Following a public hearing last week, the Government Administration and Elections Committee acted favorably to forward legislation proposed by State Representative Arthur O’Neill (R-69) to encourage the state to consider divesting from investments in companies with ties to Venezuela.
House Bill 5269 – An Act concerning the Divestment of State Funds Invested in Companies Doing Business in Venezuela – would require “the State Treasurer to review the major investment holdings of the state for the purpose of determining the extent to which state funds are invested in companies doing business in Venezuela. Whenever feasible and consistent with the fiduciary duties of the State Treasurer, the State Treasurer shall encourage companies in which state funds are invested and that are doing business in Venezuela, as identified by the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control or the State Treasurer, to act responsibly and not take actions that promote or otherwise enable Venezuela’s corruption and the impoverishment of the Venezuelan people.”
“This bill was suggested to me by Luis Valdez, a Connecticut resident of Venezuelan descent, to send a signal that the State of Connecticut will not knowingly support a country whose leadership refuses to grant basic human rights to its people, and which withholds basic necessities as a way to remain in power,” Representative O’Neill said. “It is abhorrent to me that any country’s leadership would employ such tactics, and I encourage our state to reconsider its support, whether overt or tacit, of the policies and financial investments that allow such human rights abuses to continue.”
During testimony in support of the bill, Representative O’Neill pointed to the Maduro regime’s illegal and increasingly ruthless authoritarian actions to keep its grip on power that have brought Venezuela to the verge of civil war. He also stated that more than 500,000 Venezuelans have fled to the neighboring nation of Colombia, a nation which itself is very fragile having just settled a 50 year long insurrection and coping with the massive violence related to the cocaine cartels. Continuing the humanitarian catastrophe will result in hundreds of thousands more refugees and a civil war would produce a much worse refugee crisis, he said.
In addition, Dr. Ruby Corby O’Neill, Vice-Chair of the Commission on Equity and Opportunity and Chair of the Latino and Puerto Rican Policy Affairs Division, testified in favor of the legislation, noting that federal sanctions barring banks from transactions with Venezuela’s government and state-run oil company are a good first step, but they are insufficient.
“There remains a commercial transaction space that is exploitable by the Venezuelan government which it can use to perpetuate its oppressive power,” Dr. Corby O’Neill said. “The sanctions cover only new investments with the state-run oil company and the Venezuelan government going forward, but do not cover investments before that date or new debt and maturities of 90 days or less with the oil company, or 30 days or less with the government. Connecticut can make sure we’re not doing business with banks that are acting as front organizations for the Venezuelan government.”
Representative O’Neill also noted that this situation has been documented by a series of articles in the New York Times, New York Times magazine, Wall Street Journal, and as recently as last week, the Washington Post. Florida has already taken action similar to HB-5269, he said.
“The Federal government has imposed restrictions on financial transactions involving the Venezuelan government, and those actions, like HB-5269, are designed to put financial pressure on the Maduro regime to change their policies so that the humanitarian and political crisis can be resolved peacefully,” Rep. O’Neill said. “The Connecticut General Assembly has a history of enacting this type of legislation to use our power as investors to influence foreign governments, most notably the former apartheid government in South Africa, and I encourage the legislature to act favorably on HB-5269.”