó and his legitimate government as they lead Venezuela towards democracy with new free and fair elections. The South Florida delegation has come together to introduce bills that grant TPS status to Venezuelans, ban arms exports, and authorize humanitarian aid to Venezuelans. I am proud that we have come together once more to take a stand for freedom and democracy with the introduction of this bipartisan legislation responding to the increasingly troublesome defense relationship between the Maduro regime and Russia.”
In remarks at the full committee markup of this bill and two others aimed at holding the Maduro regime accountable for its actions, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said:
“Today, our Committee has an important opportunity to support the Venezuelan people by advancing three bills aimed at holding Nicolas Maduro accountable, while responding to Venezuela’s humanitarian needs… Congresswoman Wasserman Schultz’s Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act would respond to the increasing security relationship between Venezuela and the Kremlin. This is another place where Vladimir Putin is trying to advance his aggressive agenda, and this bill would require an assessment from the Administration of what Russia’s up to and what danger it poses.”
This bill passed by House Foreign Affairs Committee by a voice vote with the support of four bipartisan cosponsors, including three Democrats and one Republican, all from the Florida delegation.
Rep. Wasserman-Schultz has also introduced another bill, H.R. 1102, also called the Russian-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act, which has three bipartisan cosponsors, all from the Florida delegation.
Of Note: Russian-Venezuelan military interactions have increased in recent years, with joint forces participating in a 10-hour exercise across the Caribbean in December. Kremlin-linked military contractors have reportedly also been deployed to Venezuela. The Maduro regime has also turned to Russia for financial support during its current economic crisis.
South Florida Democrats — specifically the Miami congressional delegation — have introduced multiple bills in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. In addition to this bill, Rep. Donna Shalala's (D-FL) Venezuela Arms Restriction Act would ban the U.S. government from selling military equipment and riot-control gear to the Maduro regime and Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s (D-FL) Humanitarian Assistance to the Venezuelan People Act of 2019 — would provide an additional $150 million in humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelan people.
Citgo, a Houston-based refining company, is a wholly owned subsidiary of Venezuelan state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA). The company is one of the few customers paying cash for Venezuelan crude, so its cash has become a lifeline for Venezuela as the company’s oil output has plummeted due to chronic underinvestment in PDVSA and falling oil prices. Citgo’s three refineries in Texas, Louisiana, and Illinois account for around four percent of U.S. fuel-making capacity, and the gasoline and diesel they produce is sold at over 5,000 Citgo-branded stations across the eastern U.S.
The Maduro government mortgaged Citgo to raise cash, putting around 50 percent of Citgo’s shares up as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from Russian state-controlled oil company Rosneft. Given the Maduro regime’s struggles, there’s now a risk that Maduro will stop paying off the Rosneft loan collateralized by Citgo shares, which would cause Citgo to fall into Russian hands — a scenario that the Trump administration has said it’s exploring legal options to prevent. In addition to Rosneft, two Canadian mining companies, Cristallex and Rusoro Mining, and ConocoPhillips are also major creditors of the company. The Canadian companies have sought to auction off parts of Citgo, and ConocoPhillips has seized some PDVSA assets in the Caribbean in an effort to be repaid by Venezuela.
Venezuelan oil minister Manuel Quevedo, who is also PDVSA’s president, says Venezuela will never give up on Citgo. In a tweet quoting Quevedo, PDVSA said, “@Citgo is and will always belong to Venezuelans. They want to come for our resources, for PDVSA. They won’t be able to deal with us.”
In late January 2019, the Trump administration commenced efforts to allow National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. and many other nations have recognized as the interim Venezeulan president, to control the country’s oil trade.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / mennovandijk)