Search Penny Hill Press

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Venezuela: Issues for Congress

Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs

Under the rule of populist President Hugo Chávez, first elected in 1998, Venezuela has undergone enormous political changes, with a new constitution and unicameral legislature, and even a new name for the country, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Human rights organizations have expressed concerns about the deterioration of democratic institutions and threats to freedom of expression under the Chávez government. President Chávez won reelection to another six-year term on October 7, 2012, by a margin of 11%, capturing about 55% of the vote compared to 44% for opposition candidate Henrique Capriles. On December 11, 2012, however, Chávez faced a fourth difficult operation in Cuba for an undisclosed form of cancer that has raised questions about Venezuela’s political future. Because of significant health complications, Vice President Nicolás Maduro announced on January 8, 2013, that President Chávez would not be sworn into office on January 10 as planned, but that he would be sworn into office at a later date, a decision supported by Venezuela’s Supreme Court. Looking ahead, if President Chávez does not recover, the Constitution calls for a new election to be held within 30 days if the president dies or is incapacitated during the first four years of his term. 

U.S. Policy 

The United States traditionally has had close relations with Venezuela, a major supplier of foreign oil, but there has been friction in relations under the Chávez government. Over the years, U.S. officials have expressed concerns about human rights, Venezuela’s military arms purchases, its relations with Iran, and its efforts to export its brand of populism to other Latin American countries. Declining cooperation on anti-drug and anti-terrorism efforts has been a major concern. The United States has imposed sanctions: on several Venezuelan government and military officials for allegedly helping the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) with drug and weapons trafficking; on three Venezuelan companies for providing support to Iran; and on several Venezuelan individuals for providing support to Hezbollah. Despite tensions in relations, the Obama Administration remains committed to seeking constructive engagement with Venezuela, focusing on such areas as anti-drug and counter-terrorism efforts. In the aftermath of President Chávez’s reelection, the White House, while acknowledging differences with President Chávez, congratulated the Venezuelan people on the high level of participation and the relatively peaceful election process. 

Legislative Initiatives 

As in past years, there were concerns in the 112
th Congress regarding the state of Venezuela’s democracy and human rights situation and its deepening relations with Iran, and these concerns will likely continue in the 113th Congress. The 112th Congress approved H.R. 3783 (P.L. 112- 220), which requires the Administration to conduct an assessment and present “a strategy to address Iran’s growing hostile presence and activity in the Western Hemisphere.” Other initiatives that were not approved include: H.R. 2542, which would have withheld some assistance to the Organization of American States unless that body took action to invoke the Inter-American Democratic Charter regarding the status of democracy in Venezuela; H.R. 2583, which included a provision prohibiting aid to the government of Venezuela; and H.Res. 247, which would have called on the Secretary of State to designate Venezuela as a state sponsor of terrorism.

In action on FY2013 foreign aid appropriations, the report to the House Appropriations Committee bill, H.R. 5857 (H.Rept. 112-494, reported May 25, 2012), directs that $5 million in

Economic Support Funds be provided for democracy programs in Venezuela, the same amount appropriated in FY2012, and $2 million more than requested by the Administration. In contrast, the report to the Senate Appropriations Committee bill, S. 3241 (S.Rept. 112-172, reported May 24, 2012), recommends $3 million for democracy programs in Venezuela to be administered by the National Endowment for Democracy. Ultimately, the 112th Congress did not complete action on a FY2013 full-year foreign operations appropriations measure, but it did approve a Continuing Appropriations Resolution, FY2013 (P.L. 112-175) in September 2012, which funds regular foreign aid accounts at the same level as in FY2012, plus 0.612% through March 27, 2013. Specific country accounts, however, are left to the discretion of responsible agencies. The 113th Congress will need to address foreign aid appropriations for the balance of FY2013.

Date of Report: January 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 65
Order Number: R40938
Price: $29.95

To Order:

R40938.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.