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House Approves Targeted Sanctions for Venezuela Leaders

Image: PMembers of the National Bolivarian police clash with opposition demonstrators in Caracas, Venezuela
Members of the National Bolivarian police clash with opposition demonstrators who are protesting against the government of Nicolas Maduro in the area of Chacao, in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 7. MIGUEL GUTIERREZ / EPA

The House on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill allowing the administration to impose targeted sanctions on anyone committing human rights abuses against protesters in Venezuela.

Approved on a voice vote, the legislation is intended as a response to the Venezuelan government's violent crackdown on protesters who oppose policies of President Nicolas Maduro's regime.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla, the bill's chief sponsor, said a legislative response is overdue. Since the protests began in February, 42 people have been killed, nearly 60 cases of torture reported, more than 2,000 people detained and hundreds more injured, Ros-Lehtinen said.

The bill would deny visas to members of the Venezuelan regime who are "responsible for serious human rights abuses," block property ownership, freeze assets and prohibit any financial transactions with the named offiicials, Ros-Lehtinen said.

"The Venezuelan people have sent us a distress signal for help," she said. "Today we answer that call by condemning the actions taken by the Maduro regime and showing our support to the people of Venezuela who are seeking liberty, freedom, human rights and justice."

The Obama administration has expressed opposition to the measure and 14 Democrats wrote President Barack Obama backing his administration's position, The Associated Press reported.

The administration fears the sanctions would undermine mediation efforts in Venezuela and strain the relationship between the U.S. and its Latin American partners.

Texas Rep. Joaquín Castro, who led Democratic support for the bill on the House floor, said while dialogue is the best way out of the crisis, "the legislation …. makes it clear that the United States will not turn a blind eye to human rights violations."

Castro said the bill would not hurt individual Venezuelans or its oil industry and noted that it gives Obama great flexibility. "Each and every sanction can be waived by the president at any time," Castro said.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has advanced a similar bill.

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