4 Apr 2019

US senators propose more aid, international sanctions for Venezuela

12:54 pm on 4 April 2019

Keeping up pressure for regime change in Venezuela, 15 US senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday to provide $US400 million ($NZ589.5m) in new aid to benefit the opposition, internationalize sanctions and ease penalties on officials who recognize a new government.

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido speaks during a demo in Caracas on March 9, 2019

Venezuelan opposition leader and self-proclaimed acting president Juan Guaido speaks during a demo in Caracas on March 9, 2019 Photo: AFP

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 Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate leader, seeking the departure of President Nicolas Maduro.

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 Mr Trump on Venezuela.

The bill would provide $US200 million in new aid for Venezuela and $US200 million for neighboring countries taking in refugees.

It would also revoke US visas for relatives of sanctioned Venezuelans, remove sanctions on officials not involved in human rights abuses if they recognize Mr 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.

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.

Mr 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," Mr Menendez said.

The bill's sponsors included eight Republicans - Mr Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Todd Young, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, Bill Cassidy and Josh Hawley - and seven Democrats - Mr 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," Mr Menendez said.

- Reuters

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