WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House signaled on Wednesday that it will take a harder line against human rights abuses by Venezuela's socialist government against its opponents.
Over the summer, the State Department imposed a travel ban on Venezuelan officials accused of abuses during a months-long street protest movement in the winter and spring that left dozens of people dead. It echoed human rights groups that the Latin American country was guilty of arbitrary detentions and excessive use of force.
On Wednesday, Deputy National Security Adviser Antony Blinken said the Obama administration is open to taking further steps against Venezuela.
"We would not oppose to moving forward with additional sanctions," he said, later adding that "we look forward to working with you to go further."
His remarks came during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to consider his nomination as deputy secretary of state, the State Department's No. 2 post after Secretary of State John Kerry.
Congress has been considering bills to punish Venezuelan officials since the height of the protests in March. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida applauded Blinken's comments and reiterated his desire to freeze the assets of Venezuelan human rights abusers.
This is the first time the White House has publicly endorsed additional sanctions against Venezuela, but there have been recent signs of the administration's displeasure.
In September, President Barack Obama called for the release of Venezuelan protest leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is being held on charges of inciting violence.
Earlier this month, the Commerce Department's Bureau of Industry and Security said it was further limiting the sale of arms to Venezuela "in response to the Venezuelan military's violent repression of the Venezuelan people." The bureau said abuses by the Venezuelan military constitute "an unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S. national security and foreign policy.
The measure is meant to complement an existing arms embargo that the U.S. imposed on Venezuela in 2006 for the country's alleged failure to cooperate in the fight against terrorism.
Some analysts say any sanctions are likely to help Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro rally his base as he grapples with internal dissent and a faltering economy.
Associated Press write Luis Alonso Lugo reported this story in Washington and Hannah Dreier reported from Caracas, Venezuela.