Should Venezuela face more economic sanctions?
House lawmakers held hearing about Venezuelan crisis on Capitol Hill
Republican Reps. Jeff Duncan and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen question witnesses
They ask why more economic sanctions haven't been applied to Venezuelan
BY ELEANOR MUELLER
As the crisis in Venezuela escalates, U.S. lawmakers are questioning
whether the Obama administration is doing everything it can to improve
Four witnesses from the administration testified at a hearing Wednesday
before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In questioning led by
subcommittee chairman Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., legislators asked what
actions the U.S. government is – and should be – taking to alleviate the
suffering of the Venezuelan people.
Duncan suggested the United States impose more economic sanctions
against Venezuelan government officials directly responsible for human
The assets of seven Venezuelan officials were frozen in March 2015
following protests that left 43 people dead, including some who were
shot by security forces. Since then, according to the State Department,
no more economic sanctions have been placed on Venezuelan officials.
"Many government officials in Venezuela who are directly responsible for
human rights abuses and the deterioration of democratic institutions,
public corruption and drug trafficking, remain free to access U.S.
financial systems," Duncan said. "This is not right."
Venezuela is in the midst of an economic and political meltdown, with
policies inherited and implemented by President Nicolás Maduro
contributing to rising inflation rates, negative economic growth and
increasing social unrest. Food, medicine and even electricity are in
short supply; the situation has grown so grim that the party opposing
Maduro is looking to host a recall referendum that could result in his
removal from office.
Maduro refuses to schedule the referendum. His party has gone as far as
to post National Guard soldiers and police in riot gear to block roads
and metro stations near National Electoral Council offices, said Michael
Kozak, deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Democracy, Human
Rights and Labor in the Department of State, in testimony on Capitol Hill.
"Venezuela does not have time to waste," Duncan said.
Sanctions against Venezuelan government officials are allowed under
legislation and a subsequent executive order passed in 2014. Venezuelan
government officials found guilty of enabling human rights abuses may
have their property in the United States, or under the control of the
United States government, blocked.
"What we do not want is for those who would threaten and undermine
democracy in their home country to be able to use the U.S. financial
system to advance their nefarious purposes," testified John Smith,
acting director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control in the
Department of the Treasury.
The desired end goal is "to change the behavior not only of individuals
but Venezuela as a whole," Smith said.
With 62 Venezuelan visas revoked and more currently under review, the
administration also is considering placing more sanctions, testified
Annie Pforzheimer, acting deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of
Western Hemisphere Affairs in the Department of State.
No names have been or will be released, Pforzheimer said.
"So much of this is done in secret," Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.,
said. "We just don't know what's happening."
Ros-Lehtinen brought to the hearing a list of names she thought should
be sanctioned, and submitted it to Pforzheimer for review.
"What more do we need to do?" Ros-Lehtinen asked witnesses. "I hope it
doesn't take more deaths."
Eleanor Mueller: 202-383-6033, @eleanor_mueller
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