It has been two months since the House of Representatives version of the Venezuela sanctions bill was passed. Avery similar bill titled the ‘‘Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” now awaits passage in the Senate, after having been voted out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The bill itself is limited in scope but would have a significant impact in Venezuela, especially on those individuals responsible for the brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors that took place last February. It imposes “targeted sanctions on persons responsible for violations of human rights of antigovernment protesters in Venezuela, to strengthen civil society in Venezuela and for other purposes”.’, calls “to support the people of Venezuela in their aspiration to live under conditions of peace”; “to work in concert with the other member states within the Organization of American States, as well as the countries of the European Union, to ensure the peaceful resolution of the current situation in Venezuela”; and “to hold accountable government and security officials in Venezuela responsible for or complicit in the use of force in relation to the antigovernment protests that began on February 12, 2014, and similar future acts of violence”; and” to continue to support the development of democratic political processes and independent civil society in Venezuela”.
One might ask why these sanctions are necessary and what impact they would really have on the situation in Venezuela.. The Venezuela of today is a place where citizens often live in fear and are under a cloud of intimidation. Freedom of the press has been severely curtailed. The courts are now controlled by the absolute power of the President. Attacks on unions, demonization of political dissidents, arbitrary disqualification of political candidates, and a general atmosphere of intolerance prevail.
Venezuela has experienced an extreme climate of violence. The government has promoted an atmosphere of fear and intimidation by strengthening armed paramilitaries that carry out systematic repression and also criminal acts that have already placed Venezuela among the countries with the highest rates of violence in the world.
Additionally, Venezuela has prisoners who are being held without due process and has sent many people into exile. There is no democratic nation in the world that maintains such a negative record.
The situation continues to become ever more serious. The ruling party justifies its brutal repression of those who legitimately express their discontent by attributing the protests to external forces or non-existent conspiracies while the Venezuelan president amasses ever greater power.
Although some have argued that the human rights situation in Venezuela should be resolved through the electoral process rather than with the introduction of sanctions, it is the rampant abuse within the Venezuelan electoral system that helped prompt the protests in the first place.
In addition, there is no electoral exit in Venezuela and this is one of the reasons why protests took place. First the population is intimidated and afraid. Therefore, many people vote thinking that somebody may find out whom they voted for. State employees, particularly from the oil giant PDVSA have been intimidated into voting for the ruling party. Furthermore, when the opposition won very often their work was obstructed. Such is the case of the Mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma who after taking office, the Central government created a de-facto parallel Caracas City Hall.
Up until July 29th, Senator Corker opposed the sanctions bill on the grounds that it was not part of a larger strategy. He was asking at the time for the Administration to define a strategy and explain how sanctions could advance that strategy.
Corker’s rationale for having questioned the value of sanctions at the time seems to have been based on the notion that sanctions cannot work if they cannot achieve the desired results, insofar as sanctions alone may prove to be insufficient and may also backfire by encouraging the Maduro government to increase the intensity of its repression.
Senator Corker was, indeed, right that the U.S. does not have a larger strategy to deal with Venezuela or for that matter with the challenges to democracy in the region or the serious security threats Venezuela poses to the United States.
Venezuela has indeed undertaken dangerous policies that affect the entire hemisphere.
For example, Venezuela is heavily involved in the drug trade. The current flow of children and others to the United States from Central American countries is also the result of a state of anarchy caused by the drug trafficking that weakens state authority and makes the lives of people increasingly unsafe. Venezuela is the only country in Latin America that willingly makes its ports and airports available to drug cartels and harbors their leadership and operatives.
Just last week General Hugo Carvajal, who served as Venezuela’s chief of intelligence between 2004 and 2011 and reappointed by Nicolas Maduro for a brief period last year, was arrested in Aruba at the request of the U.S. for his involvement in drug trafficking. Carvajal was allegedly in charge of collecting drug shipments from the Colombian narco-terrorist organization known as the FARC (Revolutioinary Armed Forces of Colombia). Carvajal allegedly controlled the entire distribution of drugs to the U.S. and Europe and was in charge of laundering drug money through the Venezuelan oil giant, PDVSA. Unfortunately, under threats from the Venezuelan government, Aruba sent Carvajal back to Venezuela instead of responding to the U.S. request to have him placed in American custody.
Venezuela has also established connections with terrorist groups such as the FARC, ETA, and Hezbollah. It has established dangerous alliances with Iran that allegedly include supplies of uranium to the Islamic Republic. Additionally, two sources have reported the presence of Iranian missiles in the Paraguana Peninsula; something that puts the U.S. in a situation of vulnerability as failure of U.S.-Iran nuclear negotiations or an Israeli military attack on the latter’s nuclear facilities could precipitate greater antagonism between the United States and Iran. Venezuela also cooperates with Hezbollah on money transfers, on training of terrorists, and on provision of passports to Middle Eastern individuals.
Despite Senator Corker’s legitimate concerns that sanctions may not have the desired impact, they present an opportunity to raise awareness in our political establishment and develop a larger strategy. In addition, the sanctions bill could be the impetus the Obama Administration needs to more actively and constructively engage in the protection and promotion of democracy in the region. But the idea that we can’t do anything because we can’t do everything cannot be the rationale through which we address these serious issues.
If we oppose sanctions we will encourage the Maduro Government to further increase its repression and we would be letting down those who look up to the United States as a source of hope in a world increasingly influenced by authoritarianism. It is now up to the full Senate to pass this much needed legislation.
Luis Fleischman is co-editor of The Americas Report and the author of the book, “Latin America in the Post-Chavez Era: The Security Threat to the United States.”
THE AMERICAS REPORT
NANCY MENGES and
LUIS FLEISCHMAN, Editors
The Americas Report is the featured product of the Center for Security Policy‘s Menges Hemispheric Security Project. It features in-depth, original articles on subjects not regularly covered by the American press.
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