Sanctions: A Belated Band-Aid For Venezuela

by Katrina Jorgensen

TCS News Contributor

Despite the microscopic attention on Ukraine from the global media, the violent protests in Venezuela have gone on widely beneath the radar. Even with layers of sanctions on Russia, the Obama administration has opposed similar measures for Venezuela. It has taken more than three months of crisis to provoke a response on the situation, with little help from the State Department.


To recap, the conflict in Venezuela began with peaceful protests over the economy. Government price control has led to inflation, scarcity of basic goods has led to a depressed middle class and violent crime plagues the country. The protests began with students on February 12th, National Youth Day. Since then, President Nicolas Maduro, Hugo Chavez’s hand-picked successor, has attempted to regain control, mostly with aggressive military crackdowns. Thousands were arrested; more than 800 injured and 42 people were killed.


Opposition parties in Venezuela have meet with the government for talks, but President Maduro has made it quite clear that he doesn’t intend to compromise. He has refused to allow jailed opposition leaders to participate in these talks, and he not agreed to a single demand from the protesters. Instead, Maduro has accused America of enflaming the opposition, going so far as to have his party allege that the US Ambassador to Columbia has participated in a plot to destabilize his presidency. He did raise the minimum wage, which directly affects the lower class—a voting block already loyal to him.


Until today, the State Department has condemned the crackdown but opposed most actions. Last week, a shift on this policy seemed apparent as Secretary of State John Kerry suggested sanctions could be on the table. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives finally approved sanctions targeting human rights abusers, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-FL. When the Senate might vote has yet to be determined. The sanctions billed passed the House by a voice vote.


However, 14 democrats wrote a letter to the White House expressing their disapproval of the bill. President Maduro praised the letter. He also said Venezuela wouldn’t recognize any sanctions.


The opinions expressed in the letter aligned very closely with the White House’s previous stance on the Venezuela protests. They asserted that sanctions would undermine chances for diplomacy and continue the anti-American rhetoric from the government. The State Department’s assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs went so far as to claim that the opposition in Venezuela said they were against the bill, but the opposition denied this statement.


The least America can do is appropriately punish those who violate international human rights. Three months of the White House hoping for a diplomatic solution has only brought on more suffering for those brave enough to stand-up to a corrupt, socialist government. This has, of course, become a hallmark of the Obama administration’s foreign policy. The same foreign policy he sought to defend yesterday in a commencement speech at West Point. President Obama remarked that the United States could no longer be the world’s police, but in Venezuela, the White House hasn’t even taken a leadership position. As we continue to back away from every spiny international engagement, we look less like police, and more like a prisoner of circumstances.


Even if sanctions pass, the weakened stance of America on the world stage will critically minimize their effectiveness. Sanctions in response for human rights abuses have yet to curtail tragedies in Russia, Syria or Iran, so why should they impact the suppression in Venezuela?


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