On December 11th the U.S House of Representatives signed a bill, which will impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found to have in violation of human rights in Venezuela.

On December 8th, The Senate passed a similar bill after a long delay.

According to signals given by the White House, President Barack Obama is likely to sign the bill.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ileana Ross Lethinen (R- FL) and by Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fl), Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Bill Nelson (D-FL) imposes visa restrictions, freezing of assets, and other types of targeted sanctions on persons responsible for violations of human rights of anti-government protesters in Venezuela. The bill also calls for coordination between 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”. Likewise, it calls “to hold accountable government and security officials in Venezuela responsible for or complicit in the use of force in relation to the anti-government 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”.

Despite the fact that the delay in the Senate vote may have provided time to Nicolas Maduro’s thugs to take preventive steps in anticipation of the sanctions, the impact of the sanctions is undeniable.

First these sanctions constitute a first step. It is reasonable to assume that Maduro did not believe the U.S. would dare to do it. As Republicans will be holding the majority in the next Congress, chances are that further sanctions may be approved without delay. This already has brought Maduro to a state of panic, particularly as Venezuela is now experiencing significant drops in oil prizes and as the economy continues its drastic decline.

It is less clear if this step represents a significant change in U.S foreign policy towards Venezuela.

U.S policy, particularly under President Barack Obama, has been based on the following premises:

  1. The U.S. cannot be seen as an unequal and condescending partner in the region.
  2. The U.S. should not impose its will on any country in the region since American history of past interference in Latin American countries’ internal affairs has raised negative feelings among the population and governments in the region.
  3. Therefore, the U.S. needs to work with regional partners to resolve any problem. Thus, the Venezuelan problem, like human rights challenges, or any other challenge in the continent, (including those that affect U.S. security), need to be addressed through countries in the region.

As the left began to consolidate in Latin America, countries began to protect each other as part of a philosophy and strategy of “regional integration” as a means of forming a new regional power block. This concept of block solidarity prevented proper denunciation by Latin American countries of human rights violations in Venezuela. For these countries to denounce human rights violations by another country runs the risk of affecting this new power block. Brazil insisted on the principle of sovereignty over universal rights and thus defended the principle of non-interference.

Henceforth, for the United States, such policy of non-confrontation and going along with regional wishes constituted nothing less than a seal of approval of human rights and democracy violations. This policy track has not been at all beneficial to U.S. interests. Let us remember that there are real dangers to U.S. and regional security given Venezuela’s key role in drug trafficking, harboring of terrorist groups, and cooperation with countries such as Iran.

Should we delegate our security to countries such as Brazil? Should we continue asking for permission to stand by our values and interests?

The recent agreement between the Obama Administration and the Castro regime seems to indicate that U.S policy continues to be the same. The U.S just promised to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba that does not guarantee or even demands from the Castro regime a commitment to changing its anti-democratic and anti-human rights policy. Obama himself pointed out that his decision to normalize relations with Cuba was due to the fact that this was the will of the countries of the region.

Therefore, unless the Republican majority in Congress applies pressure, nothing is likely to move forward.

Yet, these sanctions constitute the first significant step that show solidarity with those in Venezuela who have fought and are still fighting for a better future of freedom and economic opportunity.

The lukewarm response that their protests have had from the world has discouraged Venezuelan dissidents. By the same token, the Venezuelan government did not find any reason why it needed to reign in its’ repressive regime. To the contrary its’ repressive policies have continued. The indictment of political opponent, Maria Corina Machado on false charges is only one small example of how the Maduro government mocked its own Venezuelan citizens and the international community.

Thus, at least sanctions should give a new boost to protestors in Venezuela and provide hope to dozens of political prisoners forgotten and abandoned in their filthy cells.

From the pages of the Americas Report we denounced the situation of General Raul Baduel, a former Chavez Secretary of Defense, who despite his initial support for Hugo Chavez played an important role in inflicting Chavez’s first electoral defeat. . He has been in prison for years under false charges and long forgotten.

Sanctions provide an important momentum. Support for democracy and human rights from now onwards needs to take a high speed both inside and outside Venezuela.

This is the time to continue to raise the issue of Venezuela with the President, with Congress, and with the rest of the world.

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