In an interview with “The Face of the Nation” last month, U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) boldly blamed the immigrant crisis on U.S. sanctions imposed on Latin American countries, more specifically Venezuela, citing sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and promoted by Marco Rubio as the root of the problem. On the contrary, in the past, Representative Ocasio-Cortez has called for the end of sanctions for both Cuba and Venezuela entirely.
Her comments are either politically deceptive or embarrassingly ignorant. A simple understanding of the Venezuelan crisis and the timeline of events completely delegitimizes these claims.
While interest in the Venezuelan crisis is essential to solving the issues affecting the Venezuelan people, AOC’s finger-pointing is wholly mistaken, and her proposals, if implemented, could have consequences that would directly oppose her intentions. To understand why this is the case, we must first understand Venezuela’s recent economic history as well as the Maduro regime’s track record of human rights violations.
Venezuela’s economy is oil-dependent. Under the Chavez regime, Venezuela generated 96 percent of its export revenue through the government-run PDVSA’s oil monopoly. When oil prices worldwide were high at approximately $100 per barrel, the regime could fund historically extensive social programs, purchase weapons from Russia, and send gifts to foreign governments.
Nevertheless, in 2014, the oil market crashed, and the value per barrel plummeted more than 50 percent. After years of a socialist welfare state, people had become entirely dependent on government concessions for food, housing, and other services. The crash led to a total collapse of the Venezuelan economy. Poverty skyrocketed. Today, it’s recognized as the inflection point marking the before and after in the history of Venezuela.
With this in mind, AOC’s argument for Venezuelan immigration and the blame she puts on sanctions for Venezuela’s troubles simply make no sense. By 2016—long before the first sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry—the country’s poverty levels had increased from 33% to 82%, the average GDP had decreased by more than half, and the oil industry’s production had decreased by more than one million barrels.
While Venezuela’s situation was this drastic, people still hoped for change. In 2014, 2016, and 2019, the Venezuelan people flooded the streets of Caracas and many other cities of the country to demand a change of government. In these three instances, they were harshly repressed by the military police, the Bolivarian National Guard, and the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN). Unconventional and illegal repression methods injured thousands, the regime kidnapped hundreds, hundreds more were tortured in state prisons, and many more died at the hands of the regime. During this time, human rights violations, including rape, torture, kidnapping, as well as general repression of free speech were daily occurrences. It was within this context that the Trump administration decided to enact its first round of sanctions.
The sanctions, as it is well known, were directed towards the oil industry. For years, most of Venezuela’s oil revenue was directed toward military and repression spending and high levels of corruption from government officials. The United States enacted the sanctions to pressure the Maduro regime to reduce the human rights violations in Venezuela, to release political prisoners, and to guarantee free and fair elections. While AOC claims she intends to help the Venezuelan people, her proposals will undoubtedly help the Venezuelan regime revamp its torture and repression apparatus.
AOC’s comments aren’t surprising. She has been an advocate for the reduction of sanctions on the Venezuelan regime for years now. This year alone, she has cosigned two letters sent to President Biden pursuing the same. On top of that, the organization to which she and other of her peers belong, the Democratic Socialists of America, has had close ties with the Venezuelan regime. The organization has hosted Venezuelan pro-regime individuals in the United States and has even sent young delegations to meet with the dictator in Caracas. Her call to reduce sanctions on the Venezuelan regime aligns with the DSA’s approach and requests made by Nicolas Maduro himself.
One good thing has come from AOC’s claims: They have brought much-needed attention to the Venezuelan crisis at the border, in U.S. cities, and abroad. But it’s important to take the correct approach to this crisis—one that helps the Venezuelan citizens and provides aid to the thousands of refugees already in the United States. AOC’s proposals don’t make any sense. Instead, the United States should consider Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar’s (R-FL) approach.
Representative Salazar’s proposals are simple but to the point, showing a great understanding of the Venezuelan situation. For example, take her Venezuelan Adjustment Act, which would allow Venezuelans who entered the United States before March of 2021 to receive automatic permanent resident status, as the United States did with Cuban refugees years ago after Castro’s revolution.
Currently, Venezuelans are staying in the United States by registering for Temporary Protection Status (TPS). The problem here is evident from the name: no matter how many times the Biden administration moves the cutoff date for entrance into the United States, the policy is non-permanent and does not lead to lawful permanent resident status. While it has helped many Venezuelans stay in the United States, the continuing extension of the entry date requirement incentivizes many more to come with the hope of someday receiving permanent resident status. In other words, TPS is perpetuating a problem.
The Venezuelan Adjustment Act, on the other hand, would set a date that would be unmovable. It would provide a path for Venezuelan refugees to achieve permanent status and allow more Venezuelans to work legally in the United States.
Another bill sponsored by Representative Salazar, the VOICE Act, would keep the executive branch from reducing sanctions on the Venezuelan regime without clear concessions or advancement in safeguarding human and electoral rights in Venezuela. Compared to AOC’s irresponsible approach, Salazar aims to improve the lives of Venezuelans in the United States and abroad without benefitting the Maduro regime.
In the end, AOC’s words are just an excuse for the failed border policies she has supported in the last few years that have been terrible for her constituents in New York City. Instead of taking responsibility for her failures, she opted to promote her socialist agenda and shift the blame. Her proposals are irresponsible. If her views are allowed to shape U.S. foreign policy towards Venezuela, it will damage the livelihoods of millions and strengthen a hostile regime.
Erik Suarez is an international relations graduate from Penn State University focusing on Latin American Politics and a contributor for Young Voices.
Image: Lev Radin / Shutterstock.