POLITICS

In Senate hearing on Venezuela, Sen. Rubio calls for tougher U.S. sanctions

The Associated Press

 (The Associated Press)

In Senate hearings on Tuesday on U.S. sanctions against Venezuela, Sen. Marco Rubio said the Obama administration’s actions should go further by targeting the assets of a broader number of Venezuelan officials who have engaged in corruption and human rights abuses.

Rubio, a Florida Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relation Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, said U.S. sanctions need to "deny corrupt officials the opportunity to buy homes and make vacations in the United States with the money they have stolen from the people of Venezuela,” according to the Sun Sentinel.

Rubio said unscrupulous current and former Venezuela government officials use such South Florida cities as Weston and Doral as their playgrounds.

The senator also took exception at President Barack Obama’s decision to restore diplomatic relations – a move that includes easing travel and trade restrictions -- with Cuba, a benefactor of Venezuela.

"The Cubans are actively assisting the Venezuelan government in repressing the Cuban people," he said. “While we are sanctioning Venezuelan officials, we are lifting sanctions on Cubans who are making this [repression] possible."

Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that the U.S. sanctions are “targeted” against corrupt or abusive Venezuelan officials, and are “not sanctions against the people of Venezuela.”

“In my view, we could have gone further, but this is an important first step,” Menendez said.

“That said, Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing the Administration’s strategy for addressing the political, diplomatic, and security challenges that Venezuela presents,” Menendez said at the hearing. “At the end of the day, it’s important for us all to recognize that the solution to this crisis must come at the ballot box.”

“And I hope we have a chance to discuss the Administration’s diplomatic strategy for ensuring that the elections Venezuela is scheduled to hold later this year will take place under free, fair and transparent conditions.”

Earlier this month, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro railed against the sanctions in a speech that all Venezuelan radio and television stations were required to carry. 

The embattled president denounces the “Yankee empire” almost nightly on national television, but after the U.S. sanctions were announced, Maduro  took an unusually furious tone, saying they were further proof that the U.S. is determined to topple his administration and seize control of Venezuela.

"President Barack Obama, in the name of the U.S. imperialist elite, has decided to personally take on the task of defeating my government, intervening in Venezuela, and controlling it from the U.S.," he said. "Obama today took the most aggressive, unjust and poisonous step that the U.S. has ever taken against Venezuela."

Meanwhile, a letter said to have been written by former Cuban leader Fidel Castro appeared in official state media outlets in Cuba that was addressed to Maduro and expressed support for what the revolutionary leader depicted as his resistance to U.S. imperialism.

“The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has stated in a very precise manner that it has always been disposed to talk with the United States, in a peaceful and civilized fashion,” the letter to Maduro said, “but will never tolerate threats or impositions on the part of this country.”

“Whatever U.S. imperialism may do, it will never be able to count on them to do what they did for so many years. Today Venezuela can count on the best equipped soldiers and officers in Latin America,” it continued. “When you met with officers recently, it was evident that they were ready to give their last drop of blood for the homeland.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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