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US House Gives Green Light for Freeze on Chavista Assets, Visas

By: María Gabriela Díaz - May 29, 2014, 10:03 am

EspañolOn Wednesday, the US House of Representatives approved by unanimous consent the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act, a bill that applies targeted sanctions to Venezuela’s high-level officials involved in human rights violations. The House requested that the Obama administration gather a list of names of human rights abusers in the Chavista regime, to freeze their assets in US banks and ban them from entering the United States.

US Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), former chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and currently head of the Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, introduced the bill HR 4587, and was the prime sponsor.

“I’m pleased that the House of Representatives has acted to punish the thugs of the Maduro regime for brutally repressing and violating the human rights of those seeking to exercise their basic freedoms of speech and assembly in Venezuela,” Ros-Lehtinen stated.

Ros-Lehtinen continued: “the passage of this bill clearly shows that my colleagues and I are committed to supporting the Venezuelan people’s struggle for democracy, rule of law, and liberty, and that we will not look the other way when an abusive autocrat brutalizes his own people.”

After the passage of HR 4587 by the House, it has to be approved by the US Senate, before enactment by President Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a similar bill calling for sanctions, authored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Bob Menendez (D-NJ).

“I hope that the Senate can act swiftly to pass the House version of the bill, so that we can send it to the president’s desk as soon as possible to ensure that those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen affirmed.

The bill would punish high-level officials responsible for the human rights violations that have occurred during the peaceful protests led by students in Venezuela over the last three months. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), a supporter of the bill, released a statement affirming, “for the past 15 years, the people of Venezuela have experienced the corruption and brutality of the Chávez-Maduro dictatorship, and within the last three months, that has culminated in serious acts of violence and aggression towards students and others… It is time to put an end to the oppression, violence, and political intimidation and hold these human rights abusers accountable. Those complicit with egregious acts of human rights violations must be named and shamed, and should face the consequences of their actions.”

“With the passage of this bill, the United States House of Representatives is standing in solidarity with the Venezuelan people as they struggle to regain democracy and freedom from the Maduro regime. I urge the Senate to move this bill quickly to the President’s desk,” Diaz-Balart asserted.

Venezuelan representative Julio Montoya, from the opposition party First Justice, talked exclusively to PanAm Post about what these sanctions could mean for Maduro’s regime. This bill “worries the regime a lot, because it will unveil its corrupt features, and put into the light its human-rights violator nature.”

Even though some opponents to these sanctions, including Chavistas, claim that every country is sovereign and United States has no right to intervene, Montoya believes that when it comes to human rights, the story is different.

“Venezuelans’ problems are Venezuelans’, but here, we are talking about human rights, supranational values that have to be respected beyond borders. Venezuela has signed numerous international agreements on human rights, even before Chávez’s arrival. Therefore, we cannot allow someone to kill students, and then leave him alone because he pulls the ‘national sovereignty’ card. They cannot hide behind the argument of nationalism and sovereignty to violate human rights.”

However, not everyone agrees on the US active participation in Venezuelan affairs. On Tuesday, 14 Democrats, members of Congress, openly opposed these sanctions and expressed their concerns through a letter written to President Obama. In their view, these sanctions would only undermine the mediation efforts in Venezuela and increase the tension between the United States and other countries in Latin America.

Jacob Hornberger, president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, has written that these sanctions are just another attempt by the US national-security state apparatus to achieve a “regime change,” a policy that, according to Hornberger, “involves the ouster of independent foreign rulers, even democratically elected ones, and their replacement with pro-U.S. dictatorial puppets.”

According to Hornberger, “everyone knows that the U.S. national-security state destroys democracy whenever it is necessary to oust an independent ruler from power and install a brutal pro-U.S. dictator in his place, as it did in Guatemala and Chile.”

“Leave Venezuela to the Venezuelans. If private Americans wish to involve themselves in the controversy, that’s fine. But the U.S. government should butt out entirely. What happens in Venezuela is none of the U.S. government’s business,” Hornberger concludes.

The bill that would freeze the assets and visas of human rights violators in Venezuela is not a good idea, according to David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America. In an email to ThinkProgress, he wrote that “the talk of sanctions over the past three weeks significantly contributed to the breakdown of the existing dialogue.” According to Smilde, these sanctions “will allow the Maduro government to portray the political crisis of the past several months as a conflict between Venezuela and the US rather than between the Maduro government and its opposition.”

And what do Chavistas have to say about this punishment from North America?

For Jorge Rodriguez, a United Socialist Party (PSUV) Representative and Mayor of Libertador, “it would be an honor” to be “considered an enemy of the United States.”

During an interview in CNN, Congressman Manuel Villalba, from the official PSUV, explained how these sanctions are “a disrespect and an immorality of the North American empire… They seek to impose their hegemony. The [Venezuelan] people is aware that since Hugo Chávez arrived to power, the United States has had an aversion against our stand on sovereignty and our independent government.”

For Villalba, the criticisms made by human rights organizations about repressed students are lies. “Here in Venezuela, there’s terrorism, those are not students… Those criticisms over human rights violations are part of a campaign to condition the international community.”

María Gabriela Díaz María Gabriela Díaz

María Gabriela Díaz reported from Caracas, Venezuela, and led the PanAm Post internship program. She has a Bachelor of Arts in political science with a focus in international affairs.