U.S. senators propose more aid, international sanctions for Venezuela

April 3, 2019

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Keeping up pressure for political change in Venezuela, 15 U.S. senators introduced sweeping bipartisan legislation on Wednesday to provide $400 million in new aid, internationalize sanctions and ease penalties on officials who recognize a new government in Caracas.

The Republicans and Democrats introduced the Venezuelan Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development (Verdad) Act more than two months after President Donald Trump’s administration recognized opposition leader Juan Guiado as the country’s legitimate leader, pushing for the departure of President Nicolas Maduro.

Senator Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and a lead sponsor, said the act should “put teeth behind” support for the Venezuelan people and provide tools for a “substantive and peaceful” strategy.

“This legislation will offer needed humanitarian assistance and support for Venezuela’s long path to democratic order,” said Republican Senator Marco Rubio, another lead sponsor, who has worked closely with Trump on Venezuela.

The act would also revoke visas for relatives of Venezuelans sanctioned in connection with corruption or human rights abuse, remove sanctions on those not involved in human rights abuses if they recognize Guiado and require work with Latin American and European governments to implement their own sanctions.

It also requires U.S. agencies to lead efforts to recover “corrupt financial holdings” of Venezuelan officials and accelerate planning with international financial institutions on Venezuela’s economic restructuring.

The bill does not address temporary protected immigration status, or TPS, which would allow 70,000 Venezuelans already in the United States to remain. TPS proposals have faced some opposition in the Trump administration, which takes a hard line on immigration.

Menendez said on a conference call with reporters that he hoped separate legislation seeking TPS for Venezuelans could move concurrently with the Verdad Act.

He also said he thought the bill stood an excellent chance of moving ahead in the Senate, given its bipartisan support.

The bill’s sponsors included eight Republicans – Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Todd Young, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, Bill Cassidy and Josh Hawley – and seven Democrats – Menendez, Dick Durbin, Ben Cardin, Tim Kaine, Jeanne Shaheen, Michael Bennet and Chris Coons.

That level of bipartisan support is not typical of major legislation in the current, fiercely partisan, Congress.

“I think we have very good prospects here,” Menendez said.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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