Ahead of a House vote to pass sanctions against Venezuelan officials today, 14 members of Congress sent a letter [PDF] to Secretary Kerry yesterday urging against sanctions, warning that they could undermine the dialogue process between the Venezuelan government and the opposition. Instead, the members - who include John Conyers (D-MI) and Hank Johnson (D-GA) - suggested that the U.S. should exchange ambassadors with Venezuela. The sanctions bill passed the House this afternoon with the support of a number of Venezuelan ex-pats in the U.S. who are mostly “from the middle class and upper middle class,” and is championed by anti-Cuba hawks in the House such as Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) in the Senate.
The letter also notes - unlike statements by sanctions proponents such as Ros-Lehtinen - that opposition protesters are responsible for some of the killings and other human rights abuses over the past few months, and that the Venezuelan government has taken steps to hold perpetrators accountable, with at least 19 arrests of "state agents." The letter states:
at least 42 people have died, including opposition activists, government supporters, bystanders and security agents. Government security forces have been implicated in killings and accused of human rights abuses, and at least 19 state agents have been jailed in relation to these alleged abuses. A number of fatalities and injuries have reportedly been caused by protesters themselves. Security forces and civilians have been shot and killed while trying to remove barricades erected by protesters and motorcyclists have been beheaded by wire stretched across the road by protesters.
It also notes that the U.S. would be isolated regionally in sanctioning Venezuelan officials, as
While the United States government does not have to agree with its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere, it should take their opinions into account, as it takes European or African governments’ opinions into account in those regions. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), and the Organization of American States (by a 29-3 vote) have all issued statements that are in various ways supportive of the Venezuelan government and that call for the respect of the country’s democratic institutions. A number of presidents and governments, including Michelle Bachelet of Chile, have publicly warned against attempts to forcibly remove the democratically elected government of Venezuela. As State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki noted on Wednesday, there are “no indications that other Latin American countries at this time would support sanctions on Venezuela.”
UNASUR issued a statement [PDF] last week opposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials. As the AP reported:
Foreign ministers from the 12-member Union of South American Nations issued a statement Friday saying that the proposed legislation would constitute a violation of Venezuela’s internal affairs and undermine attempts by regional diplomats and the Vatican to foster dialogue between the government and opposition.
Sanctions represent “an obstacle for the Venezuelan people can overcome their difficulties with independence, and in democratic peace,” according to a statement after a meeting in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.
The congressional letter has received a good deal of media coverage in outlets including the AP, the Miami Herald, BBC Mundo and Fox News, among others.