Venezuela in recent months has witnessed large-scale protests by demonstrators concerned about deteriorating economic, social, and political conditions, said Marie Harf, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, on Wednesday. Government security forces have responded to these protests in many instances with arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force. We have seen repeated efforts to repress legitimate expression of dissent through judicial intimidation, to limit freedom of the press, and to silence members of the political opposition.
Taking this into consideration and pursuant to Section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the secretary of state has decided to impose restrictions on travel to the United States by a number of Venezuelan government officials who have been responsible for or complicit in such human rights abuses, Harf added. With this step we underscore our commitment to holding accountable individuals who commit human rights abuses. While we will not publicly identify these individuals because of visa record confidentiality, our message is clear: those who commit such abuses will not be welcome in the United States. We emphasize the action we are announcing today is specific and targeted, directed at individuals responsible for human rights violations and not at the Venezuelan nation or its people.
Members of the Florida delegation quickly chimed in. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., pointed to legislation currently before Congress which would impose additional sanctions on Venezuelan leaders, including freezing their assets.
The administrations action is a good first step, said Nelson on Wednesday. But if the violence continues, we will need to look at even tougher sanctions.
Following is the administrations announcement today and a copy of the legislation Nelson is co-sponsoring:
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., agreed with his Senate colleague in applauding the administrations decision but also called for freezing financial accounts.
The U.S. government should use every tool at our disposal to hold the Maduro regime accountable for its human rights violations, said Rubio. The Obama administration has taken an important first step by announcing visa bans that would restrict the travel of human rights violators and their families to the U.S. This action should be followed up with asset freezes as well.
The House has passed a Venezuela bill, and the sanctions bill Ive introduced with Sens. Menendez and Nelson remains the most comprehensive plan that exists in the Senate to punish human rights violators and support the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people, Rubio continued. Im pleased the administration has heeded my calls to take initial action. I hope the Senate soon passes legislation that deals with the situation in Venezuela in a more complete manner, and I will continue pressing the administration to do more.
While Floridas two senators generally backed the decision, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., called it an insufficient answer to the serious problems in Venezuela and accused the Obama administration of continuing to pander to Maduro.
In the face of the Maduro regimes ongoing egregious human rights violations, eroding democracy and the rule of law, the Obama administration responds with a weak slap on the wrist more than a year after the world witnessed an increase in these abuses, Diaz-Balart said. These weak actions today will do little to change the regimes affinity for attacking peaceful civilians, launching bogus criminal charges on pro-democracy opposition leaders, and using live ammunition and torture of arrested protestors.
Instead, the administration should immediately and publicly name and shame these perpetrators, freeze their assets, and revoke the visas of their family members, many of whom travel to the United States frequently to enjoy their lavish homes, yachts, and cars, Diaz-Balart added. Instead of continuing to pander to Maduro and his cronies, President Obama and his administration must issue sanctions that will have a real impact to diminish the regime. I urge the Senate to consider HR 4587, the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act, that was passed over two months ago in the House. The passage and implementation of this bill would show that the president and the Senate join the House of Representatives in its solidarity with the Venezuelan people as they struggle to regain democracy and freedom.
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., had kinder words for the administrations handling of the matter but stressed more sanctions needed to be imposed.
It is no secret that Maduros cronies may pledge their allegiance to the socialist revolution but then spend weekends vacationing in Miami, living the lavish lifestyle they denounce back home, Garcia said. Today, we sent the message that you cannot brutally trample on the basic rights and civil liberties of your citizens, then turn around and enjoy all the benefits of a free, democratic society in the U.S.
I was proud to be an original co-sponsor of the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act, which passed the House of Representatives unanimously and levies further comprehensive sanctions on Venezuelan officials who have committed human rights abuses, Garcia added. I remain committed to working with my colleagues in Congress to support the Venezuelan people in their fight for the freedom and democracy they have been violently denied. This is a good first step in protecting and advocating for the Venezuelan people, but we need to do more.
U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the former chairwoman of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the Venezuelan leadership thugs" and urged the White House to get tougher on them.
"Denying visas to Venezuelan officials is a good step forward but this action is long overdue and does not go far enough, Ros-Lehtinen said. Not only should we deny visas to Maduros cronies but we should also expand those visa restrictions to immediate family members of human rights violators and freeze their assets and property in the U.S. In the aftermath of the Venezuelan regime pulling out all the stops to protect and give a safe haven to a notorious narco-trafficker, its disappointing that the Obama administration has yet to implement strong sanctions against the Maduro regime. Only by hitting the thugs of the Maduro regime in their pocketbooks will there be a real opportunity to help foster a new era in Venezuela aimed to respect the rights of the Venezuelan people."
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