Senate Committee Pushing Resolution Punishing Venezuelan Officials

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The Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday passed a resolution calling for sanctions against officials of the administration of Venezuelan President Nicólas Maduro.

The vote, which was unanimous, paves the way for the resolution to go before the full Senate. Sens. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who is chair of the committee, sponsored the resolution.

About a month of protests by mostly middle class Venezuelans has resulted in more than 20 deaths, many allegedly at the hands of government-backed police and Maduro supporters.

“The students of Venezuela were protesting crimes that occurred on campus and took to the streets a few weeks ago,” said Rubio on the Senate floor before the vote. “The government cracked down, but not on the criminals, they cracked down on the students, leading to broader protests. And what you have now is all-out acts of violence…by uniformed agents of the government.”

Rubio, who is of Cuban descent, urged his colleagues to pass the resolution, saying that it would signal to the protestors in Venezuela that they are not alone, that Americans support them.

One part of the resolution urges “the President to immediately impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes, against individuals planning, facilitating, or perpetrating gross human rights violations against peaceful demonstrators, journalists, and other members of civil society in Venezuela.”

Other parts of the resolution condemn the government-backed “use of excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrators, and the inexcusable use of violence and politically-motivated criminal charges to intimidate the country's political opposition.”

Another calls for a collaborative effort among nations in the Western hemisphere to push for dialogue between the Maduro government and its political opponents, with the Organization of American States, or the OAS, as a conduit.

Maduro, however, said in recent days that he would not participate in mediation talks in which the OAS has a role.

He called the OAS “a dying organization.”

“This president from the right wing is actively scheming against Venezuela to justify OAS intervention,” Maduro said in a speech, referring to the Panamanian president Ricardo Martinelli's suggestion to bring the issue to the OAS. “I’m not going to accept anyone conspiring against our country.”