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H.R. 4587 (113th): Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act

The text of the bill below is as of May 7, 2014 (Introduced).


I

113th CONGRESS

2d Session

H. R. 4587

IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

May 7, 2014

(for herself, Mr. Diaz-Balart, Mr. Salmon, Mr. Sires, Mr. Deutch, Mr. Murphy of Florida, Mr. Stockman, Mr. Garcia, and Ms. Brown of Florida) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, and in addition to the Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned

A BILL

To impose targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for carrying out or ordering human rights abuses against the citizens of Venezuela, and for other purposes.

1.

Short title

This Act may be cited as the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act .

2.

Definition

In this Act, the term appropriate congressional committees means—

(1)

the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Committee on Financial Services, the Committee on the Judiciary, and the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives; and

(2)

the Committee on Foreign Relations, the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and the Committee on the Judiciary of the Senate.

3.

Findings

Congress finds the following:

(1)

On February 12, 2014, also known in Venezuela as the National Youth Day, students began protesting in several cities against Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro’s inability to stem violent crime, his undemocratic actions, and a rapidly deteriorating economy marked by high inflation and shortages of consumer goods.

(2)

On February 12, 2014, a judge issued an arrest warrant for Leopoldo López, leader of the opposition party Voluntad Popular, for unfounded allegations in connection with the student protests.

(3)

On February 17, 2014, the Government of Venezuela notified the United States Department of State that it had declared 3 consular officers at the United States Embassy in Venezuela personae non gratae.

(4)

On February 18, 2014, opposition leader Leopoldo López turned himself in to Venezuelan authorities, was arrested, and charged with criminal incitement, conspiracy, arson, and intent to damage property.

(5)

Leopoldo López is currently being held in a prison at a military facility.

(6)

Nongovernmental human rights organizations have alleged that the charges brought against Leopoldo López appear to be a politically motivated attempt to silence dissent in the country.

(7)

As of May 1, 2014, there have been 41 people killed, a reported 60 cases of torture, over 100 injured, and many unjustly detained in relation to pro-democracy demonstrations throughout Venezuela.

(8)

On February 19, 2014, President Obama criticized the Government of Venezuela for arresting protesters, called for their release, and urged the government to focus on the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people.

(9)

According to the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 for Venezuela, The principal human rights abuses reported during the year included corruption, politicization in the judicial system, and government actions to impede freedom of expression and restrict freedom of the press. The government did not respect judicial independence or permit judges to act according to the law without fear of retaliation. The government used the judiciary to intimidate and selectively prosecute political, union, business, and civil society leaders who were critical of government policies or actions. The government harassed and intimidated privately owned television stations, other media outlets, and journalists throughout the year, using threats, fines, property seizures, targeted regulations, arrests, and criminal investigations and prosecutions..

(10)

According to the Department of State’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013 for Venezuela, The following human rights problems were reported by NGOs, the media, and in some cases the government itself: unlawful killings, including summary killings by police elements; torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions and lack of due process rights that contributed to widespread violence, riots, injuries, and deaths in prisons; inadequate juvenile detention centers; arbitrary arrests and detentions; corruption and impunity in police forces; political prisoners; interference with privacy rights; corruption at all levels of government; threats against domestic NGOs; violence against women; anti-Semitism in the official media; trafficking in persons; violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity; and restrictions on workers’ right of association..

(11)

According to Freedom House’s Freedom in the World report of 2013 on Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, further weakened the independent media, reduced the opposition’s ability to serve as a check on government policy, and made threats to civil society groups..

4.

Actions at the Organization of American States

The Secretary of State shall direct the United States Permanent Representative to the Organization of American States to use the voice, vote, and influence of the United States at the Organization of American States to defend and protect the Inter-American Democratic Charter, and strengthen the independent Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to advance the protection of human rights throughout the Western Hemisphere, especially in Venezuela.

5.

Sanctions on persons responsible for violence in Venezuela

(a)

In general

The President shall impose the sanctions described in subsection (b) with respect to any person, including a current or former official of the Government of Venezuela or a person acting on behalf of that Government, that the President determines—

(1)

has perpetrated, or is responsible for ordering, controlling, or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against individuals participating in protests in Venezuela that began on February 12, 2014;

(2)

has directed or ordered the arrest or prosecution of a person primarily because of the person’s legitimate exercise of freedom of expression or assembly in relation to the protests in Venezuela that began on February 12, 2014;

(3)

has knowingly materially assisted, sponsored, or provided significant financial, material, or technological support for, or goods or services in support of, the commission of acts described in paragraph (1) or (2) in relation to protests in Venezuela that began on February 12, 2014; or

(4)

has engaged in censorship against individuals or media outlets disseminating information in relation to protests in Venezuela that began on February 12, 2014.

