Human Rights,  Latin America

Obama sanctions human rights abusers in Venezuela

Cross-posted from the Human Rights Foundation

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) welcomes the executive order issued yesterday by President Obama that imposes targeted sanctions against Venezuelan citizens involved in recent human rights abuses in the country. The order, which also expresses concern about the Venezuelan government’s treatment of its political opponents, names seven individuals sanctioned under the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. HRF applauds this action as a crucial step in exposing human rights abuses committed by the government of Nicólas Maduro.

“Dictatorships would be powerless if they didn’t have enforcers willing to arbitrarily arrest, torture, and execute innocent people,” said HRF president Thor Halvorssen.   “This order targets the individuals who have chosen to become enforcers of brutality, injustice, and oppression at whatever cost to their fellow citizens. The individuals named are responsible for the deaths of peaceful protestors, the torture of innocent students, and the continued imprisonment of opposition leaders,” said Halvorssen.

The executive order states that recent events in Venezuela constitute a national security threat to the United States and targets individuals who: undermined democratic institutions; committed acts of violence constituting grave human rights abuses; limited freedom of expression; or engaged in acts of corruption. Of the seven individuals named in the order, six are connected to Venezuela’s national security forces or to Venezuela’s national intelligence service (SEBIN). The abuses these officials are accused of include arbitrary detentions of protestors, torture of detainees, and the use of deadly force against demonstrators by security forces.

The seventh official on the list is national level prosecutor Katherine Nayarith Haringhton Padron, who charged opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado and Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma Diaz with conspiracy in politically motivated cases based on implausible and fabricated information. While Corina is free pending her trial, Ledezma remains in prison with fellow political prisoner and opposition leader Leopoldo López, who continues to languish in a military jail more than a year after leading peaceful protests calling for change within Venezuela.

“Under the reality of authoritarian governments, enforcers are seldom immoral outliers, but are instead normal people who have rationally and carefully weighed their alternatives and decided that remaining on the side of a mighty dictator would give them and their families continued prestige, stability, security, maybe extra cash, and for some even the ability to have their kids travel regularly to Disney World, as countless Chavista officers do,” said HRF general counsel Javier El-Hage.  “Simple targeted sanctions like visa denials and asset freezes by democratic countries like the United States have the potential to change the mindset of government enforcers and motivate them to abandon the oppressive political structures they currently prop up,” said El-Hage.

Gene adds: In response to the sanctions, Maduro said he will seek an “anti-imperialist” Enabling Law “to preserve the nation’s peace, integrity and sovereignty.”

I think that means even more dictatorial powers.

But as I’m sure George Galloway and the other non-Venezuelan chavistas will assure us, it is an “anti-imperialist” measure. And when it comes to fighting “imperialism,” what’s a little suppression of dissent here and arbitrary imprisonment and torture there?

Opposition leaders slammed Maduro, saying he was using the worst flare-up with Washington of his nearly two-year rule to justify autocratic governance, sidetrack parliament and distract attention from Venezuela’s grave economic crisis.

“Nicolas, are you requesting the Enabling Law to make soap, nappies and medicines appear, to lower inflation?” satirized opposition leader Henrique Capriles. “It’s another smokescreen.”