14 U.S. senators introduce bill on the crisis in Venezuela

Residents collect water from a ditch next to a highway in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday, April 2, 2019. Since a massive power failure struck on March 7, the nation has experienced near-daily blackouts and a breakdown in critical services such as running water and public transportation. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
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A bipartisan group of 14 U.S. senators introduced a bill Wednesday that they say will help restore democracy and address the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Sen Bob Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, said the proposed legislation is “much more expansive” than the three bills on Venezuela adopted last week by the House of Representatives with bipartisan support.

The House bills would add new restrictions on the export of tear gas, riot gear and other items to Venezuela that could be used for crime control; urge the Trump administration to provide up to $150 million in humanitarian aid; and require the State Department and intelligence agencies to provide an assessment of the threat from Russian influence in the South American country.

The Senate bill would accelerate planning at international financial institutions for Venezuela’s reconstruction, authorize $400 million in new humanitarian assistance and formally recognize and support efforts by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to restore democracy.

It also would remove sanctions on designated Venezuelans not involved in human rights abuse if they recognize Guaidó as the country’s interim president, something the U.S. and about 50 other governments have done. They contend Nicolas Maduro’s re-election as president last year was not legitimate.

The U.S. has revoked dozens of visas and imposed multiple rounds of sanctions as part of a campaign to force Maduro to turn over power to Guaidó.

The Senate proposal does not include the “all options are on the table” language used by the White House when referring to its Venezuela policy, even though U.S. officials have said Washington is not pursuing a military option at this time.

Menendez told reporters in a conference call that he is optimistic about the prospects for the bill in the Senate, citing backing from Sen. James Risch, an Idaho Republican who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He said Risch voiced support for the measure as long as Menendez and Republican Sen Marco Rubio of Florida remain among its sponsors.

The 14 senators introduced their bill one day after over 40 organizations sent letters to members of Congress urging support for dialogue to resolve the crisis in Venezuela and opposing the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

“We call on you to take a strong, public stand against these immoral, reckless, and illegal policies and to support efforts to advance peaceful dialogue, before it is too late,” the letter said.q