Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez have introduced a bipartisan resolution calling for the United States to issue an official condemnation of the Venezuelan government’s hardline treatment of protestors demonstrating against that nation’s socialist administration.
The senators also want the United States to impose sanctions against Venezuelan government officials who are found to have a role in the violence that ensued – and has resulted in at least 16 deaths – after what many described as initially peaceful demonstrations since mid-February.
“This action sends an unequivocal message by condemning the violence perpetrated against innocent Venezuelans by President Maduro, Venezuelan security forces, and armed pro-government supporters," said Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"Now is the time to pursue a course of targeted sanctions by denying and revoking visas, and freezing the assets of Venezuelan officials complicit in the deaths of peaceful protestors. Human rights violators should be held accountable for the crimes they committed and their presence should not be welcome in our nation,” Menendez added.
Rubio, a Republican from Florida who is considered a possible 2016 presidential contender, has said in recent weeks that the United States must take the unrest unfolding in Venezuela more seriously because it is “in our hemisphere.”
He delivered an impassioned 15-minute speech on the Senate floor on Monday, assailing the governments of Cuba and Venezuela on their human rights records, noting that Cuba is essentially mentoring Venezuela on repressing dissension.
“With the Venezuelan people struggling and sacrificing for freedom, liberty and human rights, they deserve to have their voices be heard, and they deserve the world’s leading defender of human rights to be on their side,” Rubio said. “Nicolás Maduro and his thugs must be held accountable for the atrocities committed against the people of Venezuela, including unjust incarcerations, violent repression and killing of innocent protestors."
Other Cuban-American members of Congress, including Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart, and Joe Garcia, all from Florida, have been vocal about human rights in Venezuela, usually drawing parallels between Cuba and the South American nation.
The Cuban-Americans have crossed party lines to join together in calling for support of Venezuelan demonstrators – Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart are Republican, while Garcia is a Democrat.
Garcia this week called on the U.S. government to expedite work on political asylum requests by Venezuelans, and to suspend deportation for Venezuelans who are here. The Venezuelan community in the United States, once small, has grown dramatically in the last decade after the late Hugo Chavez became president.
Another possible sanction being pushed is a proposal to reduce the amount of oil the United States imports from the South American country.
Rubio, meanwhile, is scheduled to meet with members of a Venezuelan community in Doral, Fla. He will join Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera there, where, according to a press release from his office, they will “discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.”