WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee has passed a bill that seeks to punish Venezuelan officials accused of human rights violations during protests that have left 42 dead in the country since they began in February.
“Today we took an important step forward to punish human rights abusers in Nicolás Maduro’s regime," said one of the bill's co-sponsor's Senator Marco Rubio. "The Venezuelan people have suffered enough under the incompetence of Hugo Chávez and now Nicolás Maduro."
Only 2 of the 18 senators on the Committee -- Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee who is the Ranking Minority member, and Democratic Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico -- voted against the bill, which passed by a vote of 13-2.
The bill, S-2142 Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (see below), now goes to the full Senate to be voted on.
The bill would allow U.S. President Barack Obama to freeze assets and ban US visits by any current or former Venezuelan government official responsible for "directing significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela."
It also allows the White House to crack down on those who ordered the arrest or prosecution of demonstrators, or who are deemed as having provided assistance including financial support for such acts.
The bill would commit $15 million to help non-governmental organisations, including pro-democracy groups as well as independent media in Venezuela.
The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee approved a similar draft law earlier this month. It is awaiting a debate and vote on the House floor.
Street protests in Venezuela have left 42 dead and 835 wounded with over 3000 arrested, including Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and San Cristobal Mayor Daniel Ceballos and San Diego Mayor Enzo Scarano, who remain jailed.
The protests began in February as an outpouring of anger against the inability of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist administration to resolve Venezuela's high crime rate after a campus rape in San Cristobal, but quickly spread as the government -- advised by Cuba -- tried to crush the peaceful student protests with the military. The injustice and widespread disastrous economic policies added fuel to mass dissatisfaction, and protests broke out all over the country against everything from the lack of household basics like milk, bread and toilet paper to the 60% (official) inflation to an uncovertible currency that has devalued over 88% in the last four months.
"Now that thousands of innocent Venezuelans have protested courageously and peacefully, against the failure that is this chavista government, we can’t allow the government’s repression, violence and murders to go unpunished," said Rubio. “We have to severely punish the Maduro regime, and today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee took a key step toward approving these sanctions. And I hope the full Senate will soon do the same.”
Senate Bill 2142 - Venezuela Sanctions
27 Venezuela Human Rights Violators That U.S. Senator Marco Rubio Calls to Be Sanctioned by Latin American Herald Tribune