(b)

Sanctions described

(1)

In general

The sanctions described in this subsection are the following:

(A)

Asset blocking

(i)

In general

The exercise of all powers granted to the President by the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ( 50 U.S.C. 1701 et seq. ) to the extent necessary to block and prohibit all transactions in all property and interests in property of a person determined by the President to be subject to subsection (a) if such property and interests in property are in the United States, come within the United States, or are within the possession or control of a United States person.

(ii)

Exception

(I)

In general

The authority to impose sanctions under clause (i) shall not include the authority to impose sanctions relating to the importation of goods.

(II)

Good defined

In subclause (I), the term good has the meaning given that term in section 16 of the Export Administration Act of 1979 (50 U.S.C. App. 2415) (as continued in effect pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1701 et. seq.)).

(B)

Aliens ineligible for visas, admission, or parole

(i)

Visas, admission, or parole

An alien who is a person determined by the President to be subject to subsection (a) is—

(I)

inadmissible to the United States;

(II)

ineligible to receive a visa or other documentation to enter the United States; and

(III)

otherwise ineligible to be admitted or paroled into the United States or to receive any other benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act ( 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq. ).

(ii)

Current visas revoked

(I)

In general

The issuing consular officer, the Secretary of State, or the Secretary of Homeland Security (or a designee of one of such Secretaries) shall revoke any visa or other entry documentation issued to an alien who meets any of the criteria described in subsection (a), regardless of when issued.

(II)

Effect of revocation

A revocation under subclause (I) shall take effect immediately; and shall automatically cancel any other valid visa or entry documentation that is in the alien's possession.

(2)

Penalties

A person that violates, attempts to violate, conspires to violate, or causes a violation of paragraph (1)(A) or any regulation, license, or order issued to carry out paragraph (1)(A) shall be subject to the penalties set forth in subsections (b) and (c) of section 206 of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act ( 50 U.S.C. 1705 ) to the same extent as a person that commits an unlawful act described in subsection (a) of that section.

(3)

Exception to comply with united nations headquarters agreement

Sanctions under paragraph (1)(B) shall not apply to an alien if admitting the alien into the United States is necessary to permit the United States to comply with the Agreement regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations, signed at Lake Success June 26, 1947, and entered into force November 21, 1947, between the United Nations and the United States, or other applicable international obligations.

(c)

Waiver

The President may waive the application of sanctions under subsection (b) with respect to a person if the President—

(1)

determines that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States and on or before the date on which the waiver takes effect, submits to the appropriate congressional committees a notice of and justification for the waiver; or

(2)

determines that the conditions in Venezuela have improved with regard to respect for peaceful protest and basic human rights and on or before the date on which the waiver takes effect, submits to the appropriate congressional committees a notice of and justification for the waiver.

(d)

Regulatory authority

The President shall issue such regulations, licenses, and orders as are necessary to carry out this section.

(e)

Definitions

In this section:

(1)

Admitted; alien

The terms admitted and alien have meanings given those terms in section 101 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101).

(2)

Financial institution

The term financial institution has the meaning given that term in section 5312 of title 31, United States Code.

(3)

Materially assisted

The term materially assisted means the provision of assistance that is significant and of a kind directly relevant to acts described in paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (a).

(4)

United states person

The term United States person means—

(A)

a United States citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence to the United States; or

(B)

an entity organized under the laws of the United States or of any jurisdiction within the United States, including a foreign branch of such an entity.

6.

Imposition of sanctions with respect to the transfer of goods or technologies to Venezuela that are likely to be used to commit human rights abuses

(a)

In general

The President shall impose sanctions described in section 5(b) with respect to each person on the list required under subsection (b) of this section.

(b)

List

(1)

In general

Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees a list of persons who the President determines have knowingly engaged in an activity described in paragraph (2) on or after such date of enactment.

(2)

Activity described

(A)

In general

A person knowingly engages in an activity described in this paragraph if the person—

(i)

transfers, or facilitates the transfer of, goods or technologies described in subparagraph (C) to Venezuela, any entity organized under the laws of Venezuela, or any national of Venezuela, for use in or with respect to Venezuela; or

(ii)

provides services (including services relating to hardware, software, and specialized information, and professional consulting, engineering, and support services) with respect to goods or technologies described in subparagraph (C) after such goods or technologies are transferred to Venezuela.

(B)

Applicability to contracts and other agreements

A person engages in an activity described in subparagraph (A) without regard to whether the activity is carried out pursuant to a contract or other agreement entered into before, on, or after the date of the enactment of this Act.

(C)

Goods or technologies described

(i)

In general

Goods or technologies described in this subparagraph are goods or technologies that the President determines are likely to be used by the Government of Venezuela or any of the agencies or instrumentalities of the Government of Venezuela (or by any other person on behalf of the Government of Venezuela or any of such agencies or instrumentalities) to commit serious human rights abuses against the people of Venezuela, including—

(I)

firearms or ammunition (as such terms are defined in section 921 of title 18, United States Code), rubber bullets, police batons, pepper or chemical sprays, stun grenades, electroshock weapons, tear gas, water cannons, or surveillance technology; or

(II)

sensitive technology.

