by Z.C. Dutka, Venezuela Analysis
Yesterday the United States Senate passed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 by voice vote, a bill that will impose further sanctions on Venezuelan senior government officials if passed tomorrow by Congress.
The bill, sponsored by US senators Marco Rubio and Robert Menendez, targets Venezuelan authorities they accuse them of being linked to “significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti government protests in Venezuela that began on February 4, 2014.”
Though no updated draft has been released, the bill will reportedly deny visas to select Venezuelan authorities and freeze whatever assets and properties they possess in the United States.
No official list has been presented, but Florida Republican Rubio released 27 names in May of those he believed should be targeted for sanctions.
The law is based on accusations that the Venezuelan government used excessive use of force in response to the wave of violent anti-government protests in February, when some opposition supporters took to the streets, setting up roadblocks and vandalizing public buildings and transport, while calling for the removal of Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. The protests resulted in 43 dead and over 800 injured.
In a statement released by Menendez yesterday, the New Jersey Democrat lauded the Senate’s decision, saying, “We in the United States have an obligation to shine a bright spotlight on Venezuela’s abuses and must object to the severe human rights violations committed by the Maduro government and his paramilitary thugs…..Our fight to deliver hope and renewed opportunity to Venezuela has only begun.”
A previous version of the bill, which included sanctions on those accused of media censorship and companies that provided anti-riot equipment, was passed by Congress in May. However, it was blocked in the Senate by Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu, who upheld the argument made by Venezuela-owned oil corporation Citgo that the law would affect jobs at the massive Louisiana refinery.
Landrieu was replaced in office by Republican Bill Cassidy after losing the bid for reelection on Saturday.
The Obama administration had initially opposed the bill, but White House representative Antony Blinken signaled last month a change in the official stance.
Blinken claimed Washington had refrained from supporting the proposed sanctions in a diplomatic attempt to secure the release of jailed opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, but that the strategy had failed. Now, he said decisively, “We would not oppose moving forward with additional sanctions.”
Congress will have to pass this Senate-approved version by the end of this week, or risk starting the legislative process over in January.
If endorsed, the bill may still be vetoed by president Obama, though Blinken’s latest statement makes this seem an unlikely possibility.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro reiterated yesterday his belief that US organizations financed the wave of anti-government violence, and had planned violent action as early as January of this year in an unsuccessful attempt at preventing him from attending the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) Summit that month.
Documents released by the US state department under the Freedom of Information Act demonstrate sustained support from the US Embassy for Venezuelan student leaders such as Gaby Arellano and Freddy Guevara, as well as Leopoldo Lopez, all of whom played leading roles in the violence.
Cables released by Wikileaks also reveal the US financing of opposition parties and organizations through so called democracy-promoting institutions such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and USAID.
The Venezuelan president previously referred to the threat of sanctions as “driven by an imperialistic vision of those who think they can rule and conquer us by force through blackmail and their economic power”.
President Maduro also blasted the “high risk” rating given to Venezuela by US financial institutions such as Standard & Poor’s in recent months, calling it a “financial blockade.” The rating indicated a high chance of the country’s default, effectively causing Venezuelan debt to incur the highest interest rates on the market.
“There is a financial blockade against Venezuela meant to impede our access to the financing we need to overcome the decrease in petroleum revenue,” the South American leader said yesterday, denouncing “psychological and political” manipulation of Venezuela’s position in the global market.