Washington: The US House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to impose targeted sanctions on Venezuelan officials responsible for violent crackdowns on anti-government protests that have left at least 42 people dead.
The bipartisan bill, should it become law, would allow President Barack Obama to freeze assets, block property and ban US visits by any former or current official of President Nicolas Maduro`s government behind the abuse.
"The Venezuelan people have sent us a distress signal for help," the bill`s author, House Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, said shortly before the voice vote that encountered little if any verbalized dissent.
"Today, we answer that call by condemning the actions taken by the Maduro regime and showing our support to the people of Venezuela who are seeking liberty, freedom, human rights and justice," she added.
A similar measure was approved by a Senate committee and awaits a full floor vote. Should it pass, the two versions would need to be reconciled before reaching Obama`s desk.
Ros-Lehtinen and others in the House noted how Maduro forces have used intimidation, arrests, and deadly violence against protesters, many of them students, who began taking to the streets in February.
The unrest began as an outpouring of anger against the inability of Maduro, the hand-picked successor to late longtime socialist strongman Hugo Chavez, to tamp down the high crime rate.
But it quickly spread and included protests against high inflation and the lack of household basics like milk and toilet paper in the oil-rich nation.
Ros-Lehtinen said that, in addition to 42 deaths, there have been nearly 60 reported cases of torture, more than 2,000 people detained and hundreds more injured, while negotiations to end the unrest have stalled.
"All of us in Congress want nothing more than a peaceful resolution to this conflict," House Democrat Joaquin Castro told his colleagues.
The sanctions would not harm average Venezuelans "who are already suffering as a result of terrible mismanagement by their country`s leaders," Castro said.
"This bill does not touch the Venezuelan oil sector, or other parts of the country`s economy," he added.