U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who last year prodded the White House to take strong action against Venezuelan officials for human rights abuses, said this week’s move to do so was “a good first step” but “there’s more work to be done, clearly.”
In an interview Tuesday with the McClatchy Washington Bureau, the Republican from West Miami welcomed the White House’s action but noted it only came after pressure from Congress. Rubio co-sponsored legislation last year that directed the White House to take the kind of action it did on Monday.
Florida’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, also co-sponsored the legislation.
Asked if the White House would have acted as it did absent the legislation, Rubio said, “Probably not.”
He added: “Certainly not absent the legislation and/or public speaking about it, creating awareness about it. I would hope they would have, but I doubt they would have. If you recall, just a few months ago, they openly opposed what they’re now doing.”
Last year, Obama administration officials testified that they didn’t yet want to use sanctions, fearful they might be counterproductive at that time.
On Monday, however, the administration issued an executive order that slapped sanctions on seven Venezuelan officials, including the heads of military intelligence and the police, and said the situation in the South American country posed an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
The executive order freezes the assets of officials implicated in the crack-down on protests last year that left more than 40 people dead on both sides and sparked the jailing of prominent opposition figures.
The White House’s response to the Venezuelan violence is indicative of its inattention to the country, Rubio said. He noted that a top Venezuelan official said this week that the U.S. was preparing an attack on the country – a claim Rubio called “laughable.”
“It’s hard enough to get the White House to pay attention to Venezuela, much less invade it,” Rubio, a potential presidential candidate, said in the interview at his Senate office.
As for the action the administration did take, Rubio said the White House should add more names to its sanctions list – “There’s no shortage of people that could be sanctioned,” he said – but that ultimately he was glad for the move that “shows solidarity with the cause of freedom for the Venezuelan people.”
“Look, corruption is deeply embedded in every aspect of the Venezuelan government, from corrupt officials who are taking bribes to allow drug traffickers to fly over Venezuelan air space, to the manipulation of currency, to the people that control food stocks and obviously make sure their families are fed and their associates are fed first before they make it to stores. And then there’s a level of incompetence in Venezuela,” he said. “They’re incompetent, but they’re also deeply corrupt.”