House passes Venezuela sanctions bill

The House on Wednesday gave voice vote approval to a bill to impose sanctions against Venezuelan government officials responsible for human rights abuses against protestors. 

At least 42 people have died and more than 100 have been injured in the demonstrations across Venezuela. Protests began in Venezuela earlier this year largely in opposition to President Nicolás Maduro's handling of crime and the economy, including price controls that have led to inflation. 

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International concern about human rights in Venezuela emerged after a judge issued an arrest warrant against opposition leader Leopoldo López, who later turned himself in to authorities and is now being held in a military prison. 

Members of both U.S. political parties said the measure would provide support to pro-democracy protestors.

"We are today to condemn the ongoing human rights abuses being committed in Venezuela, and to answer the cries of the people of Venezuela," said bill sponsor Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.).

The sanctions would include freezing Venezuelan government officials' assets and preventing them entry to the U.S.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said the measure would boost the U.S. position while Venezuela works to reach a solution on its own.

"I continue to believe the dialogue is the best way out of the crisis. In the meantime, the legislation we are considering today makes it clear the United States will not turn a blind eye to human rights violations," Castro said.

But Rep. Gregory Meeks said the legislation would cause the U.S. to overstep its role in global affairs. The New York Democrat noted that the Obama administration already has the authority to impose sanctions.

"I remain committed to doing everything in my power to support a positive outcome in that nation. But I believe vehemently that unilateral action by the United States is not the answer," Meeks said.

In addition to sanctions, the measure would authorize $5 million to be spent on behalf of assistance to Venezuelan civilians.

The sanctions and appropriations would expire two years after the legislation's enactment. But the president would be able to waive the sanctions at any time.