WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Congress gave its final approval Wednesday to new sanctions against Venezuelan officials accused of violating the human rights of anti-government protesters this year.
Thousands of activists were arrested and more than 43 people were killed during mass demonstrations against the government of President Nicolás Maduro, the elected successor of late strongman Hugo Chávez, which raged from February to May.
The U.S. hit Venezuelan government officials with travel bans in July, but lawmakers said they did not receive White House support for a sanctions bill against Caracas.
But failed efforts from Latin American allies to reform the government in Venezuela led President Barack Obama to switch his stance on increased sanctions, the White House said in November.
The sanctions, passed by the Senate on Tuesday before being approved by unanimous voice vote in the House of Representatives Wednesday, freeze assets and deny visas to Venezuelan authorities responsible for violence and political detentions triggered by the protests.
“Venezuelans deserve serious reforms, reforms they fought for peacefully earlier this year,” House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Ed Royce said.
“With the passage of today’s legislation, the U.S. sends a strong message of support for all Venezuelans who yearn for freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”
House Democrat Juan Vargas said the sanctions would not hurt everyday Venezuelans.
“These sanctions won’t touch the oil sectors or other vital parts of the economy, only those [officials] responsible for the crackdown,” he said on the House floor.
Senator Robert Menendez, who sponsored the legislation in the Senate, said that “when this bill becomes law, a spotlight will shine on Venezuela’s abusers.”
The bill now heads to Obama’s desk.
Despite the death of longtime Washington adversary Chávez, Maduro on several occasions has accused the United States of fomenting the protests and seeking to overthrow and even assassinate him.
On Saturday Maduro said he was reassessing diplomatic relations with Washington.