Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), both members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, are pushing a bill called the “PANA Act,” which aims to have Venezuelans use funds seized from corrupt Venezuelans belonging to the regimes of Nicolas Maduro and, previously, Hugo Chávez.
“The bill would take assets seized from individuals related to the Chávez and Maduro regimes who are convicted of corruption and place them into a “Venezuela Restoration Fund” to be used by the State Department to build Venezuelan democracy and civil society,” reads Senator Cruz’s official website.
“Corrupt individuals associated with the Chavez and Maduro regimes stole hundreds of billions of dollars from the people of Venezuela, leaving the country impoverished. The people of Venezuela deserve to get that money back. This bill will hold bad actors accountable and provide much needed support to those working to restore freedom in Venezuela,” Cruz said regarding the PANA Act.
On the other hand, Senator Rubio commented that he is “proud to join this effort that would use assets recovered from the despotic regimes of Maduro and Chavez. Venezuela has a long road to recovery and these funds can help the interim administration and the democratically elected National Assembly as they work toward the common goal of rebuilding Venezuela’s democracy and a prosperous future.”
In the background information cited to justify the PANA Act, the senators explained that the United States identified various political actors, allies and corrupt officials belonging to the Chavista tyranny who “were complicit in the theft of hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars.” The information reads that the Department of Justice recovered Venezuelan assets abroad through the prosecution of these corrupt officials.
The page details that, in April 2020, federal authorities in Florida seized $450 million in assets from Venezuelan corruption cases. The senators wrote that last year there was an estimated $1.5 billion in Venezuelan assets within the U.S. jurisdiction. In addition, they said that by February 2021 “there were 38 pending cases involving 164 individuals.”
“The PANA Act would use the funds seized in these cases to strengthen democratic governance and institutions, defend internationally recognized human rights for the people of Venezuela, support the efforts of independent media, combat corruption, and improve the transparency and accountability of institutions that have been part of the Chavez or Maduro regimes,” they culminated with the bill’s summary.
The PANA Act in the face of the complexity of the Venezuelan case
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the economic, social and humanitarian crisis developed in Venezuela and generated, for several years, by the Chavista socialist model.
Following the lack of legitimacy of the Maduro regime, which left a constitutional power vacuum at the beginning of 2019, the United States recognized the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, as interim president.
However, the lack of leadership of the opposition to the Maduro regime, added to the corruption scandals of the interim in these last two years, caused a negative effect on Venezuelan citizens who saw in Guaidó and the National Assembly a hope to end the Chavista tyranny.
Should the PANA Act be approved, the State Department will be faced with the challenge of effectively managing funds and resources belonging to Venezuelans in an extremely delicate political-social context.