For centuries, the United States has been a model of freedom and democracy for the entire world. As President Reagan famously said, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.” At a time when we see freedom threatened in countries around the globe, especially in Venezuela, America and her people must be unequivocal in our support for democracy.
The history of Venezuela provides another valuable glimpse into the tragic consequences of socialist rule. The humanitarian and economic crisis the country is experiencing today began under the rule of Hugo Chávez who, when elected in 1998, commandeered the entire government, dissolving the bicameral Congress and creating a unicameral National Assembly and rewriting the constitution so that he could retain perpetual power. Over the next 14 years, Chávez restricted the freedoms and rights of citizens, imprisoned political enemies, stole billions from the treasury, nationalized private companies and industries and ran most of them to the ground. In 2003, the government became the provider of currency and set price controls, leading to corruption and the death of the few private industries that still existed. Before his death, Chávez handpicked Nicolás Maduro to succeed him, and under Maduro, Chávez’s legacy of socialist rule, graft and authoritarianism has continued. Today, Venezuela’s currency is worthless, its citizens struggle to find food, access to basic health care and medicine is virtually non-existent, and the military has been weaponized against the people.
Mass protests in recent years have frequently filled the streets in Caracas and throughout the country where citizens have called for free elections and an end to the incredible pain and suffering that has been inflicted on them by the Chávez and Maduro regimes. Hundreds of protestors have been killed by the government, and many thousands more have been injured and/or imprisoned. This stark contrast to the decades of economic prosperity and democracy that once made Venezuela the most prosperous nation in Latin America has resulted in one of the most urgent humanitarian crises in the world, and the largest refugee crisis in Latin America with profound implications for the region. As the Venezuelan people continue to fight for their freedom through peaceful protest, mounting international pressure has brought the situation to a head.
Maduro declared victory in a fraudulent May 2018 presidential election that has been rejected by the vast majority of the Venezuelan people and by nations around the world. As a result, in adherence with article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly and opposition leader Juan Guaidó assumed the role of interim president of Venezuela, challenging Maduro’s legitimacy. The U.S. is leading within a strong coalition of over 50 nations in standing with the people of Venezuela, recognizing the authority of Interim President Guaidó, and supporting the people’s fight for fair elections and the end of socialist rule. Interim President Guaidó has called for free elections, the restoration of democratic institutions, and has for the first time in many years brought hope back to the people of Venezuela.
We often take for granted the democratic principles that afford Americans the freedoms we enjoy every day: popular sovereignty, free enterprise, three separate branches of government, a system of checks and balances, freedom of the press, and federalism. These are principles that must be fought for and handed on to future generations. Today, we are hearing from many different elected officials on their vision of what the future of our country should look like. We must never take for granted the principles that have made America the strongest and most prosperous nation on earth and we must stand with the people in Venezuela who long to be free from tyranny.
Congressman Scott R. Tipton represents Colorado’s Third District. He serves on the House Committee on Financial Services. Tipton is the Executive Vice Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus and Co-chairman of the Congressional Small Business Caucus.