MIAMI — The Obama administration is considering imposing sanctions on Venezuelan officials culpable in that nation’s repression and who travel to and hold bank accounts in the United States, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said Monday.
“There should be sanctions on individuals. ... The administration is looking at those,” said Wasserman Schultz, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, citing an unidentified “high-level” state department official she said she spoke with earlier in the morning.
A measure to impose individual sanctions on Venezuelan officials was introduced last week in the Senate by Republican Marco Rubio and co-sponsored by Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson.
Wasserman Schultz said she is also speaking to the administration about President Barack Obama taking executive action to clear up the immigration status of some Venezuelans in the United States.
Wasserman Schultz’s colleague, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla.,was the first to call on Obama over the immigration issue. Garcia appeared with Wasserman Schultz at a “listening session” Monday with Venezuelan residents and business owners in South Florida.
Garcia is also co-signing a letter that calls on Obama to unilaterally impose individual sanctions against Venezuela. The letter is being drafted by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.
Ros-Lehtinen plans later this week to introduce House legislation that codifies her call for more individual sanctions, which differ from general sanctions in that they target specific people and prevent them from traveling here or using U.S. banks. Garcia backs that legislation, too.
Wasserman Schultz said she would need to look at the letter and the legislation before committing to back them. She did express concerns, however, with imposing broader economic sanctions on Venezuela.
Wasserman Schultz said opposition leaders indicated that broad sanctions could help Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro claim that the U.S. is trying to undermine his country and effect a coup. She also pointed out that some Venezuelan officials are already subject to individual sanctions.
Though overshadowed globally by the Russian invasion of Ukrainian-held Crimea, the protests and suppression in Venezuela have had an impact on Florida, home to at least 117,000 Venezuelans, according to the 2012 Census. More than three-quarters of them live in South Florida.
Wasserman Schultz lives in Weston, which has the second-highest concentration of Venezuelan residents behind Doral, represented by Republican Mario Diaz-Balart. Ros-Lehtinen’s and Garcia’s districts also have sizable numbers of Venezuelan residents.
Wasserman Schultz, Garcia and Diaz-Balart supported Ros-Lehtinen’s other resolution, introduced last week in the House, that condemns the violence in Venezuela and calls for more Democracy there.
Despite the broad bipartisan agreement on Venezuela, the parties and politicians are still getting their partisan digs in.
Wasserman Schultz singled out Miami-Dade’s Republican Party for sending out an email last week that claimed Garcia was “nowhere to be found” over the issue of Venezuela.
“At a certain point, party politics needs to be set aside,” Wasserman Schultz said.
But Wasserman Schultz’s news conference included Garcia and Miami-Dade’s Democratic chairwoman, Annette Taddeo-Goldstein, and no Republicans. Wasserman Schultz also made sure to mention GOP’s role in blocking immigration reform.
“The deep concern, particularly around immigration issues in Venezuela,” Wasserman Schultz said, “is that because comprehensive immigration reform unfortunately has been stalled by the Republicans, we want to make sure that the Obama administration is able to have all the information they need to use the tools the president has at his disposal.”
She pointed out that the president said at his State of the Union speech that he would use executive actions where he could and where Congress did not act.
Said Garcia: “With the stalled immigration talks, there is a central issue in the Venezuelan community: People are under deportation orders that are deferred, asylum claims that are not being granted, work visas to businesses that the Venezuelan government has either bankrupted or confiscated. And so we need clarification.”
On Friday, Rubio said at an event in Doral that Venezuelans pleading asylum now have more grounds to do so.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who joined him, was more measured in his remarks, saying “We have a system for asylum in our country. The president’s got to follow that and look at every individual case.”
Scott, though, blasted Obama for not doing enough. The governor said he asked the president at a governor’s meeting four days earlier to consider sanctions, but Obama hadn’t spoken up.
Asked about Scott’s comments, Garcia said they’re to be disregarded because the governor has no real role in foreign affairs, similar to a “dog-catcher in Broward.”
“I’m sure they think their views are important someplace,” Garcia said. “I don’t think they are really important to what’s going on.”