On July 30, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on visas for officials in President Maduro’s Venezuelan government. The sanctions came as a response to human rights abuses sustained by peaceful opposition protestors objecting to a recent rise in Venezuelan poverty.
“Today’s announcement sends an unambiguous and direct message to President Maduro,” says Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Menendez has authored a bill called the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. This bill would require heavier sanctions on individuals who have committed human rights abuses towards the demonstrators in Venezuela.
“Human Rights Watch has documented more than 40 deaths, 50 cases of torture, and over 2,000 unlawful detentions,” Menendez says in regard to the recent demonstrations.
Since February, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest of President Maduro’s policies, which have sent the country into a political and economic crisis.
When Hugo Chavez took over the Venezuelan political system in 1998, he did so with the promise that the people would prosper under his government. From 2003 to 2007, the Chavista government seemed to working for the people, as Venezuelan poverty rates dropped. When Nicolas Maduro took over after Chavez’s death in 2013, he swore to stay true to Chavista policies.
However, recently the trend has reversed. A report released by Venezuela’s official statistics office admits that one in three Venezuelans are poor, a decline from a year ago when only one in four were poor.
The statistics for extreme Venezuelan poverty are worse. The office estimates that 10 percent of the population does not make enough money to afford basic food and drink.
“The sharp fall in the standard of living is what brought protestors to Venezuela’s streets,” reports Foreign Policy.
The protestors were peaceful, but the government’s reaction was not.
“The United States will never tolerate systemic human rights violations conducted by a merciless government against its own people,” says Menendez.
Congress had reportedly been considering a similar move against Venezuela since March of this year, but the State Department acted first. This is in spite of earlier claims by the Obama Administration that any sanctions against Venezuela would allow its government to rally support and use the U.S. as a scapegoat.
The sanctions deny a list of 24 high-ranking officials of President Maduro’s government from entering the U.S.
Elias Jaua is the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. He calls the sanctions, “desperate,” and warns against a possible backlash.
– Julianne O’Connor