On March 9, President Obama imposed economic sanctions on seven senior members of the Venezuelan military and intelligence services and authorized sanctions against any person involved in or responsible for the human rights violations occurring in Venezuela. The Executive Order (E.O.) follows by just over one month the State Department's February 2, 2015, announcement that a number of individuals and their family members (all unnamed) would be denied entry into the U.S. because of their roles in human rights abuses and public corruption in Venezuela.

The President's E.O. declares a national emergency based on the threat to national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by events in Venezuela and implements the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (the Act), which was signed into law on December 18, 2014. The Act supports representative democracy in Venezuela by imposing sanctions holding accountable government and security officials responsible or complicit in the violence against anti-government protestors. Pursuant to the Act, the President imposed sanctions blocking transactions, freezing accounts and prohibiting immigration to the United States of seven individuals who are current or former members of the Venezuelan military and intelligence services. All of the designated individuals come from the top ranks of the state security apparatus responsible for cracking down on the anti-government protests that started in February 2014. The seven sanctioned officials are listed at the end of this alert.

The E.O. further calls on the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to target Venezuelans (and their property) responsible for or complicit in actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions, acts of violence or violations of human rights, actions prohibiting or limiting the exercise of freedom of expression or assembly, or public corruption by senior officials within the Government of Venezuela.

(Not mentioned in the E.O. is a provision of the Act (sec. 5(b)(3)) excluding from the President's power under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in this instance the authority to block imports into the U.S. from Venezuela. The implications of this subsection are not clear.)

In the future, any current or former official of the Government of Venezuela could be subject to these sanctions, so we can expect the number of people on OFAC's list under this program to grow over time. As with certain other U.S. sanctions programs, all U.S. persons are prohibited from doing business with any designated individual, and anyone who meets the E.O.'s criteria will have their property and assets in the United States blocked, and be denied a visa to the United States.

Additionally, the E.O. prohibits donations to or from persons sanctioned under it and requires that the immigration restrictions may not be applied in contravention of the Agreement regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations or other applicable international obligations.

The seven sanctioned officials are:

Antonio José Benavides Torres, Commander of the Strategic Region for the Integral Defense (REDI) of the Central Region of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) and former Director of Operations for Venezuela's Bolivarian National Guard (GNB). The GNB is alleged to have engaged in acts of violence and violations of human rights against persons involved in anti-government protests last year, including through the use of physical violence and sexual assault.

Gustavo Enrique González López, Director General of Venezuela's Bolivarian National Intelligence Service (SEBIN) and President of Venezuela's Strategic Center of Security and Protection of the Homeland. In his role with SEBIN, González López is alleged to have surveilled government opposition leaders and played a prominent role in repressing anti-government protests.

Justo José Noguera Pietri, President of the Venezuelan Corporation of Guayana, a state-owned entity, and former General Commander of the GNB. The GNB has committed violence and violations of human rights against anti-government protesters.

Katherin Nayarith Haringhton Padron, national level prosecutor of the 20th District Office of Venezuela's Public Ministry. As prosecutor, Haringhton Padron charged several opposition leaders, based on fabricated evidence, with the crime of conspiracy to assassinate or establish a coup.

Manuel Gregorio Bernal Martinez, Chief of the 31st Armored Brigade of Caracas of Venezuela's Bolivarian Army and former Director General of SEBIN. He was the head of SEBIN when officials fired their weapons on protestors, killing two.

Miguel Alcides Vivas Landino, Inspector General of Venezuela's FANB and former Commander of REDI of the Andes Region of the FANB. He is responsible or complicit in acts of violence and violations of human rights against anti-government protesters.