BRUSSELS—The European Union is poised to draw up a fresh round of sanctions against the Venezuelan regime, in response to allegations that the regime has been torturing political opponents.
In a statement, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said members of the country’s brutal security services could be subject to measures that include asset freezes and travel bans as part of a new blacklist.
The move was prompted by a July 4 report from U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR) Michelle Bachelet that accused Nicolás Maduro’s administration of committing multiple “grave violations” of human rights.
European diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the “ramped up” rhetoric is also designed to kickstart the faltering “Oslo process,” which is trying to find a political solution to the escalating crisis.
They added that outrage over the fate of navy Captain Rafael Acosta, who died after a week in custody during which he was allegedly tortured as a suspect in a coup plot, had “focused minds” in EU capitals.
Mogherini waited for consultations with the foreign ministers of the 28 EU member states at a meeting in Brussels on July 15 before releasing the statement on behalf of the entire bloc on July 16.
It was also timed to coincide with a meeting of the International Contact Group on Venezuela in the Belgian capital, which brought together senior officials to discuss the latest developments in the Latin American country.
“The political crisis and economic collapse in Venezuela continues to take a heavy toll on the population, as illustrated by the 4 million people that have fled the country,” Mogherini said in the statement.
“The tragic death of Captain Acosta Arévalo while in custody of the Venezuelan security forces is a stark example of such continued deterioration of the human rights situation. …
“In light of the grave situation as reported by the U.N. HCHR, the EU is ready to start work towards applying targeted measures for those members of the security forces involved in torture and other serious violations of human rights.”
If there are “no concrete results from the ongoing negotiations, the EU will further expand its targeted measures,” Mogherini said, adding that the measures “can be reversed in case substantial progress is made towards the restoration of democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Venezuela.”
She concluded: “The EU underlines the need for increased coordination amongst all international actors in support of the current work towards a negotiated outcome towards free and fair elections.”
European diplomats said foreign ministers on the sidelines of the July 15 meeting, spearheaded by the UK, agreed to “seize an opportunity” to send a “message of support” to the U.N. high commissioner.
One diplomat said: “The idea was to get the ball rolling because things have been going nowhere. We’ve just been issuing weak statements that get watered down by the Spanish.
“We wanted to include the possibility of sanctions depending on developments. We needed to ramp up the pressure to try to make sure the Oslo process actually goes somewhere.”
A second diplomat from a different country said that the discussion on action against the Venezuelan government has “picked up pace,” given the recent atrocities attributed to the regime.
The diplomat said: “We’re still supporting the Oslo process and we still want it to work. But this is now also saying we need to look at how else we can put pressure on and what else we can do if the Oslo process, for whatever reason, stalls or doesn’t succeed.”
More than 50 countries, including the United States and EU countries, are calling for Venezuelan regime leader Nicolas Maduro to hand over power to legitimate interim President Juan Guaidó, saying that Maduro declared himself president after a rigged election.
However, the socialist leader has responded with a brutal crackdown on free speech and political opposition, leading to 18 members of his regime to be subject to EU sanctions for human rights violations.