Senate, Obama extend sanctions on Venezuela after prodding by Rubio

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After months on the presidential campaign trail, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has returned to his Senate agenda, making a recent deal with the White House that included the extension of sanctions on Venezuela and the confirmation of an ambassador to Mexico whose nomination he had delayed.

Rubio, who ended his bid for the White House last month, has zeroed in on the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who he has accused of mismanagement and corruption. He called Maduro “someone, who, quite frankly, isn’t qualified to lead anything, much less a nation of the stature of Venezuela.”

“The Maduro regime’s abuses of power and violations of human rights are hurting innocent people in our hemisphere and threaten the national security interests of the United States, and we have a responsibility to stand with the Venezuelan people by extending these sanctions,” he said.

Sanctions against Venezuela, which are aimed at about 20 individuals accused of human rights abuses and corruption, were imposed by President Obama three years ago and are set to expire. They freeze assets in the United States and ban entry into this country for those who are under sanction.

In late April, Rubio was involved in negotiations that resulted in a Senate vote to extend the sanctions for another three years. Obama also agreed to use his executive authority to extend the sanctions.

In return, Rubio released his more than six month hold on the nomination of Roberta Jacobson as the next ambassador to Mexico. She was quickly confirmed by the Senate, even though, as head of the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Jacobson had irritated Rubio with her role in normalizing relations with Cuba.

But the effectiveness of the sanctions Rubio sought to extend is in question.

“Success is not guaranteed,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.

Once in charge of policy at the White House Office of the Special Envoy for the Americas, Farnsworth said the United States wants to pressure Venezuela toward democratic changes without doing harm to an economy that is in danger of collapse.

“Nobody wants to hasten the death of that economy,” he said. 

Farnsworth said the United States also wants “flexibility” in dealing with Venezuela, so it’s taking a measured approach to sanctioning the nation.

Plummeting oil prices have badly hurt Venezuela because more than 90 percent of the country’s exports are oil and petroleum products. Farnsworth says corruption and mismanagement of the economy, under former President Hugo Chavez and now Maduro, are also largely to blame.

“There is going to be a point where things could really collapse,” he said.

Rubio agrees.

“The United States has a national interest in making sure Venezuela does not spiral even further out of control,” he said.

The Florida senator says the United States should prod the Organization of American States to pressure Venezuela.

Meanwhile, Venezuela accused the United States this week of conspiring with the OAS to topple the Maduro government.

Ana Radelat is a contributing writer for LATINO Magazine.

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