Skip to main content

The Venezuelan nightmare

By Robert Menendez
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Tue May 20, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sen. Robert Menendez says violence against protesters has made Venezuela a nightmare
  • In Venezuela, the rule of law is abandoned and corruption runs rampant, he says
  • Menendez calls for sanctions on those responsible for violating the rights of demonstrators

Editor's note: Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Images of repression and brutality against peaceful protesters demanding democracy and the elimination of corruption are not limited to Ukraine.

In our hemisphere, Venezuelans are suffering at the hands of their own government. Violence and systematic human rights abuses have resulted in 41 dead, hundreds injured, and thousands detained.

These rights violations in Venezuela were chronicled this month by Human Rights Watch in a 103-page report, entitled "Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela's Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System."

The study pulls back the veil of President Nicolas Maduro's administration and shows its willingness to go to dangerous extremes to silence political dissent.

Sen. Robert Menendez
Sen. Robert Menendez

It depicts an unraveling situation in Venezuela far worse than suspected. The litany of rights violations is illustrated in graphic fashion: the unlawful use of force, violent mass arrests, crackdowns on free speech and press freedom, blanket denial of due process, and abuses in detention facilities, including electric shock torture.

Employing tactics perfected by the Cuban regime, marauding Venezuelan security forces are shown teaming up with armed gangs known as colectivos to beat unarmed demonstrators, firing live ammunition and tear gas canisters indiscriminately into crowds.

In one instance, according to the report, a member of the National Guard "stepped on (a young protester's) head and fired rubber bullets at point-blank range in his thigh. The shot struck a set of keys in his pocket, dispersing metal shards as well as rubber pellets into his leg." He was then taken to a military detention facility, denied medical treatment for hours, and lost so much blood that he was near death when finally permitted to see a doctor.

While pro-democracy protesters are not fault-free in the use of violence, the primary responsibility for the horrifying, unjustified use of force rests with Maduro and his band of apparatchiks.

Venezuela's alleged socialist paradise has morphed into a verifiable real-life nightmare.

At a time when many countries in the Americas are experiencing an economic ascent underpinned by growing middle classes, every indicator reveals that Venezuela is regressing at an alarming rate.

Venezuela owes airlines $4 billion
Bread shortage frustrates Venezuelans
Venezuela's 'erosion of Democratic order'

Frightening levels of criminal violence are coupled with economic freefall, punctuated by sky-high inflation and a scarcity of basic food items.

In Venezuela today, the rule of law is abandoned, the judiciary is hollowed out, freedom of the press is nonexistent, and corruption runs rampant. Drug traffickers collude regularly with government officials and the free flow of narcotics out of the country poses a threat to hemispheric security, as well as to the United States.

Last month, Maduro pleaded in The New York Times that "Venezuela needs peace and dialogue to move forward" -- but instead, he has delivered discord and suffering.

With no alternative recourse against the crisis consuming their country, Venezuelan citizens young and old have been turning out in mass demonstrations since early February. Their courage has been met with repression, and the images flooding social media networks induce an outpouring of sympathy, mixed with terror and grief.

Attempts by South American governments and the Vatican to mediate talks between the Venezuelan government and political opposition have collapsed and mass arrests continue. The Organization of American States must take a forceful position and demand respect for human rights and democratic inclusion in Venezuela.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, playing the role of a bystander to this chaos is unacceptable.

My response to Maduro-inspired mayhem is authoring bipartisan legislation imposing targeted sanctions on those individuals responsible for violating the rights of peaceful demonstrators.

While designed to avoid hurting the Venezuelan people, these hard-hitting penalties include asset freezes and visa bans for high-ranking members of the Maduro administration who have terrorized large segments of the population with unflinching impunity.

The legislation also authorizes $15 million to defend human rights, support democratic civil society, and strengthen the rule of law.

The moment of action is upon us.

On Tuesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will pass this legislation. As a nation of the Americas guided by principles of liberty and democracy, we are duty bound to respond when the light of freedom is threatened.

#SOSVenezuela is a constant refrain on social media networks, galvanizing international attention to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela.

The U.S. Congress hears your cries and stands in solidarity.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 11:30 PM EST, Sun December 28, 2014
Les Abend: Before we reach a conclusion on the outcome of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, it's important to understand that the details are far too limited to draw a parallel to Flight 370
updated 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 6:27 PM EST, Sat December 27, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT