On Thursday, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 in the Senate along with Senator Marco Rubio (R-F.L.). The bill is a response to the escalating violence from the government crackdown on protesters that began one month ago and aims to aid the Venezuelan opposition.
The bill proposes sanctions against persons responsible for the violence in Venezuela, including asset blocking and visa revocation. The bill also proposes appropriating $15 million for building a strong and vibrant civil society in Venezuela through supporting nongovernmental organizations and activists that promote democratic governance. The bill supports independent media organizations in disseminating viewpoints contrary to what the Venezuelan government has made available.
Recent remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry regarding the protests in Venezuela have stoked a quarrel between Kerry and the foreign minister of Venezuela, Elias Jaua.
Kerry likened the Venezuelan government’s brutal tactics against protesters to a “terror campaign” at a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing, saying, “We are trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to, hopefully, respect human rights in an appropriate way.”
Jaua responded by criticizing Kerry as a “murderer” who encourages violence through his remarks.
The protests in Venezuela began in early February as protesters took to the streets to demand government action against rampant inflation, corruption, the scarcity of basic goods, and a rising murder rate. The death toll from the protests currently stands at 28, according to Venezuelan State Prosecutor Luisa Ortega Diaz. Although many protesters claim they will not stop protesting until their demands are met, the Maduro government has done nothing to appease them, even going so far as to declare its success over fighting against “right-wing fascists” who attempted to topple the administration.