The crackdown on political dissent in Venezuela continues.
Maria Corina Machado, expelled from the Venezuelan National Assembly by members of the president’s ruling party earlier this year under dubious legal authority, was charged for allegedly conspiring in a plot to assassinate the president. If convicted, she could be sentenced to up to 16 years in prison. She denies the charges, saying they are distractions created by the Maduro government to take attention away from the country’s economic problems ahead of next year’s legislative elections.
Legal action has also been taken against other opposition political figures. Popular Will Party leader Leopoldo Lopez and opposition mayors Enzo Scarano and Daniel Cebellos have been in jail since last winter, accused of inciting violence during popular protests.
The United States is deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s continuing effort to intimidate its political opponents through abuse of the legal process. The charges against Machado raise concerns once again about Venezuela’s use of prosecutorial power to silence and punish government critics.
Last week, President Obama signed legislation to impose travel restrictions and sanctions that would block assets in the United States of individuals who have perpetrated or are responsible for ordering or directing significant violence or serious human rights abuses against persons associated with the anti-governmental protests that began in Venezuela in February 2014, among others. This follows the Department of State’s announcement in July of travel restrictions for current and former Venezuelan officials responsible for or complicit in human rights abuses.
We continue to call on the Venezuelan government to respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and release political prisoners, including dozens of students, opposition leader Lopez and Mayors Cebellos and Scarano. Such actions will serve to enhance respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and are consistent with the principles and values set forth in the OAS Charter, the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Inter-American Democratic Charter.