It seemed an unfortunate coincidence that just as scores of people demonstrating against police brutality were being arrested on the streets of New York and other cities, the United States Congress passed a bill to bring sanctions against members of my country’s government for alleged human rights abuses during protests earlier this year.
While Congress accused Venezuela’s government of cracking down on dissent, African-American communities across the United States expressed outrage over police killings of unarmed black men. Then, as legislators on Capitol Hill criticized Venezuelan officials for purported violations of democratic norms, a Senate report revealed the extent of torture by the Central Intelligence Agency.
The antigovernment protests in our country that began in February resulted in the deaths of more than 40 people, many of whom were either pro-government supporters or innocent bystanders. Of those deaths, a significant number were caused by antigovernment demonstrators, who used violence to try to oust our democratically elected government. Rather than engaging in lawful and peaceful demonstrations, those protesters used barricades and burning debris to block streets. They also caused the deaths of several motorcyclists by stringing wires across roads.
Our government responded with restraint, allowing those violent demonstrations to go on for several months. Every effort was made to ensure that only protesters who directly violated laws or placed the lives of others in danger were detained. For example, those responsible for burning public buses with Molotov cocktails, or who set fire to a public university, were rightly arrested and charged — as were 17 state security agents accused of using excessive force against protesters, who are awaiting trial.
Eventually, our citizens grew tired of those protests and their incoherent tactics, which only created chaos and insecurity in our streets. The unrest subsided, and the opposition lost credibility. The leader of the opposition coalition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (the Democratic Unity Roundtable) subsequently resigned after disagreements within the organization.
After the death of my good friend, and our president, Hugo Chávez, almost two years ago, our country has experienced a series of difficulties, including economic problems. As president of the National Assembly and the vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which was founded by Mr. Chávez, I have worked with President Nicolás Maduro to find viable solutions.
To respond to the falling price of oil, which underpins our economy, we are cutting public spending by 20 percent. But we will not cut funding to our key social programs, which provide essential medical care, education and welfare to our citizens. We are also taking measures to battle the high inflation that has plagued our nation over the past two years, and we are battling to end the black-market dollar trading that sabotages our foreign exchange system.
Some months ago, Mr. Maduro extended an olive branch to the Obama administration by naming an ambassador to the United States, and inviting Washington to name an ambassador to Venezuela. Mr. Maduro also named me to lead a high-level commission to repair relations with the United States government. To date, President Obama has neither accepted our ambassador, nor offered his own in return. And there has been no sign from Washington of any intent to engage with my commission.
Imposing sanctions against a country that has caused no harm to the United States is no way to move toward a constructive relationship. Unilateral sanctions against other nations have usually failed and have been rejected by a majority of the international community.
In Cuba, a decades-long trade embargo caused great hardship but failed to realize the United States’ objective of ending the Cuban revolution. The United Nations’ many votes to lift the embargo exposed how isolated Washington had been in its policy. It would be regrettable if sanctions against Venezuela, first opposed by the White House, now became a way for the Obama administration to appease those in Congress who oppose the historic restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.
A majority of Venezuelans, regardless of party affiliation, reject these sanctions and view them as baseless aggression. We will not be bullied by efforts to weaken or discredit our government.
We have tried to move toward improving relations with the Obama administration, but have been rebuffed. We can only wonder if the timing of these sanctions is an attempt to distract public opinion from the exposure of rights violations by United States law enforcement officers.
Diosdado Cabello is the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela.