On March 9th President Obama issued an executive order implementing The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, which he signed last December 18th. This measure blocks the property and interests in property of seven top Venezuelan government officials and would also block the property and interests in property of any person determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State.
The presidential order has imposed sanctions on mostly the top echelon of the state security apparatus in charge of the repression during the 2014 anti- government demonstrations.
Although, this executive order is a good first step, it omits to punish the president, his cabinet and his closest civilian aides. Likewise, punitive measures are not being applied to lower ranking officers who have committed human right violations despite the fact that human rights organizations have provided names and details about these individuals and their transgressions.
Yet, president Obama’s executive order is the most positive element in a series of events inside Venezuela that have been more than dishonorable.
First, Nicolas Maduro imprisoned Antonio Ledesma, the mayor of Metropolitan Caracas in a most violent and humiliating way. Ledesma’s “crime” was just being an opponent of the Maduro regime. While Ledesma was Mayor of Caracas, the Venezuelan government tried to duplicate the functions of city hall in order to disempower the mayor. Likewise, the central government made several changes in order to undertake functions, which belonged to the Caracas city hall.
Then, as a result of demonstrations in the state of Tachira, security forces reacted violently killing a 14-year-old child. Although the Maduro government arrested a policeman in the case, that killing was also the result of government policy. Indeed, the government adopted a resolution allowing riot police to use firearms to control protests effectively lifting police restrictions in handling demonstrators.
Besides the human rights violations mentioned above, the economic situation deteriorates day by day up to the point where there is scarcity of basic goods. . Thus, people stand in long lines to purchase food and other basic products. Often the police have kept order by using violence to control people’s wrath while standing in line. The government has also organized “popular military groups” to control the long lines in what Diosdado Cabello, president of the national Assembly says is “an economic war against Venezuela”.
The government of Venezuela has made and continues to make huge mistakes and carries out bad polices while blaming the private sector or the United States. According to President Maduro, problems inside Venezuela are due to a conspiracy organized from Washington, which then causes public discontent, not the Venezuelan government’s misguided policies.
In the meantime, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) has stepped up an effort “to resolve” the Venezuelan crisis.
As was expected, this body, whose mission is to promote regional integration and cooperation between the countries and includes the most important countries in the continent, issued a statement in support of the Maduro government.
In that statement, UNASUR’s Secretary, Ernesto Samper, a corrupt, former president of Colombia who was denied entry to the U.S. due to the fact that his presidential campaign received funds from drug cartels, pointed out that the organization “rejects any attempt to destabilize the Venezuelan democracy”. Likewise, UNASUR took very seriously Maduro’s claim that there is an attempt to depose him through a military coup organized in the air force with support from the United States. UNASUR supported this paranoid vision after a meeting between Maduro and the foreign ministers of Colombia, Brazil, and Ecuador.
Ironically, Samper called for a dialogue between the Venezuelan government and the opposition, knowing such an effort has proven to be futile time and again. The government has never seriously negotiated with the opposition and has made crystal clear that it wants to hold its power forever. So Samper’s proposal is nothing but a ploy to avoid making a decision on Venezuela.
This disgraceful attitude by UNASUR is likely to affect the Organization of American States (OAS). On March 18th, a new secretary will be named to replace the outgoing secretary, Jose Miguel Insulza. There is only one candidate and he is no other than the former Uruguayan foreign minister, Luis Almagro. Almagro is a staunch supporter of the Maduro regime and has strong connections with Iran. He served as a commercial attaché in Teheran for about five years and under his watch commercial relations between the two countries flourished. Likewise, a Uruguayan parliamentary delegation visited Teheran to strengthen relations with Iran. Almagro defined Uruguay and Iran as “two countries that fight against injustice and oppression”.
In the face of these facts, the OAS is not expected to apply its democratic charter unless the left loses elections in key countries in Latin America.
Cuba, a country with whom the Obama Administration seeks to normalize relations, stood firmly in support of Maduro. The U.S. should also use its negotiations with Cuba as a means to demand that the dozens of Cubans who are helping to develop the Venezuelan security apparatus be removed from Venezuela. If such a demand is not made, the U.S. will look like an accomplice of this immoral UNASUR attitude.
It is vitally important that the United States stand firm in its own principles and continue its pressure on Venezuela and even increase and expand sanctions as long as human rights violations, arrests of opposition figures and repression continues. The same applies in the case of Cuba where the U.S. must also resolutely demand from Cuba that human rights be fully respected and that Cuba cease its support of the Venezuelan repressive apparatus.
The human rights agenda is not only a moral imperative. It is also an issue of national security as President Obama pointed out in his executive order. It is a security issue because more and more dictatorships are being elected in Latin America and have accumulated enormous power. Then, they use this power to carry out an agenda and this agenda includes dangerous items such as increasing connections to drug cartels, terrorist groups, Iran, and other elements that endanger regional and U.S. security.
The time has come to develop a consistent strategy to counteract the current dangers in Latin America.