Venezuelans just commemorated their country’s independence from Spanish rule. But for those in exile in South Florida who say their country is again under oppressive rule — this time by President Nicolas Maduro, July 5 was a bittersweet anniversary.
Up to now, the United States has made a good case for restraint by not issuing sanctions against the South American country in order to avoid giving the Maduro government a pretext to frame a fight between Venezuela and the United States and not between the government and its own citizens, who are understandably fed up with 15 years of corrupt and increasingly undemocratic rule.
But many want the Obama administration to take a hard line against the regime and issue some type of sanctions against Maduro’s henchmen.
At a forum sponsored by el Nuevo Herald on Friday, a panel of activists, journalists, opposition leaders and politicians expressed frustration with the United States for not paying more attention to Venezuela or, for that matter, the entire region.
“I beg the U.S. to come up with a Latin American policy, any policy,” Horacio Medina, head of the Miami branch of the opposition coalition known as the MUD, told hundreds of Venezuelans who attended the event at the Miami Herald’s headquarters in Doral, considered “Little Venezuela.”
Florida officials, including Gov. Rick Scott and Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, have supported efforts to hamstring Mr. Maduro’s associates here, some linked to human-rights violations, who are getting rich from political deals with their oil-rich country. The first strike should be denying them U.S. visas and freezing their assets, Mr. Rubio says.
Those “businessmen,” who have stashed their money in the United States, have brazenly used their profits to buy property in Miami-Dade, among other places, Mr. Rubio says.
Back in Venezuela, with the deaths of 47 people during anti-government demonstrations and the arrest of opposition leaders since February, Mr. Rubio has said Washington must take steps to shut down “the brutal repression of peaceful protests.”
Earlier this year, Florida’s junior senator presented a measure toward that end to the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, along with Democrats Robert Menendez and Mr. Nelson. Sen. Rubio is now being joined by Senate President Harry Reid.
Reid said recently that he had thought that the death of Hugo Chávez in April 2013 would bring a new government and improved relations with the United States. He realizes that he was wrong, he said. Mr. Maduro has maintained the antagonistic rhetoric of his predecessor.
Reid, too, said he supports initiating sanctions against Venezuela. He is the first influential Democratic senator to favor punishing Venezuelan officials involved in the repression of peaceful demonstrators.
Reid might help change the tide. Until now, the United States has wisely opted to wait for the results of negotiations between Mr. Maduro and the opposition. But those conversations are at a standstill, with little hope of going forward.
This is the strongest case yet for the Obama administration to substitute restraint for action. Even minimal sanctions can be an effective weapon against officials who commit abuses. The White House should heed the senators’ calls to crack down. The United States cannot stand by, not confronting Mr. Maduro’s repressive tactics in Venezuela, any longer.