(ii)

Sensitive technology defined

(I)

In general

For purposes of clause (i)(II), the term sensitive technology means hardware, software, telecommunications equipment, or any other technology, that the President determines is to be used specifically—

(aa)

to restrict the free flow of unbiased information in Venezuela; or

(bb)

to disrupt, monitor, or otherwise restrict speech of the people of Venezuela.

(II)

Exception

The term sensitive technology does not include information or informational materials the exportation of which the President does not have the authority to regulate or prohibit pursuant to section 203(b)(3) of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (50 U.S.C. 1702(b)(3)).

(3)

Special rule to allow for termination of sanctionable activity

The President shall not be required to include a person on the list required under paragraph (1) if the President certifies in writing to the appropriate congressional committees that—

(A)

the person is no longer engaging in, or has taken significant verifiable steps toward stopping, the activity described in paragraph (2) for which the President would otherwise have included the person on the list; and

(B)

the President has received reliable assurances that such person will not knowingly engage in any activity described in such paragraph (2) in the future.

(4)

Updates of list

The President shall transmit to the appropriate congressional committees an updated list under paragraph (1)

(A)

not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act; and

(B)

as new information becomes available.

(5)

Form of list; public availability

(A)

Form

The list required under paragraph (1) shall be submitted in unclassified form but may contain a classified annex.

(B)

Public availability

The unclassified portion of the list required under paragraph (1) shall be made available to the public and posted on the Web site of the Department of State.

(c)

Waiver

The President may waive the application of sanctions described in section 5(b) with respect to a person on the list required under subsection (b) of this section if the President—

(1)

determines that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States and on or before the date on which the waiver takes effect, submits to the appropriate congressional committees a notice of and justification for the waiver; or

(2)

determines that the conditions in Venezuela have improved with regard to respect for peaceful protest and basic human rights and on or before the date on which the waiver takes effect, submits to the appropriate congressional committees a notice of and justification for the waiver.

7.

Comprehensive strategy to promote Internet freedom and access to information

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with heads of other Federal departments and agencies, as appropriate, shall submit to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a comprehensive strategy that is classified to the extent necessary to—

(1)

assist the people of Venezuela to produce, access, and share information freely and safely via the Internet;

(2)

increase the capabilities and availability of secure mobile and other communications through connective technology among human rights and democracy activists in Venezuela;

(3)

provide resources for digital safety training for media and academic and civil society organizations in Venezuela;

(4)

increase emergency resources for the most vulnerable human rights advocates seeking to organize, share information, and support human rights in Venezuela;

(5)

expand access to uncensored sources of local news and information using all available and effective mediums of communication, especially through platforms that leverage public-private partnerships;

(6)

expand activities to safely assist and train human rights, civil society, and democracy activists in Venezuela to operate effectively and securely;

(7)

expand access to proxy servers for democracy activists in Venezuela; and

(8)

discourage telecommunications and software companies from facilitating Internet censorship by the Government of Venezuela.

8.

Comprehensive strategy to encourage Venezuela to abide by the principles enshrined in the Inter-American Democratic Charter

Not later than 120 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State shall submit to the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a comprehensive strategy outlining how the United States is supporting the citizens of Venezuela in seeking—

(1)

free, fair, and transparent elections—

(A)

conducted with the presence of internationally recognized observers; and

(B)

in which—

(i)

all parties are permitted ample time to organize and campaign for such elections; and

(ii)

all candidates are permitted equitable access to the media;

(2)

basic civil liberties and human rights;

(3)

establishment of independent judiciaries and electoral councils; and

(4)

development of an independent civil society with the capacity to advocate on behalf of constituents.

9.

Statement of policy on political prisoners

It shall be the policy of the United States—

(1)

to support efforts to research and identify prisoners of conscience and cases of human rights abuses in Venezuela;

(2)

to offer refugee status or political asylum in the United States to political dissidents in Venezuela if requested and consistent with the laws and national security interests of the United States;

(3)

to offer to assist, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with the relocation of such political prisoners to other countries if requested, as appropriate and with appropriate consideration for the national security interests of the United States; and

(4)

to publicly call for the release of Venezuelan country dissidents by name and raise awareness with respect to individual cases of Venezuelan country dissidents and prisoners of conscience, as appropriate and if requested by the dissidents or prisoners themselves or their families.

10.

Authorization of appropriations for assistance to support civil society in Venezuela

There is authorized to be appropriated to the United States Agency for International Development for fiscal year 2015 not less than $5,000,000 to provide assistance to civil society in Venezuela.

11.

Sunset

This Act shall cease to be effective beginning on the date that is 2 years after the date of the enactment of this Act.