Rubio: Starving Venezuelans about to suffer in ‘a way we have not seen’

Venezuela is just days away from “a period of suffering no nation in our hemisphere has confronted in modern history,” Florida Sen. Marco Rubio warned Thursday.

“The suffering people of Venezuela are about to experience the most dramatic shortages they have ever faced, the implications of which we cannot fully predict,” Rubio said at the outset of a Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing on U.S.-Venezuelan relations and the humanitarian crisis fueled by dictator Nicolas Maduro. “Venezuela is just a handful of days away from running out of basic staples, wheat and corn meal and cooking oil, again, because of complete and utter mismanagement.”

“All of the leaders of Venezuela are overweight, and yet the people, on average, are losing 24 pounds in a year,” Rubio added. “I assure you, none of the Maduro regime cronies are going to go hungry, but millions of Venezuelans are going to continue to go hungry and [it will be] exacerbated in a way we have not seen.”

The Republican senator tied the increasing crisis to the international attempt to deliver humanitarian aid last month, in coordination with Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, which Maduro’s security forces thwarted. Food shortages have helped spur a mass exodus of Venezuelans to neighboring countries, a refugee crisis that led regional powers such as Colombia and Brazil to join the United States in a high-profile effort to oust the socialist leadership in Caracas.

Maduro’s military and paramilitary security forces blocked the delivery of Western aid in a dramatic Feb. 23 standoff. Chavistas — as regime leaders have been known colloquially since the rise of Hugo Chavez in 1999 — and their Russian backers suggested that the U.S. was trying to use the aid as cover for a violent coup, which the Trump team denies.

“It certainly is not desirable, and it is not the path that this administration is taking,” special envoy Elliott Abrams replied when asked during the hearing if Trump is trying to oust Maduro by force.

Rubio said food supplies are “distributed to those who are compliant or loyal to the regime,” arguing that Maduro accepted Russian aid but blocked Western aid in order to preserve that leverage over Venezuelan society.

“If you go to a Maduro rally, you get food,” he said. “If you vote for Maduro — and they know how you voted — you get food. If you don’t vote or don’t vote for him, you don’t get food. They have used it as a weapon. This is why he objects to the humanitarian aid.”

Russian diplomats claim sanctions levied by President Trump and former president Barack Obama are to blame for the collapse of the oil-rich economy. Rubio countered that until recently U.S. sanctions only targeted individual members of the regime.

“This has been going on for years because they’ve stolen the money — they steal all of the money,” he said. “As of today, Venezuela has about six, seven days left of fuel supplies. This in the most oil-rich country in the world, and this is because they have destroyed the domestic production capacity.”

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