On December 12, 2014, the US Congress presented to  President Obama the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014,” S.2142, 113th Cong. (2014).  S.2142 authorizes the president to exclude from the United States and freeze the assets of foreign persons involved in human rights abuses related to the Government of Venezuela’s crackdown on anti-government protesters.  White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest has said President Obama will sign the bill. 

Background

Anti-government protests in Venezuela have escalated since February of 2014 after government authorities arrested Leopoldo López, the leader of Venezuela’s primary opposition party, on criminal charges related to the protests.  According to Congressional findings in S.2142, numerous civilians have been arrested or killed by Venezuela’s security forces since the beginning of the protests.

Sanctions Against Foreign Persons

S.2142 requires that the president impose two sanctions on a foreign person whom the president determines to be subject to sanctions.  First, all property of a designated foreign person is frozen if in the United States or under the control of a United States person, and all transactions by US persons involving such property is prohibited.  Second, a designated foreign person is to be excluded from the United States and any immigration documentation is to be revoked.  The president may determine that a foreign person is subject to the sanctions if that person:

  • Perpetrated or was responsible for significant acts of violence or human rights abuses in Venezuela
  • Ordered or directed the arrest or prosecution of a person in Venezuela for the legitimate exercise of the freedom of speech or assembly
  • Materially assisted, sponsored, or provided significant material financial, material, or technological support for, or goods and services in support of, the commission of other sanctioned actions

A foreign person is any person, including a current or former official or agent of the Government of Venezuela, who is not a US citizen, an alien lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident, or an entity organized under the laws of the United States.

The president may waive the application of sanctions against a foreign person if the president determines that the waiver is in the “national interest” of the United States and the president notifies Congress of the waiver.    Further, the sanctions will expire on December 31, 2016.

S.2142 authorizes a maximum civil penalty of the greater of $250,000 or twice the value of the transaction against any person that violates, attempts to violate, or conspires to violate the sanctions.  For a person who willfully violates the sanctions, S.2142 authorizes a maximum criminal penalty of $1,000,000 and 20 years imprisonment.

Conclusion

S.2142 codifies economic sanctions that target foreign persons involved in human rights abuses related to the political unrest in Venezuela, and the sanctions are consistent with US export controls regarding Venezuela’s military forces.