(Recasts with bill filed, Cardin comment, latest death, injury
and arrest toll, and Wednesday's protest)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON May 3 An influential group of
Republican and Democratic U.S. senators introduced sweeping
legislation on Wednesday to address the crisis in Venezuela,
including sanctioning individuals responsible for undermining
democracy or involved in corruption,
The bill, first reported by Reuters, 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
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
The measure comes as the international community has
struggled to respond to the deep economic crisis and street
protests in the South American OPEC nation.
At least 33 people have been killed, more than 400 injured
and over 1,000 arrested since demonstrations against Venezuelan
President Nicolas Maduro's government began in April amid severe
shortages of food and medicine, deep recession and
On Wednesday, Venezuelan opposition supporters took over the
main thoroughfare in Caracas to protest Maduro's creation of a
powerful new "constituent assembly," which they see as his
attempt to cling to power by avoiding elections.
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
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
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 Services Committee.
"It is in the strategic interest of the United States to
support the restoration of democracy in Venezuela and work with
regional partners to put the country back on a path to peace,
prosperity and stability," Cardin said in a statement.
The bill has 11 sections, seeking to deal with the crisis
with a broad brush.
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
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 in corruption.
(Additional reporting by Andrew Cawthorne and Alexandra Ulmer
in Caracas; editing by Peter Cooney and Tom Brown)