What Sen. Dick Durbin has been doing in Venezuela

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Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

WASHINGTON – For the past few days, Sen. Dick Durbin D-Ill., has been in Venezuela seeking the release of a Utah man held for two years on what he said are “trumped up” charges and calling on the president of the South American nation to drop “a dubious snap election.”

Durbin’s office said on Saturday while in Caracas, Durbin “met with President Nicolas Maduro, members of the opposition, the President of the National Assembly, the Ministers of Health and Nutrition, business leaders, civil society groups, doctors, and humanitarian organizations.”

Durbin said in a statement, “The Venezuelan and American people share a long and deep friendship. I traveled to Caracas to better understand the conditions faced by Venezuelans and to urge President Maduro to adhere to basic democratic norms, particularly regarding the dubious snap election now scheduled for May.

“I pointed out that there is bipartisan agreement in Washington on deeply troubling economic, political, and humanitarian problems in Venezuela,” Durbin said. “I was heartbroken by what I saw and heard, particularly regarding the collapse of the country’s ability to feed and medically care for its people and children. Unfortunately, failure to address these issues, hold a credible election, and free Venezuelan political prisoners and Josh Holt will only further isolate Venezuela internationally and strain relations with the United States.”

Durbin and others – from both sides of the aisle – have expressed concerns about the Maduro government. Elections –originally set for 2020 – now will take place next month.

For some years, Durbin has been a player in U.S. efforts trying to resolve the crisis in Venezuela. Durbin last February introduced a “resolution condemning repressive and undemocratic actions taken by the Venezuelan government, and calling for free and fair elections for its people.”

A Washington Post story with a Venezuela dateline posted on Saturday explained, “with an inflation rate set to top 13,000 percent in 2018, Venezuela is disintegrating in a crisis worse than America’s Great Depression in the 1930s. This once-affluent country has been crippled by a massive debt, a drop in oil prices and years of economic mismanagement by the socialist government. Food and medicine are scarce.”

The Associated Press interviewed Durbin in Venezuela and a story posted on Saturday said Durbin’s “four-day trip made at Venezuela’s invitation included a visit with Joshua Holt, who has been jailed in Caracas for nearly two years on what the U.S. considers trumped-up weapons charges.

“Durbin, the author of a recent Senate resolution condemning Maduro’s use of food as a “tool of political coercion,” said he took time to walk through parts of Caracas, seeing the downtrodden faces of residents struggling to feed themselves. He also talked with doctors not able to get enough medicine to treat patients.

“I was heartbroken by what I saw and heard, particularly regarding the collapse of the country’s ability to feed and medically care for its people and children,” he said in an interview Saturday at the conclusion of his trip.”

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