U.S. Senate approves Venezuela sanctions bill

Dec 10, 2014, 7:22 AM EST
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro (C), First Lady Cilia Flores (L) and Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez (R) attend the commemoration of the 190 years of the Battle of Ayacucho and grade promotion ceremony of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces at the National Pantheon in Caracas, on December 9, 2014.
AFP/Getty Images

The United States Senate has approved a bill which would impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials found to have violated protesters' rights. The BBC writes:

Thousands of activists who took part in anti-government protests which erupted across the Latin American country in February were arrested.

The bill will now go to the House of Representatives for approval. The Obama administration opposed sanctions in the past but recently signalled it might support the bill. Relations between the two countries have been frosty since they recalled their ambassadors four years ago.

The Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act targets current and former Venezuelan officials who directed "significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-government protests in Venezuela that began on 4 February".

More than 40 people from both sides of the political divide were killed in the anti-government protests which took place in Venezuela between February and May.

The United Nations condemned "all violence by all sides in Venezuela" and called on the government "to ensure that people are not penalised for exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression".

The government said opposition leaders had incited protesters to violence and had been planning a coup against the government of President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on Tuesday night railed against the U.S. Senate for passing a bill that would impose sanctions on government officials found to have violated protesters' rights during demonstrations earlier this year. Reuters reports:

"Who is the U.S. Senate to come sanction the nation of Bolivar," he thundered during a military act, in reference to South America's 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar. "We don't accept insolent imperialist sanctions," he added to cheers from the audience, which included Argentine football icon and leftist Diego Maradona.

The measure targets officials involved in what it considers a crackdown on political opponents during the three month-long street protests over crime and the economy that left 43 dead with victims on both sides. Maduro says the unrest was part of a broader U.S.-backed attempt to unseat him.

The measure still needs to be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed by President Barack Obama to become law. While Washington had refrained from pushing for sanctions, an official said last month Obama would now back them.

"If the crazy paths of sanctions is imposed, President Obama, I think you're going to come out looking very bad," Maduro added, before reciting verses by Chilean poet and leftist activist Pablo Neruda that Latin America can "come out of the rocks and the air to bite" if it feels threatened by North America.