Santa Elena de Uairen May 9th, 2014. (venezuelanalysis.com)- A Human Rights bill proposed by Florida Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which includes sanctions on the Venezuelan government, cleared its first legislative hurdle this morning after passing the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The bill, known as the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, will sanction individuals responsible for “serious human rights abuses” against those participating in the anti-government protests that have received widespread media attention since February. It also includes those individuals who have supported those acts, whether financially or otherwise, and those officials who called for the arrest of those “legitimately exercising their freedom of expression and assembly.”
The most recent draft presented to the Committee listed asset blocking and inadmissibility to the US as types of individual sanctions. It also included the possibility of a presidential waiver of the application of sanctions, if the U.S. president should consider national security interests call for it, or conditions in Venezuela have improved.
Section 7 of the bill outlines a “Comprehensive Strategy to Promote Internet Freedom and Access to Information,” including the expansion of activities to “train HR, civil society, and democracy activists” and the expansion of proxy servers for said activists, as well as access to “uncensored news sources.”
Section 8 asks that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, submit a “comprehensive strategy outlining how the US is supporting the citizens of Venezuela” in seeking basic civil liberties, development of an independent civil society, and free and transparent elections.
Section 9 offers refugee status or political asylum in the US to Venezuelan political dissidents if requested, and a direct effort on behalf of the US state department to identify cases of “prisoners of conscience and HR abuses in Venezuela.”
The bill ends with Section 10, the Authorization of Appropriations for Assistance to Support Civil Society in Venezuela, which pledges a minimum of $5 million through USAID, and finally, a Sunset Clause of two years after the date of enactment of the legislation.
Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has accused possible sanctions of being “encouragement to extremist groups,” those protestors who he believes have sparked violence in their widespread call for regime change. Members of the Venezuelan opposition coalition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), have also expressed their misgivings at the prospect of sanctions.
This morning Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, heard testimonies from Venezuelan opposition representatives regarding the alleged use of extreme force on behalf of Venezuelan security forces. She admitted to hearing a “diversity of opinions,” from “different oppositional factions” but that the majority asked that the U.S. not impose sanctions “yet.”
“They have asked us not to introduce sanctions at this time,” Jacobson said.
A caravan of Venezuelans, residents of South Florida, traveled to Washington D.C. yesterday to show support for the bill.
Only two committee representatives, Gregory Meeks and Karen Bass, voted against the bill this morning. In recent weeks, many Latin American leaders have expressed their distaste for the possibility of US interference in Venezuela.
Uruguayan president Pepe Mujica said, “When the entire world asks the U.S. to shelve its economic blockade policy against Cuba, voices emerge from within that government threatening sanctions against Venezuela. Are the lessons of history never learned? (…) the first thing that Venezuela and all of Latin America need is to be respected.”
Many sources believe the bill will reach the House floor the week of May 12th, and will likely be approved with little resistance. A number of organizations, including the Alliance for Global Justice, have organized petitions in attempts to prevent this from taking place.