WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Keeping up pressure for political change in Venezuela, 15 U.S. senators introduced bipartisan legislation on Wednesday to provide $400 million in new aid, internationalize sanctions and ease penalties on officials who recognise a new government.
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 recognised 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 Trump on Venezuela.
The bill would provide $200 million in new aid for Venezuela and $200 million for neighbouring countries taking in refugees.
It would also revoke U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
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.
The bill’s sponsors included eight Republicans - Rubio, Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Todd Young, Lindsey Graham, John Barrasso, Bill Cassidy and Josh Hawley - and seven Democrats - 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,” Menendez said.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and James Dalgleish