Venezuela's ongoing crisis is no laughing matter
"The Maduro diet gets you strong….no need for Viagra."
Recently, after noticing that one of his senior advisers had lost a significant amount of weight due to food shortages, President Nicholás Maduro uttered these disturbing words and laughed. It is troubling he considers the current crisis in Venezuela a laughing matter. With severe food shortages affecting 82 percent of the population, hospitals lacking 85 percent of essential medicines, and growing social protests and violence, I can assure you it most certainly is not.
Venezuela is slowly starving. Thousands of Venezuelans are unable to find food to buy even if they have money to do so, and the severe lack of medical supplies is resulting in a disturbing increase in deaths from completely preventable diseases. Compounding this impending humanitarian crisis is Maduro's refusal to accept international aid shipments of desperately needed medicines and food. Let me repeat this: Maduro is intentionally creating life threatening conditions for the most vulnerable in his country - young children and the elderly.
For many in Venezuela, the only help they receive comes from relatives here in the United States. This includes assistance from many of the 11,000 of whom reside in Houston, which contains the fourth-largest Venezuelan population in the country. While this support is a generous contribution, the need far outweighs what these families are able to send, assuming their shipments reach the targeted destination and are not confiscated by the notoriously corrupt Maduro regime.
You may ask yourself how such a crisis is possible in such a resource-rich Western country which has access to the world's largest proven oil reserves, and a population of proud and industrious people.
While some blame can be placed on the downturn in global oil prices, the majority of Venezuela's problems are simply due to catastrophically bad economic management stemming from big-government, Chavismo-style policies. These policies have dismantled private industry and domestic food production over the last two decades. Due to this, Venezuela now imports 95 percent of its food and has the highest inflation rates in the world.
This year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts inflation will reach 720 percent, causing the economy to contract and sending food prices soaring to astronomical, unaffordable prices. According to a study by three of Venezuela's main universities, extreme poverty has jumped by 53 percent since 2014, and the country now sits at the bottom of the Index of Economic Freedom, ranking 178th.
What is happening in Venezuela is heartbreaking and unacceptable, and is occurring right in our backyard.
That is why in August of this year, I signed onto a letter - along with 30 other members of Congress - sent to Secretary of State John Kerry raising our concerns with the worsening economic and political environment in Venezuela. Also, I am a cosponsor of a resolution that passed in the U.S. House of Representatives expressing my profound concern with the dire situation gripping the country. From the lack of democracy and human rights abuses, to corruption and disregard for the rule of law, this needs to stop.
While the United States and the international community must continue working to persuade Maduro to allow the free flow of urgent humanitarian assistance to those in need, the burden of responsibility ultimately lies with Maduro.
The Venezuelan people are hungry, dying and in need of true leadership. They deserve to be able to freely express their grievances with failed government policies and they deserve to have hope in a better future for their country. The people need to be the priority, not the preservation of an utterly failed regime.
Maduro, the Venezuelan people do not need the "Maduro diet," and this is no laughing matter. Your prescription of more hunger and suffering is the last thing they need and deserve.
The Venezuelan people need and deserve confidence in a better tomorrow and hope in a better future, both for them, their children and generations to come. If Maduro is not capable of providing this, then he needs to step aside and allow for someone to replace him who will truly uphold the principles outlined in the Venezuelan Constitution ensuring justice, equality, solidarity and, in general, the preeminence of human rights, ethics and political pluralism.
McCaul has represented Texas' 10th Congressional District since 2004. He is chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security and senior member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. A longer version of this commentary appeared on foxnews.com.