US senators propose more aid, sanctions for Venezuela

The bill would provide $200m in new aid for Venezuela and $200m for neighbouring countries taking in those fleeing.

    Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]
    Opposition supporters take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

    Keeping up the pressure for political change in Venezuela, a bipartisan group of 15 US senators introduced legislation on Wednesday to provide $400m in new aid, encourage other countries to impose sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro's administration and ease penalties on officials who recognise a new government.

    The introduction of the Venezuelan Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development (VERDAD) Act comes more than two months after US President Donald Trump's administration recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader.

    Guaido declared himself interim president in January, calling the presidency of Maduro illegitimate. Maduro has accused the United States and Guaido of staging a coup.

    Senator Bob Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, led the bill. He said the act would "put teeth behind" support for the Venezuelan people and provide tools for a peaceful solution to the crisis in the OPEC nation.

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

    The bill would provide $200m in new aid for Venezuela and $200m for neighbouring countries taking in refugees. 

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    It would also revoke US visas for relatives of sanctioned Venezuelans, remove sanctions on officials not involved in human rights abuses if they recognise Guaido, and require work with Latin American and European governments to implement their own sanctions.

    It also requires US agencies to lead efforts to recover "corrupt financial holdings" of Venezuelan officials and accelerate planning with international financial institutions on Venezuela's economic restructuring.

    Temporary protected status

    The bill would not provide 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 told reporters on a conference call he hoped separate legislation seeking TPS could move concurrently with the VERDAD Act.

    He said the bill stood an excellent chance of moving ahead in the Senate, given its bipartisan support. "It sends Maduro a message, as well as Russia and China that are helping to prop up Maduro," Menendez said. 

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency