Friday, December 19, 2014

Obama Signs Sanctions Against Venezuelan Officials

Yesterday, U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, which imposes sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for human rights violations linked to the wave of protests earlier this year.

While the law denies visas to these officials and freezes their U.S. assets, Reuters reports that there is still no official list with the names of those who would be affected by the measure. Diplomats in Caracas have told the news agency that the list will probably contain the names dozens of officials, involving mostly security officials with a direct hand in the crackdown on the February demonstrations.

Back in May, the office of Senator Marco Rubio put together a list of names for an earlier version of the bill, which cast a much wider net. Rubio’s list contained 23 names, including Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz, former Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres, several state governors and a number of intelligence, military and police officials.

Of course, the debate over the wisdom of sanctioning these officials continues to rage among Latin America policy experts, as the Global Post reports. And as The Guardian notes, some analysts have expressed concern that the incoming Republican majority in Congress could seek other, broader actions against Venezuela in the coming years.

From a domestic perspective, Obama timed his approval of the sanctions quite well. It sends a message to some -- but not all -- of the most vocal elements of the Republican opposition, who are currently slamming the president for being too lenient on Cuba. And as El Universal reports, a number of Venezuelan political analysts have argued that normalizing relations with Cuba punches a hole in President Nicolas Maduro’s anti-imperialist discourse. Still others, as the Miami Herald points out, suggest that Cuba’s eagerness to renew relations with the U.S. illustrates Havana’s growing doubts over the future of Venezuela-subsidized oil imports.

In Caracas, Maduro has given no high-profile reaction to sanctions ever since telling a crowd of government supporters on Monday that the “insolent Yankees” should “shove their U.S. visas where they should be shoved.” However, El Nacional reports that the Venezuelan leader took to Twitter yesterday to characterize Obama as hypocritical for relaxing the hostile relationship with Cuba while pursuing “aggressions” against his government.

In a New York Times op-ed that ran yesterday, Venezuelan National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello makes a similar argument about alleged hypocrisy. In his column the official points to the fact that U.S. lawmakers are criticizing Venezuelan police just as African-American communities around the country are expressing outrage over police killings of unarmed black men.

News Briefs
  • In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s historic announcement, a number of interesting pieces on the Cuban reaction to the news have been published. The AP has a roundup of local opinions, noting that most people on the island welcomed the news even as some expressed fears that it could lead to future instability or economic chaos.  El Nuevo Herald has a collection of responses to the news from Cuban artists and writers, among whom the reactions are also largely positive. And in an op-ed in today’s New York Times, Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez describes the positive impact of this week’s news while also profiling the concerns of Cuban civil society about handing the government a “blank check.”  Ultimately, she writes, “We cannot confirm that it will be better, but at least it will be different.”
  • Writing for the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage blog, political scientist Greg Weeks and geographer John Weeks take an interesting look at some of the demographic factors that influence support in the U.S. for normalizing relations with Cuba, as well as those which could fuel economic instability in the coming years. Chief among the latter is the fact that the share of the older population on the island is greatly increasing, placing a growing burden on the country’s social programs.
  • Reactions to Brazil’s Truth Commission Report have not all been positive. On Monday, the country’s Superior Military Tribunal released a statement claiming that the report is biased and factually incorrect, and ultimately “failed” in its “goal of clarifying the facts of the time,” Veja and EFE report.
  • The head of one of the two self-defense groups that clashed earlier this week in a Michoacan shootout that killed 11 claims members of the country’s newly-created gendarmerie police force were involved in the clash. A rival autodefensa chief has denied this claim, as EFE reports, but Animal Politico reports that the government has confirmed that 56 members of the elite police squad are currently under investigation over the incident.