MEXICO CITY Impatience with the Venezuelan government is growing over its "total failure" to show good faith in talks to resolve the country's political crisis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday.
Addressing the media during a visit to Mexico City, Kerry said he hoped that sanctions on Venezuela would not be necessary, but that "all options remain on the table."
"The power is in the hands of the government, and the government has to exercise that power in a responsible way in order to make the choices to create stability and a way forward in Venezuela," Kerry told a news conference.
Since anti-government demonstrations began in Venezuela in February, at least 42 people have been killed and more than 800 injured. About 3,000 people have also been arrested, with more than 200 still behind bars.
The unrest has been Venezuela's worst in a decade and drawn attention to the OPEC oil producer's deep economic problems, including soaring inflation and scarcities of basic goods.
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, the handpicked successor to the late U.S. antagonist and leftist firebrand Hugo Chavez, has railed against talk of sanctions from Washington, which he terms "the imperialist elitists from the north."
But talks between Maduro's government and the opposition to resolve the crisis have stumbled.
Mediators from the Union of South American States (UNASUR) regional grouping urged both sides back to the negotiating table on Tuesday.
Kerry said "the neighbors" of Venezuela, including the United States, are concerned about the situation there causing regional instability.
But he stressed that Washington is not undertaking any action in Venezuela and, in fact, has reached out to third parties, including the Vatican, to mediate the crisis.
Appearing beside Kerry, Mexican Foreign Minister Jose Antonio Meade said he backed the Venezuela talks, but they had to include conditions such as respect for human rights.
A U.S. Senate committee on Tuesday passed a bill that would impose travel and financial sanctions on individual Venezuelans deemed responsible for human rights abuses.
However, a State Department official said the U.S. government did not "support taking those actions right now," as they risked torpedoing negotiations.
"We certainly understand the frustration that has led to that legislation. And the focus on the human rights abusers we think is the right one," said the official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity.
Kerry said he was eager for sanctions to be avoided.
"Our hope is that ... President Maduro and others will make the decisions that will make it unnecessary for them to be implemented. But all options remain on the table at this time with the hopes that we can move the process forward," he said.
(Additional reporting by Dave Graham; editing by G Crosse and Tom Brown)