U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words to say on Thursday against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as the death toll rose amidst weeks of unrest in the South American country.
"We are engaged now with trying to find a way to get the Maduro government to engage with their citizens, to treat them respectfully, to end this terror campaign against his own people and to begin to hopefully respect human rights and the appropriate way of treating his people," Kerry said during his testimony in front of the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives.
When asked by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen as to what actions the U.S. is taking to respond to the turmoil in Venezuela, Kerry called on the Organization of American States (OAS) and Venezuela’s neighbors to “ensure accountability” of the Maduro regime.
“We are taking actions and not just making statements,” Kerry noted and he said that Vice President Joe Biden “talked with leaders of other countries” of the Americas during his visit to Chile this week.
Kerry’s comments came one day after he spoke to a separate House committee and threatened with imposing sanctions against Venezuela if efforts at mediation were to fail.
“We are prepared, if necessary, to invoke the Democratic Charter of the OAS and get involved in various ways, through sanctions or otherwise, but the economy there is already quite fragile,” Kerry mentioned.
Numerous legislators representing the Democratic and Republican parties have urged the White House to raise sanctions against the Maduro regime and ease immigration requirements for Venezuelan migrants. On Thursday the Senate approved a resolution with bipartisan sponsorship that condemns the Venezuelan government and urges U.S. President Barack Obama to "impose targeted sanctions."
Aside from a closed-door meeting last week of the OAS Permanent Council, efforts by the regional body to intervene have been limited. This will likely continue after OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza said this morning, “it has been determined that what is occurring in Venezuela does not affect democracy” in the Americas.
Maduro has rejected any mediation from the OAS yet has welcomed the involvement of the UNASUR bloc of twelve South American countries that excludes the U.S. An UNASUR commission is expected to travel to Caracas this week and analyze the crises that has further deepened political divisions and left at least twenty-eight people dead.
The odds of reconciliation between the Venezuelan government and opposition demonstrators continue to be microscopic yet there have been some divisions within each side. Despite belonging to the ruling Socialist Party, Táchira state governor José Vielma Mora criticized heavy-handed tactics by the National Guard and said last month, “I am against putting down a peaceful protest with weapons.” Furthermore, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, Gen. John Kelly, claimed that the Venezuelan military are "loyal to themselves" and not Maduro.
The opposition faces their own challenges such as effectively attracting support among poorer Venezuelans. Legislator and protest leader Maria Corina Machado accused the government of using armed colectivo gangs to prevent the poor from protesting. But according to social activist and self-proclaimed “anti-Chavez leftist” Julio “Coco” Jiménez, the opposition have only themselves to blame:
“The opposition leaders lack any policy directed at (impoverished) sectors of the population because they view poverty and chavismo as a single vote, a statistic. They don’t understand how a poor person thinks or the suffering that’s faced by those who come from below. Thus, they have trouble detailing a speech (to the poor) and do not have any organizational capacity in the barrios.”Video Source– Reuters via YouTube (Two weeks ago, Secretary State of State John Kerry blamed the Venezuelan government for using the U.S. as a scapegoat for the country’s “inattention to its own economy and dealing with its own citizens.”)
Online Sources – Semana.com; ABC News; AFP; El Universal; Reuters; Christian Science Monitor; Businessweek; Fox News Latino; The Latin Americanist; LAHT; La Republica