US Senators Draw Up Proposed Sanctions Against Venezuela

The U.S. has sided with the Venezuelan opposition in the wake of Maduro’s call for a national constituent assembly.

U.S. Senators are gearing up to intervene in Venezuela, according to Reuters report published Wednesday. The group of bipartisan senators is looking to push through legislation which would see US$10 million sent to the country as humanitarian aid, as well as impose new sanctions, intelligence reports and instructing the U.S. State Department to lead a regional effort to help ease the ongoing unrest in the South American country.

The new bill, which has the support of Republican senators Marco Rubio, John McCain and Dick Durbin and Democrat Ben Cardin, contains 11 sections to deal with Venezuela’s ongoing crisis, which has seen a severe economic downturn and continued opposition protests for nearly a month.

The bill is expected to sanction Venezuelan officials who are accused of being involved in corruption and the drug trade, and it carries through with former President Barack Obama’s executive order to target those deemed to “undermine democratic governance.”

The U.S. State Department, along with intelligence agencies, would be required to report on any Venezuelan officials involved in corruption and the drug trade. According to Senate aides, the new legislation aims to work with other states across the region and international organizations to alleviate the crisis.

Individual targeting of Venezuelan authorities would likely be similar to sanctions the U.S. Treasury Department applied against Venezuela’s Vice President Tareck El Aissami, who was accused of aiding drug traffickers and Middle Eastern terrorists, allegations he has denied and labeled as U.S. slander.

The new legislation — which will still need to pass through Congress — appears to be as much about economic interests as it is for human rights and democracy.

Russia’s state oil company Rosneft has been growing in influence within Venezuela and has loaned Venezuela’s state equivalent, PDVSA, between US$4 and 5 billion amid the economic crisis. The bill calls on U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent Rosneft from gaining control of energy infrastructure owned by the U.S.

President Nicolas Maduro’s government, however, has heavily criticized moves by the U.S. and the Organization of American States against Venezuela as imperialist intervention intent on supporting the Venezuelan opposition in efforts to destabilize the country and oust the government.

On Tuesday, the U.S. warned that new sanctions could be applied to Venezuela after Maduro announced plans to call a national constituent assembly. The move would effectively remake the country’s 1999 constitution, regarded as one of the most progressive in the world, with the aim of easing political tensions and supporting dialogue with the opposition.

While the Venezuelan opposition has repeatedly called for the government to make concessions and schedule fresh elections, the call for the constituent assembly was labeled as a “coup” and saw anti-government protests again take to the streets, blocking access to major roads in the capital of Caracas.

The government has criticized the opposition for not working towards peaceful dialogue to the crisis, which has seen street protests from both sides for the best part of a month, many of which have spilled over into violence.

Siding with the opposition, the U.S. sees the announcement of the constituent assembly as an example of Maduro attempting to hold onto power “which overrides the will of the Venezuelan people and further erodes Venezuelan democracy,” said Michael Fitzpatrick, deputy assistant secretary of state for the Western hemisphere.