POLITICS

Senate passes bill sanctioning Venezuelan officials, needs unifying with House version

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, third from right, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, fourth from right, greet people after the Unasur summit in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, third from right, and Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, fourth from right, greet people after the Unasur summit in Guayaquil, Ecuador, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.  (ap)

The Senate has passed legislation cosponsored by Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that would direct President Barack Obama to levy sanctions against Venezuelan government officials or others accused of perpetrating acts of violence or human rights abuses of anti-government demonstrators.

The bill, passed in a voice vote on Monday evening, authorizes sanctions that would freeze the assets and ban visas of individuals involved in violating the human rights of those opposing the South American country's socialist government. During the summer, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Venezuelan officials accused of abuses during a months-long street protest movement in the winter and spring that left dozens of people dead.

"These sanctions will go after Maduro regime officials and thugs," Rubio said in a statement, "who have spent all of 2014 authorizing and carrying out assassinations, beatings, unjustified incarcerations, kangaroo court trials and absurd indictments of its political opponents and innocent Venezuelans demanding a better future."

"For too long, Venezuelans have faced state-sponsored violence at the hands of government security forces and watched their country's judiciary become a tool of political repression," said Sen. Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the author of the bipartisan Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act.

On Tuesday, a leading opposition figure, María Corina Machado, learned that she is being charged with conspiracy in connection with an alleged plot to kill President Nicolás Maduro, a move she called an attempt to silence her and other critics of the government. Together with fellow opposition leader Leopoldo López, Machado called tens of thousands of demonstrators into the streets to protest the government earlier this year. López was arrested nine months ago for his role in the sometimes violent protests. He turned himself in during an emotional public event.

"Venezuelan leaders like Leopoldo López and María Corina Machado have become the target of vicious government-led campaigns that seek to silence them for speaking out in defense of democracy and the rule of law," Menendez said in a statement. "We in the United States have an obligation to shine a bright spotlight on Venezuela's abuses and must object to the severe human rights violations committed by the Maduro government and his paramilitary thugs."

The House passed its own bill in May, and that must still be reconciled with the Senate version.

In his statement, Rubio thanked “my House colleagues, particularly Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, for their work in passing Venezuela sanctions legislation earlier this year. Before this Congress adjourns, I am hopeful that, for all the challenges the Venezuelan people have faced this year, we can at least end it on a positive note by turning these sanctions into a law signed by the President and implemented by the administration.”

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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