US to impose sanctions on Venezuela
The US Congress on Wednesday voted to restrict travel and freeze assets on some Venezuelan government officials it accuses of human rights abuses during a crackdown on protests against socialist President Nicolás Maduro earlier this year.
More than 40 people have died during a wave of protests by students and members of the Venezuelan opposition against curbs on democratic liberties, rampant crime and a deteriorating economy in the embattled Caribbean nation.
The US Senate approved the measure earlier this week. Now the House of Representatives has passed it, it will be sent to President Barack Obama to sign it into law.
In late July, after peace talks between the government and opposition came to nothing, the US state department imposed a travel ban on some Venezuelan officials.
On Tuesday Mr Maduro lashed out on national television and radio at the possibility of an “insolent imperialist” move, warning that “if the crazy path of sanctions is imposed, President Obama, I think you’re going to come out looking very bad”.
US senator Robert Menéndez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and author of the bipartisan Venezuela Defence of Human Rights and Civil Society Act, countered that “the absence of justice and the denial of human rights in Venezuela must end”.
He added: “When this bill becomes law, a spotlight will shine on Venezuela’s abusers and target individuals responsible for human rights violations by applying asset freezes and visa bans.”
Last week the government indicted María Corina Machado, a former congresswoman, for participating in an alleged assassination plot against Mr Maduro. Along with arrested opposition leader Leopoldo López, they managed to bring thousands of demonstrators on to the streets of Venezuela in February and March.
“It’s very hard to imagine that the case against Machado for her alleged involvement in a plot to kill the president will be anything more than a farce,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch, who published a report in May saying that Venezuelan troops used excessive force against peaceful protesters.
If sanctions are finally imposed, the government may present them “as an attack against the country to try to distract public opinion from the economic crisis that the country is facing”, said Barclays. Accelerating inflation and shortages of basic goods are worsening as the crude price slide hits the oil-dependent nation.
Eurasia, the risk consultancy, wrote that as Venezuela’s exports to the US “still represents Venezuela’s largest cash-generating oil export market by far”, President Maduro was “unlikely to do anything that would put that relationship at risk, particularly in a context where the economy is already contracting and the economic outlook is bleak”.