Criticism of Venezuela’s Response to President Obama’s Executive Order

An op-ed in El Pais, Spain’s leading newspaper, by Peace Zárate, an expert in public international law, criticizes Venezuela’s response to President Obama’s March 9th executive order. [1]

According to the author, the Venezuelan and UNASUR reactions to the executive order prompt four questions and answers.

First, are the reactions proportional to the executive order? “No” is his answer. He reasons, “No doubt that Caracas has the sovereign right to feel offended by the actions taken by the U.S. government. However, these [U.S.] actions are not “the most aggressive, . . . nefarious, unfair, and . . . [unprecedented measures] against Venezuela” as described by [Venezuelan President] Maduro. The measures have not been taken against the country as a whole, nor against all its citizens, nor against its economy, trade and bilateral investments, but only [against] seven officials individually responsible for severe and massive human rights violations. . . . These seven individuals are prohibited from entering U.S. territory and prevented from making transactions relating to assets located in the [U.S.].”

Second, are these sanctions illegal? “No,” again is his answer. He says, “The justification given by the Obama administration was respect for human rights and safeguarding democratic institutions within the framework of international law. These rules are contained in both treaties to which Venezuela and the [U.S.] are signatories, and in customary international law. Serious violations of human rights are not ‘internal affairs.’ They are the exception to the principle of non-intervention. And in the case of Venezuela, these violations have been established by the U.N. and [the] most respected international non-governmental human rights organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.” Moreover, the “U.S. sanctions [against] seven Venezuelan officials are: a minor gesture and [permissible].”

Third, was the U.S. entitled to impose these sanctions? “Yes,” is his answer even though the U.S. does not have a perfect record on human rights and even though “countries generally tend to avoid taking [their] own actions when human rights are violated in another state. . . .But this reluctance does not mean [a] State cannot adopt sanctions. . . .  And to do that, international law does not [require a state to have an unblemished record] (no state has that).”

Fourth, “what effect will [the sanctions] have for the individual rights of the citizens of Venezuela, where repression leads [to] a growing account of death and torture [as it] is governed by decree?” That question is unanswered even as “the practical effects for the seven Venezuelan officials affected by the sanctions are minimal” and “the impasse between Washington and Caracas eventually [will] be solved.”

======================================

[1] The reactions of Venezuela, UNASUR and ALBA were described in prior posts: U.S. and Cuba Squabble Over U.S. Sanctions Against Certain Venezuelans (Mar. 16, 2015); Venezuela’s Open Letter to the People of the United States (Mar. 18, 2015); and ALBA Emergency Meeting’s Action Regarding President Obama’s Executive Order Imposing Sanctions on Seven Venezuelans (Mar. 19, 2015).