U.S. House Passes Bill To Penalize Venezuela
Move Ratchets Up Pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s Beleaguered Government.
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday to penalize Venezuelan government officials found to violate human rights in that country’s crackdown on a protest movement, ratcheting up pressure on President Nicolás Maduro’s beleaguered government.
The bill calls for President Barack Obama to draw up a list of Venezuelan officials who are alleged to have violated human rights, freeze any assets they might have in the U.S., and bar them from entering the country by either withdrawing or denying visas.
A similar bill has been approved by a Senate committee, and is headed for a vote on the Senate floor in coming days.
Passage of the bill also raises pressure on the Obama administration, which has been wary of passing any kind of sanctions for fear it could create a backlash by allowing Mr. Maduro to mobilize supporters against the U.S. and distract from Venezuela’s growing homemade troubles. The administration also fears that the sanctions could jeopardize attempts at reaching a negotiated solution between the government and the opposition.
A State Department spokeswoman on Wednesday said that while sanctions weren’t “off the table,” they shouldn’t interfere with the larger goals of Venezuela returning to a full democracy and observance of human rights.
Since February, at least 42 people have died in almost daily—but dwindling—demonstrations, many led by students, against the government of Mr. Maduro, the successor to late president Hugo Chávez. Protesters have rallied against oil-rich Venezuela’s deteriorating economy, persistent criminal violence, and the imprisonment of political leaders and hundreds of government opponents.
Rights group, such as Human Rights Watch, have condemned the brutality of Venezuelan security forces as well as motorcycle-riding government-aligned groups, so-called colectivos, which have beaten and shot demonstrators. The rights groups have also criticized what they say is the complicity of Venezuela’s judges and prosecutors in unjustly imprisoning opposition political leaders.
Venezuela’s government says it is upholding the law in the face of violent protests that are part of a conspiracy by its opponents to topple the government. The government notes that some of the dead have been security officials, and says it has detained for trial some police officers and National Guard soldiers for violating protestors rights.
“Today’s vote shows that the abuses the Maduro regime has committed against the Venezuelan people will not go unanswered,” said Congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican from Florida, who drafted the legislation.
In the Senate, Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, has prepared a list of about two-dozen Venezuelan military and government officials who are possible targets for the sanctions, among them Luisa Ortega Díaz, Venezuela’s attorney general, as well as the National Guard head of operations in Caracas, Gen. Manuel Quevedo.
The U.S. has sanctioned Venezuelan officials before. In 2008, the U.S. put an official who had days earlier retired as interior minister on a U.S. Treasury blacklist, along with two top generals, for their alleged links to drug and arms dealing with Colombian Marxist guerrillas. In 2011, the U.S. added another top general, two legislators and a leading intelligence officer to the list for the same reason. All those officials are still blacklisted.
The Venezuelan government has said the allegations are part of a U.S. plot against it.