TAMPA — Some Florida Congress members, led by Sen. Marco Rubio and accompanied by Gov. Rick Scott, are calling for action by the U.S. government on the crisis in Venezuela — but they differ on how far the action should go.
The involvement of Cuba in the Caracas government of President Nicolas Maduro is spurring calls for action by Cuban-Americans including Rubio and Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami, all Republicans. Rep. Joe Garcia, a Miami Democrat, has joined them.
Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen have taken the strongest stand, calling for trade sanctions including limiting U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil.
Venezuela is one of the top five suppliers of oil to the U.S., according to the State Department, and the U.S. is considered Venezuela’s most important trading partner despite tension between the two governments under Marduro and his predecessor the late Hugo Chavez.
In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry last week, Ros-Lehtinen asked that imports of Venezuelan oil be reduced by at least 10 percent; a spokesman for Diaz-Balart said he agrees with that stance.
Scott and Rubio, however, while condemning the Venezuelan government in strong language, have called for comparatively limited sanctions affecting only individuals involved in the Maduro government, including freezing assets and denying visas to those considered guilty of human rights violations.
They’re also asking that the government expedite claims for political asylum by Venezuelans and halt deportation of Venezuelans in the U.S. illegally.
Their position is similar to that of Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia of Miami.
Garcia said sanctions against the nation of Venezuela, particularly cutting oil imports, would be counterproductive.
“I do think individual sanctions against people who are violating human rights make sense,” Garcia said, “But we haven’t been too successful with our half-century embargo against Cuba.”
Because oil is a commodity traded internationally, “Unless there’s world participation it would be futile,” he said, and “would only allow the Venezuelan government to play David to our Goliath.”
This week, Rubio delivered an impassioned Senate floor speech condemning human rights abuses in Cuba, in response to a speech by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who spoke favorably about a trip to Cuba. Rubio linked Venezuelan abuses to Cuban involvement.
He and Senate Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, have introduced a resolution calling for an “impartial, third-party investigation into the excessive and unlawful force against peaceful demonstrations” in Venezuela; sanctions against individuals involved in repression; and attempts through the Organization of American States to start “dialogue between the Government of Venezuela and the political opposition.”
Rubio appeared Friday at a news conference in Doral on the subject with Scott, who has also written to President Obama seeking the individual sanctions.
He and Scott have done their best to elevate the profile of the issue. Rubio sent out a dozen or more tweets aimed at Maduro, calling him a “Castro puppet” who “awaits his orders from Havana” and sends “armed gangs ... of thugs ... against civilians.”
Scott has posted an Instagram video stating his position.