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Miami Rep. Joe Garcia: Oil sanctions from U.S. would play into Venezuelan government's hands


The U.S. government should grant more political asylum requests and reconsider deportation orders for Venezuelans in light of turmoil in their home country, a Miami congressman said Tuesday.

But Rep. Joe Garcia, a Democrat, stopped short of calling for sanctions against Venezuela, as other members of Congress and some Venezuelans in South Florida have suggested.

Venezuela's biggest oil client is the U.S., but Garcia said limiting oil imports from the South American country might give more political ammunition to the government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who has tried to blame the U.S. for two weeks of street protests. 

"We have to be clear that we don't end up playing the Goliath to Mr. Maduro's search to be David," Garcia said at a news conference.

President Barack Obama's administration has denied any involvement in the unrest. Secretary of State John Kerry has called the government's use of force against peaceful protesters "unacceptable."

On Tuesday, the Associated Press reported the U.S. expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in response to Maduro's decision last week to throw out three U.S. consular officials from Caracas.

In Miami, Garcia said it would be "ridiculous" to push for a trade embargo against Venezuela, similar to U.S. policy against Cuba. "How well that's worked out, no?" he said sarcastically at one point in Spanish.

"What we need here is to keep the Venezuelan community and the civil society nurtured," Garcia later added in English.

(On Monday, Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio argued in a powerful speech the U.S. must condemn Cuba because it exports repression to places like Venezuela.)

Garcia sent the president a letter Monday urging for asylum applications to be reviewed more quickly. He also asked Obama to consider granting Venezuela a special immigration designation known as Deferred Enforcement Departure that would allow immigrants to work and live here legally for now.

That's different from Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, which has been granted to immigrants from countries so overwhelmed with conflict that their residents cannot return -- including Nicaragua, Sudan and Syria.

Garcia said TPS for Venezuelans would be "premature" because it would imply that the fight against Maduro's government is over.

Congressional District 26 extends from Kendall to Key West, which means it doesn't include South Florida's two major Venezuelan strongholds, Doral and Weston. But the issue is one that Garcia has clung to, in an appeal to non-Cuban Hispanics who do make up his district.

While he did not mention any opponents by name, Garcia decried people using "the suffering of the Venezuelan people" for "petty political partisan elections in Miami" -- an apparent reference to Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, who criticized the congressman last week for taking campaign contributions from former U.S. Rep. Bill Delahunt, who has ties to Maduro's government.

In Miami these days, Venezuela news is local news. Eleven news crews showed up to Garcia's press conference.

The same hasn't been true across the country, Garcia noted, adding that the U.S. -- with it's "Euro-centric" focus, he said -- has been understandably interested in the protests in Ukraine.

"There's not much difference between what the Venezuelan people are asking for and what the Ukrainian students are asking for," he said in Spanish.