President Obama finally pulled the trigger on Venezuela sanctions today, three months after signing the bipartisan Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 into law, but lawmakers behind the bill said it was just a first step in dealing with Nicolas Maduro’s regime.
And, as noted by bill co-sponsor and co-author Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), “Even as I welcome this round of sanctions, I question why President Obama is simultaneously moving to lift sanctions on Cuba, which has played a direct role in sowing unrest in Venezuela and has a human rights record even worse than the Maduro regime. Human rights violations in Venezuela stem directly from what the Cuban army and intelligence agency have taught the Chavez-Maduro regime.”
Citing the “erosion of human rights guarantees, persecution of political opponents, curtailment of press freedoms, use of
violence and human rights violations and abuses in response to antigovernment protests, and arbitrary arrest and detention of antigovernment protestors, as well as the exacerbating presence of significant public corruption,” Obama said in his executive order blocking the entry of seven Venezuelan officials, the situation “constitutes an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States, and I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with that threat.”
Venezuela recalled its chargé d’affairs for “immediate consultations.”
“Venezuelan officials past and present who violate the human rights of Venezuelan citizens and engage in acts of public corruption will not be welcome here, and we now have the tools to block their assets and their use of U.S. financial systems,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said.
“We are deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents. Venezuela’s problems cannot be solved by criminalizing dissent. We have consistently called on the Venezuelan government to release those it has unjustly jailed as well as to improve the climate of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” Earnest said. “These are essential to a functioning democracy, and the Venezuelan government has an obligation to protect these fundamental freedoms. The Venezuelan government should release all political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Mayors Daniel Ceballos and Antonio Ledezma.”
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored the bill, said he welcomed the announcement but urged the Obama administration “to take further action, including against Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López, specifically in the aftermath of his authorization to permit security forces to use lethal force against peaceful protesters.”
“Since the start of 2014, the world has watched in alarm as President Maduro has led Venezuela down a path toward political crisis and economic ruin,” Menendez said. “As the average Venezuelan citizen has suffered the effects of runaway inflation and widespread shortages of basic foodstuffs, the Maduro government has radicalized its agenda, jailing opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez for over a year and arresting Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma. The recent death of 14-year-old Kluiverth Roa, at the hands of government security forces, shows the extreme lengths the regime in Venezuela is willing to go in order to silence the Venezuelan street.”
Agreeing that General Padrino was “inexplicably” and unwisely left off the list, Rubio stressed that “the human rights crisis in Venezuela is getting worse every day, and these long overdue financial sanctions are important steps to hold Nicolas Maduro’s regime accountable.”
“The authoritarian system that Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro have imposed in Venezuela have destroyed its economy and any semblance of democratic order in the country,” Rubio said. “Maduro has ruined lives through both the misery his system has inflicted, but also the lives his regime has cut short in response to demonstrations over the past year. As long as Maduro and his thugs remain in power, economic conditions and human rights will continue to worsen in Venezuela.”
A senior administration official told reporters on a conference call today that Obama’s order is “not action taken against the Venezuelan government as a whole; it is not action taken against the Venezuelan people or the Venezuelan economy.”
“I hope that the Venezuelan government and President Maduro will not respond to it in a way that will obfuscate or misinform his population or others about the actions that we’re taking today, as he’s done, unfortunately, on previous occasions where he has interpreted or misinformed people about the intent or the reach of actions that we have taken, seeing them as broader and more malevolent against the entire Venezuelan people than they actually are,” the official said.