In Washington, the Foreign Relations Committee of the US Senate approved, in a 13-to-2 vote, the “Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act” on May 20.
The bill includes sanctions on key Venezuelan government representatives and at least US$15 million to “defend human rights… and strengthen the rule of law”.
Committee chair, Democrat Robert Menendez, played a lead role in the writing of the proposed legislation. He plans to present the bill before the whole Senate in the coming weeks.
The legal measures proposed are in regards to recent anti-government protests that have reached levels of extreme violence in certain Venezuelan cities, resulting in 42 dead, 800 injured, and millions of dollars of public property damaged, including the burning of multiple universities.
Menendez said the US cannot “play the role of bystander” while Venezuela's president is going to “dangerous extremes to silence political dissent”.
Another supporter of the bill, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, said: “The US should always be on the side of human rights around the world.”
Rubio has prepared a list of Venezuelan military and government officials who would be targeted for sanctions if the bill were to pass. Among those listed are attorney general Luisa Ortega Diaz and head of operations for the National Guard Manuel Quevedo.
This month, another piece of similar legislation, the Venezuelan Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, promoted by Florida congressperson Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, passed the corresponding foreign committee of the US Congress. It has yet to be addressed by Congress as a whole.
Roberta Jacobson, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, has attended the senate hearings and expressed concern about the bill on behalf of the White House.
“This is not a US-Venezuela issue,” she said. “We have strongly resisted attempts to be used as a distraction from Venezuela's real problems.”
She express unease that the bill might distract from the dialogue that is taking place between the Venezuelan government and the opposition.
Before the bill passed the Senate committee, Venezuelan foreign minister Elias Jaua expressed outrage at US “interference” in Venezuelan affairs.
On May 16, Jaua announced his plan to present a formal claim to the United Nations, the Organization of American States (OAS), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) against the proposed sanctions.
“We’ve had enough of the United States assuming a role that belongs to multilateral bodies,” Jaua said. “We must remember that as a free and independent nation we do not recognise the United States parliament … as a legislative [force] over Venezuela. There are basic principles of the United Nations Charter that must be respected.”
[Abridged from Venezuela Analysis.]