Rep. Engel: ‘Venezuela is Not a Socialist Country’; Rep. McCaul: Crisis ‘Highlights the Horrifying Impact of Socialism’

By Patrick Goodenough | February 14, 2019 | 4:20am EST
Nicolas Maduro, seen here waving the flag of his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), was the late President Hugo Chavez' handpicked successor. (Photo: PSUV)

( – House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday dismissed as “a good soundbite” the notion that the crisis in Venezuela is evidence of the failure of socialism, arguing that Venezuela under Nicolas Maduro is not a socialist state but a “kleptocracy.”

Ranking member Rep Michael McCaul (R-Texas) appeared to differ. While the crisis went beyond ideology alone, he said, it “highlights the horrifying impact of socialism.”

“Those who continue to preach [socialism] or show sympathy do not understand its history and the abject suffering it has caused,” McCaul said.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), like his chairman, rejected the argument that socialism is to blame, pointing to policies pursued by liberal democracies in northern Europe.

Chairing a hearing entitled “Venezuela at the crossroads,” Engel began by describing the crisis as “entirely man-made,” saying Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez had turned what was once one of the most prosperous countries in the Western hemisphere “off the edge of a cliff.”

“The blame lies squarely with the crooked officials who have repressed the Venezuelan people for years – doing everything from throwing political opponents in jail to rigging elections to gunning down protestors in the street,” he said.

“Now some consider it a good soundbite to say that Venezuela represents the failure of socialism,” Engel said. “But we should be honest that Venezuela is not a socialist country; it’s a kleptocracy – a kleptocracy. It’s a cruel and oppressive regime, pocketing every dollar it can even if it means that the country’s people are literally starving to death.”

Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro joins then-Cuban President Raul Castro at a memorial tribute for the late Fidel Castro in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba on December 3, 2016. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Minutes later, McCaul made clear his views, describing the regime in Caracas several times as a “socialist dictatorship.”

“When Nicolas Maduro was handpicked by Hugo Chavez in 2013 it was clear that he would follow in his socialist dictatorship footsteps,” McCaul said. “Since that time Maduro’s policies, rampant corruption and violent crackdowns on peaceful, political dissent have turned Venezuela into a failed state.”

McCaul cited soaring hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and U.N. estimates that up to three million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2014.

“The current crisis highlights the horrifying impact of socialism,” he said. “Those who continue to preach or show sympathy do not understand its history and the abject suffering it has caused.”

McCaul conceded that “the suffering of the Venezuelan people at the hands of the Maduro regime was not caused only by its ideology,” characterizing the regime as a narco-trafficking-linked “mafia state backed by U.S. adversaries like Cuba, Russia, China and Iran.”

Later in the hearing, Sherman returned to the socialism theme.

“There’s talk here of Venezuela being a socialist country,” he said. “I would say that various governments in Scandinavia have adopted policies of democratic socialism, and I don’t think that there’s anyone in this room who would call the Maduro regime democratic socialist.”

‘A state of abject poverty and despair’

In his State of the Union address last week, President Trump said Maduro’s “socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.”

“Here in the United States, we are alarmed by the new calls to adopt socialism in our country,” he said. “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country.”

The Democratic Socialists of America last November secured its first two members of the U.S. Congress – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)

Fellow freshmen Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) – a member of Engel’s committee who used her time in Wednesday’s hearing to launch a combative exchange with U.S. special representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams – claims not to be a socialist.

Asked by a left-wing news program last week whether she considers herself to be a democratic socialist, she replied, “I consider myself a Democrat.”

Last month, Omar characterized the Trump administration’s recognition of Venezuela’s National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as interim president as “a U.S.-backed coup,” and then called U.S. sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector “nothing more than economic sabotage designed to force regime change.”

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