Exclusive: U.S. senators seek sanctions,
other ways to address Venezuela crisis
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[May 03, 2017]
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - An influential group
of Republican and Democratic U.S. senators will file sweeping
legislation on Wednesday to address the crisis in Venezuela, including
sanctioning individuals responsible for undermining democracy or
involved in corruption, Senate aides said.
The bill would provide $10 million in humanitarian aid to the struggling
country, require the State Department to coordinate a regional effort to
ease the crisis, and ask U.S. intelligence to report on the involvement
of Venezuelan government officials in corruption and the drug trade,
according to a copy seen by Reuters.
It also calls on President Donald Trump to take all necessary steps to
prevent Rosneft, Russia's state oil company, from gaining control of any
U.S. energy infrastructure.
Rosneft has been gaining ground in Venezuela as the country scrambles
for cash. The Venezuelan state oil company, PDVSA, last year used 49.9
percent of its shares in its U.S. subsidiary, Citgo, as collateral for
loan financing by Rosneft.
In total, Rosneft has lent PDVSA between $4 billion and $5 billion.
The measure comes as the international community has struggled to
respond to deep economic crisis and street protests in the South
American OPEC nation.
Some 29 people have been killed, more than 400 injured and hundreds more
arrested since demonstrations against Venezuelan President Nicolas
Maduro's government began in April amid severe shortages of food and
medicine, deep recession and hyper-inflation.
On Tuesday, Venezuela's opposition blocked streets in the capital,
Caracas, to denounce Maduro's decision to create a "constituent
assembly," which critics said was a veiled attempt to cling to power by
Senate aides said the bill sought to react to the crisis by working with
countries across the Americas and international organizations, rather
than unilaterally, while targeting some of the root causes of the crisis
and supporting human rights.
U.S. officials have long been reluctant to be too vocal about Venezuela,
whose leaders accuse Washington of being the true force behind
opposition to the country's leftist government.
The lead sponsors of the legislation are Senator Ben Cardin, the senior
Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Senator Marco
Rubio, the Republican chairman of the panel's western hemisphere
subcommittee and a vocal critic of Venezuela's government.
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Demonstrators run as they clash with police during a rally against
Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela.
REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
Boosting its chances of getting through Congress, co-sponsors
include Senator John Cornyn, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, and
Senator Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat, as well as Republican
Senator John McCain, the influential chairman of the Senate Armed
The bill has 11 sections, seeking to deal with the crisis with a
Addressing corruption, it would require the U.S. State Department
and intelligence agencies to prepare an unclassified report, with a
classified annex, on any involvement of Venezuelan government
officials in corruption and the drug trade.
The U.S. Treasury Department has in the past sanctioned Venezuelan
officials or former officials, charging them with trafficking or
corruption, a designation that allows their assets in the United
States to be frozen and bars them from conducting financial
transactions through the United States.
The officials have denied the charges, and called them a pretext as
part of an effort to topple Maduro's government.
The new legislation seeks to put into law sanctions imposed under
former President Barack Obama's executive order targeting
individuals found to "undermine democratic governance" or involved
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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