Lawmakers call for restriction on Venezuelan oil, gas imports
By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog
MIAMI — Two Florida congressmen are demanding the Obama administration to take a strong stand against Venezuela and restrict oil flowing from the South American nation into the United States.
IN SUPPORT: Venezuela protester by the thousands gathered this past weekend in Doral, a city in Miami-Dade County known for its large Venezuelan population.
“We want to expel Venezuela’s embassy officials in Washington,” U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said last week during a news conference.
In September, Maduro’s government accused the top American diplomat and two other embassy officials of supporting plots to sabotage the country’s economy and electrical grid, ordering the trio to leave the country immediately.
The South Florida Republican congresswoman was joined by fellow South Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart in calling for stranger opposition to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Unrest in Venezuela has been going on for years. But the situation exploded on Feb. 12 when thousands of young people took to the streets Maduro’s government. The rally ended in a violent clash in which three protesters were killed, 60 were injured and hundreds were jail.
Since then, protesters have remained in the streets demanding the release of detainees. They also wants and end to censorship, repression, product shortages, police abuse, and the release of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez.
Lopez voluntarily surrendered last week to Venezuelan authorities who accused him of several serious crimes.
During the weekend, thousands of people gathered in South Florida to show support for the Venezuela protesters.
The Florida congressmen want say they will proposed legislation to block visas, property purchased and financial transactions of those who have been involved in suspected human-rights violations. Additionally, Ros-Lehtinen is calling for restrictions on buying oil and gasoline from Venezuela.
Ros-Lehtinen, chairman of the House Middle East and North Africa subcommittee, last week asked Secretary of State John Kerry to reduce by at least 10 percent the amount of oil imports from Venezuela. The move is, he said, in response to the ongoing conflict in Venezuela and the “countless human rights violations occurring.”
Importing less oil and gasoline, she said, will “send a signal of support to those being oppressed by the Maduro regime.”
But not everyone agrees it’s a good move.
“These are long- term contracts between gas stations and oil companies,” said Max Alvarez, vice president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors Inc.
Cutting back on Venezuelan gasoline will force gas retailers to look elsewhere, pay higher prices and pass the increased cost on to consumers.
“Citgo gas stations are not the Venezuelan government,” Alvarez said.
In fact, he said, they belong to independent owners who buy Citgo gasoline from the Venezuelan government “but operate no differently than Chevron or Shell who buy oil from Venezuela.”
According to Citgo’s website they have about 740 gas stations in Florida.
“Almost every company except Exxon Mobil are in Venezuela pumping and refining oil,” Alvarez said, adding that any instability in any part of the world will “impact on the price of oil and gasoline” whether it’s Venezuela or the Middle East.
“I don’t think we should panic,” he said. The good news is that “the price of gasoline has remained fairly stable over the last year.”
In the past month, drivers in Florida on average have seen a 10-cents per gallon hike in gasoline prices for regular grade, from $3.35 per gallon to $3.45, according to AAA in Florida. A year ago, AAA said, the average price for regular grade in the Sunshine State was $3.87.
AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins said in addition to troubles in Venezuela, weather and maintenance at refineries are sending pump prices higher.
Ros-Lehtinen is calling for a special meeting of the Organization of American States to garner support for a tough stance on Venezuela.
“I also urge responsible nations throughout the Western Hemisphere to hear the calls for democracy coming from the streets of Venezuela and abide by the principles instilled in the Inter-American Democratic Charter by convening a special session at the OAS to discuss the escalating conflict,” she said.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a statement released Thursday that “the (Obama) administration should use every diplomatic means necessary to draw attention to the courageous efforts of Venezuelans, the cowardice of Maduro’s government, and impose sanctions on those planning and actively participating in repressive and violent acts.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott also offered his support, saying “we must unite with the people of Venezuela who are fighting for their democracy and freedom.”
“It is our duty to support those who struggle for freedom under oppression in places like Venezuela and Cuba,” Scott said.
Speaking with reporters last week in Mexico, Obama urged the Venezuelan government to free young people arrested during the protests.
“Along with the Organization of American States, we call on the Venezuelan government to release protesters it has detained and engage in actual dialogue,” Obama said. “Rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people.”
Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter
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