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“All human beings are born free and equal

in dignity and rights.”

- Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Venezuela: Economic Sanctions and Human Rights

Tuesday, July 23, 2019 - 11:30am
2172 Rayburn House Office Building


Please join the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission for a briefing on economic sanctions and human rights in Venezuela in the context of the country’s ongoing political crisis. 

For more than a decade, the United States has employed various sanctions as a policy tool in response to concerns about the activities of the Venezuelan government or Venezuelan individuals. These have included sanctions related to terrorism, drug trafficking, trafficking in persons, antidemocratic actions, human rights violations, and corruption. As of July 5, 2019, the Treasury Department had imposed financial sanctions on 115 individuals, and the State Department had revoked the visas of hundreds of individuals. Of those subject to financial sanctions, 85 have been targeted under Executive Order 13692 issued by President Obama to implement the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, legislation passed by Congress in response to increasing repression in Venezuela.

In addition to the sanctions on individuals, since August 2017 President Trump has signed three executive orders that block financial transactions by the Venezuelan government. In November 2018 and January 2019 Trump issued additional executive orders that have been used to block property and transactions involving Petroleos de Venezuela, PdVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, as well as banks and shipping vessels. Taken together, these sanctions have made it harder for Venezuela to sell oil, its main commodity, and to import goods, including food and medicines.

Meanwhile, since at least 2015 Venezuela has been characterized by economic contraction and a worsening humanitarian crisis. GDP has fallen every quarter since the start of 2014, according to the Venezuelan Central Bank. Also according to government sources, the neonatal death rate in 2015 was 100 times greater than in 2012, while the number of people who reported eating two meals or less per day tripled between 2015 and 2016 and nearly three-quarters of the population reported losing weight unintentionally. Out-migration has been accelerating since 2016. In 2017 1.64 million Venezuelans lived abroad compared to 697,562 in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration. By February 2019 IOM estimated that 3.4 million Venezuelans were living outside their country.

Violations of civil and political rights, the closing of political space, arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial executions in Venezuela have been widely documented, most recently by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and have led many to support maximal use of economic sanctions to pressure for rapid political change. But there is growing concern that the sanctions are deepening the humanitarian crisis and further undermining Venezuelans’ economic and social rights while resolution of the political crisis remains elusive. The briefing will examine this concern.

This briefing will be open to Members of Congress, congressional staff, the interested public, and the media. For any questions, please contact Kimberly Stanton at 202-225-3599 (for Rep. McGovern) or Piero Tozzi at 202-225-3765 (for Rep. Smith). 

Hosted by:

James P. McGovern
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC
Christopher H. Smith
Member of Congress
Co-Chair, TLHRC

Opening Remarks

Panel I

  • Jeffrey Sachs, Professor and Director, Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University (by video conference)
  • Francisco Rodriguez, Chief Economist, Torino Economics LLC
    Written statement
    Appendix - graphs
  • Eric Schwartz, President, Refugees International
    Written statement
  • John Walsh, Director for Drug Policy and the Andes, Washington Office on Latin America
    Written statement


  • Rhoda Margesson, Specialist in International Humanitarian Policy, Congressional Research Service


116th Congress