President Obama plans to sign into law a bill that would impose sanctions on Venezuelan government officials responsible for human rights violations or violence against protesters who took part in antigovernment demonstrations here this year, a White House spokesman said in Washington on Thursday.
Venezuela is a major oil supplier to the United States, but the two countries have had rocky relations during the governments of two leftist presidents, Nicolás Maduro and his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, who died last year.
Mr. Maduro has condemned the proposed sanctions and hinted at possible reprisals.
“The gringos now say that they are going to impose sanctions on Venezuela,” he said on Wednesday. “No one imposes sanctions on Venezuela, because our people decided to be free.”
The bill, which passed the Senate and the House this week, directs the president to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials and others who were involved in human rights violations aimed at protesters or who ordered the arrest or prosecution of someone for exercising freedom of expression or assembly.
The sanctions include revoking or refusing visas or barring entry to the United States, as well as freezing assets held in the United States.
“We have not and will not remain silent in the face of Venezuelan government actions that violate human rights and fundamental freedoms and deviate from well-established democratic norms,” said Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, at a news conference on Thursday, adding that Mr. Obama intended to sign the bill.
The protests against Mr. Maduro’s government broke out in February and continued for several weeks in Caracas, the capital, and other cities. Most large protests were peaceful, but in others, demonstrators engaged in rock-throwing battles with the National Guard or the police. Protesters, soldiers and government supporters died in the unrest, often from gunshot wounds. The government put the death toll at more than 40, but it was not clear that all of those cases were directly related to the demonstrations.
Interviews with protesters and other witnesses revealed an apparent pattern of abuses on the part of security forces, who frequently beat, kicked and threatened protesters and, in many cases, shot demonstrators at point-blank range with shotguns loaded with plastic pellets.
Human Rights Watch said that violence against protesters was “part of a systematic practice by the Venezuelan security forces.”
Mr. Maduro and other officials said any instances of abuse were isolated and would be prosecuted.
Two opposition mayors were sentenced to prison in relation to the protests, and the leader of an opposition political party, Leopoldo López, was arrested and charged with a series of crimes, including inciting violence. The men and their supporters say the government has targeted them for their political beliefs.
Mr. Maduro appeared to be preparing to retaliate.
“The United States Embassy is acting in a dangerous manner,” he said in a recent television interview. “The interventionism of the United States Embassy in Venezuela is starting to be intolerable.” He said that he was considering taking “diplomatic and political actions to defend the dignity, the peace and the sovereignty of our country.” In another recent speech, he said that embassy officials had tried to bribe members of the Venezuelan military.
The State Department said the embassy personnel had acted properly.
The United States has not had an ambassador in Caracas since 2010, and there is no Venezuelan ambassador in Washington. Like Mr. Chávez before him, Mr. Maduro has repeatedly kicked American diplomats out of the country, accusing them of planning to overthrow him or to destabilize the country.
New York Times
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