Florida’s two U.S. senators are rightly united in calling for the United States to impose sanctions against Venezuela for the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson recently held a joint news conference to bring renewed attention to the actions of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and to urge Congress and the White House to act.
Rubio said he wants to bring opposition leaders to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about Maduro’s repressive government, which has beaten and jailed protesters who want the government to change its disastrous economic policies. The two senators want the Obama administration to freeze bank accounts and withhold visas from some members of Maduro’s government.
Rubio is suggesting Venezuelans forced to flee be granted special temporary U.S. visas. And the senators are backing legislation that would divert $15 million to defend human rights in Venezuela.
Obama should listen to Florida’s senators and announce economic sanctions that will punish the government along with its supporters who depend on U.S. trade agreements.
As he often has when confronted with foreign policy challenges, Obama has taken a cautious approach to Venezuela, despite the blatant human rights violations.
A spokesman for the White House National Security Council told The Miami Herald that the administration is working with international partners to start a conversation between Maduro and the protesters.
“At the same time, we’ve been clear about the need for protesters to be released and for fundamental freedoms like freedom of speech and assembly to be protected and respected,” spokesman Jonathan P. Lalley said.
But months have passed since the crackdown began, and it’s clear Maduro won’t listen to reason before being forced to deal with consequences imposed by the United States and other nations. His recent meeting with a coalition of opposition parties was more about show than substance. A recent column he wrote in The New York Times was far more revealing.
He claimed the unrest is “being carried out by people in the wealthier segments of society who seek to reverse the gains of the democratic process that have benefited the vast majority of the people.”
Try telling that to Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and opposition leader jailed on trumped-up murder and terrorism charges. Venezuelans aren’t protesting against democratic gains. They are protesting the high crime rates and dismal living conditions that are the result of a socialist economic policy introduced by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, and that Maduro refuses to change. Venezuelans are protesting for food, for basic goods such as toilet paper, and for basic human rights.
We understand there is a divided opposition movement in Venezuela that presents a problem for the United States, and that the Obama administration is preoccupied with events in Ukraine and the Middle East.
The fragile Venezuelan economy must also be taken into consideration or risk hurting the people we are trying to help.
But Rubio and Nelson aren’t calling for extreme measures. The United States is Venezuela’s most important trading partner, and there are opportunities to impose sanctions that will have an impact on Venezuela’s leaders without backing the United States into a corner.
It’s time for the Obama administration to do more than just talk.