WASHINGTON, D.C.— On July 29, members of the U.S. Senate sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry to express concern regarding human rights violations in Venezuela. The senators include Menendez, Rubio, Nelson, Cruz, Cardin, Alexander, Kaine, McCain and Kirk all of whom want to put sanctions on Venezuela.
The senators cited protests that occurred in February, the government taking political prisoners and “the deterioration of democracy and the rule of law” in order to urge the U.S. government to enact sanctions against the “individuals that have been complicit in human rights violations in Venezuela.”
The incidents they referred to include a series of mostly student-led protests advocating the resignation of President Maduro.
Protesters are frustrated with high crime rates and the poor economy. According to the Heritage Foundation, the economic freedom of Venezuelan citizens has decreased considerably since 1995. The research cites the election of President Maduro as a factor in the economic decline of Venezuela, as his presidency has seen a rise in corruption, inflation and limited freedom.
Moreover, inflation in Venezuela rose over 30 percent last year, and the national debt is rapidly increasing. Imports have fallen by nearly 25 percent, and poverty continues to rise. Consequently, government approval fell from 52 to 38 percent. President Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, President Hugo Chavez, granted a greater level of power to the executive branch.
Human Rights Watch notes that the abuse of power and aggressive use of force against citizens has presented a significant challenge to those who wish to criticize the current regime. This has also limited free media, as journalists fear the consequences of covering government abuses.
In 2013, Maduro withdrew Venezuela from the American Convention on Human Rights, thus limiting Venezuelans from using the Inter-American Court on Human Rights, which serves to protect citizens. Following elections in April, Venezuelan human rights organizations reported that government forces arrested over 60 people, who were later physically and sexually abused.
More than 30 individuals were arrested during six protests, and Maduro and his political allies used criminal investigations to promote their political interests. The Venezuelan government targets human rights groups in Venezuela by threatening to charge them with treason and labeling them allies as of the U.S. government.
A government official referred to the director of Citizen Control as a “CIA operator in Venezuela.” Related to their push for sanctions the Senate has also proposed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. The bill pushes for the U.S. government to support representative democracy in Venezuela, sanctions against perpetrators of human rights violations, and Venezuelan cooperation with the Organization of American States and the European Union to prevent the use of force against protesters.
The introduced bill would also require that the Secretary of State and Administrator for USAID place some focus on promoting “democratic civil society in Venezuela,” or human rights, open media, free elections, access to information and peaceful protests. Outside of Congress, accusations of human rights violations led the U.S. to limit Venezuelan government employees, Maduro’s advisers and judicial and military officials from entering the United States.
These actions by the United States have further troubled U.S.-Venezuela relations, as the Venezuelan government labels these actions as unwarranted.
– Tara Wilson