A group of US senators introduced legislation on Wednesday, May 3 that aims to provide $10 billion in humanitarian relief to Venezuela while imposing sanctions on government officials determined to be involved in corruption.
The bill also orders the US State Department to coordinate a regional effort to respond to Venezuela’s current political crisis, and calls on US intelligence agencies to prepare a partially unclassified report on Venezuelan government officials’ activities in corruption and drug trafficking.
Maduro is seizing control of Venezuela thru brutal force, destroying any remnants of democracy. Taking bipartisan action to help Venezuelans pic.twitter.com/BldEi0OmLa
— Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) May 3, 2017
The bill has strong bipartisan support from a number of high-ranking senators. Its leading sponsors include Senator Ben Cardin, a Democrat, and Republican Senator Marco Rubio.
Republican Senators John McCain and John Cornyn, along with Democratic Senators Dick Durbin, Bill Nelson, Tim Kaine, Chris Van Hollen and Bob Menendez co-sponsored the legislation.
Russia’s stake in US oil
The senators’ bill asks President Trump to stop a possible takeover of Citgo Petroleum, a US-based oil company owned by Venezuela’s PDVSA, by Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft.
Last year, struggling PDVSA put up its 49.9 percent share of Citgo as collateral for a $1.5 billion loan from Rosneft. Fitch Ratings Agency warned in January that PDVSA was on the verge of default thanks to weak oil prices, low production and a lack of cash.
Rosneft already filed a lean for Citgo with the Delaware Department of State saying it would assert its 49.9 percent stake in Citgo if PDVSA defaults.
In March, PDVSA reportedly offered Rosneft 10 percent of its stake in a joint venture with Chevron in the Orinoco Belt area of Venezuela. PDVSA owns 70 percent of the Petropiar venture, while Chevron has a 30 percent stake.
The deepening crisis
On May 1, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro issued a decree for a new constitution to be written by a “citizens assembly,” a move that opposition leaders dismissed as a ploy to put off the presidential election that’s scheduled for 2018.
Maduro’s order comes in the midst of a month-long increase of protests against the socialist government as food and medicine shortages continue to increase.
At least 35 people have died in the last month during protests against the government and hundreds more have been injured.
— Hannah Dreier (@hannahdreier) May 2, 2017
— stefano pozzebon (@StePozzebon) May 3, 2017
Clashes & barricades in Caracas. "No one turn back!" yell hooded youth throwing rocks & Molotov cocktails. National Guard fire tear gas. pic.twitter.com/UEAF7pmgY2
— Alexandra Ulmer (@AlexandraUlmer) May 1, 2017
If the bill passes and is signed into law by President Trump, it won’t be the first time the US has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan officials.
In December 2014, President Obama froze the assets and imposed travel bans on Venezuelan government officials who were accused of violating the rights of protesters earlier that year. At least 43 people were reported killed in those protests, which were the largest the country had seen in a decade.