U.S. Congress approves sanctions against Venezuelan President Maduro's regime

By Andrew V. Pestano Follow @AVPLive9 Contact the Author   |  July 7, 2016 at 11:29 AM
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WASHINGTON, July 7 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday extended sanctions imposed on the administration of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who reacted by calling U.S. lawmakers "terrorists" and banning them from Venezuela.

Sanctions were first imposed on the South American country in 2014. The measure approved unanimously in the House extends the sanctions until the end of 2019. U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill.

The measure would freeze the assets of Maduro and his senior aides, also denying them entry visas into the United States.

The sanctions target Venezuelan government officials and others accused of violating human rights, suppressing political opposition and committing violence against peaceful protestors.

The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 was sponsored by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

U.S. Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, D-Fla., led the efforts to pass the bill in the House.

"As the Venezuelan people are deprived of liberty, protest the lack of food or necessary supplies available, and live through a deteriorating economy, we should keep up the pressure on the oppressors by freezing assets and removing visas of human rights violators in Maduro's regime," Ros-Lehtinen said in a statement. "As we send this bill to the White House for signature, I once again urge President Obama to add more names to the list of those sanctioned in order to fight for democracy in Venezuela."

The 2014 sanctions were first imposed after violence and political arrests swept Venezuela. High-profile Venezuelan opposition officials were arrested, including Leopoldo Lopez, leader of the Voluntad Popular -- or Popular Will -- opposition party and former mayor of Chacao. Lopez was sentenced in September to nearly 14 years imprisonment. He organized protests in 2014 calling for better security, an end to food shortages and enhanced freedom of speech for citizens, but the protests turned deadly -- about 43 people died, both government supporters and opponents.

"I am proud that Congress has once again stood with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions, and now the Obama administration must do its part by fully implementing this law against the many human rights violators in the Maduro regime," Rubio said on Wednesday . "As the despicable Maduro regime continues to violate the rights of its own people, it is our duty as a country to continue to do everything we can to address the catastrophe that has become Venezuela."

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