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Congressional Group Urges Visa Ban for Venezuelan Officials

A bipartisan group of congressional members want President Donald Trump to sanction and ban visas of corrupt Venezuelan officials.
In this Nov. 18, 2016 photo, people wait outside a supermarket to buy government subsided food in Caracas, Venezuela.
In this Nov. 18, 2016 photo, people wait outside a supermarket to buy government subsided food in Caracas, Venezuela.Ariana Cubillos / AP

If President Donald Trump wants to impose visa bans, members of Congress say he should do so against members of Venezuela’s regime who are profiting from the country’s dire circumstances.

A bipartisan group of 32 congressional members asked Trump in a letter to take action against Venezuelan authorities, by freezing assets of and banning visas for “any Venezuelan official who is involved in human rights violations or corrupt practices.”

The letter dated Wednesday was written by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.

Regime officials have been profiting from Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis of shortages of food and other basics that have put the country on the verge of economic collapse, according to reports.

The lawmakers cite a 2016 investigation by The Associated Press that senior Venezuelan officials were using the food distribution network that Maduro has nationalized to line their pockets. Maduro put the Venezuelan military in charge of five sea ports and the country’s food and medical supply chain.

Any officials participating in profiting from the food shortage and distribution should be sanctioned, the lawmakers said.

Related: Venezuela: Military Tracking Food as Country Goes Hungry

In addition, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro recently appointed Tareck El Aissami Maddah, who is under U.S. investigation for ties to drug trafficking and terrorist organizations, as vice president, setting him up as a potential successor, the congressional members said.

The group cited recent news articles that reported El Aissami is suspected of having issued passports to members of Hamas and Hezbollah and helping provide hard to trace Venezuelan identities to others, including a key member of Hezbollah.

The lawmakers urge Trump in the letter to exercise the authority he’s been given “and send a strong signal" to the Maduro regime and "other bad actors."

“Not only are these actions by Maduro and his cronies detrimental to the well-being of the Venezuelan people and the stability of Venezuela, they may also have a direct and damaging impact on the United States and U.S. businesses,” the congressional members wrote.

They asked that the Office of Foreign Assets Control issue clarifying regulations to ensure U.S. companies do not inadvertently engage with corrupt officials in Venezuela, a violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices act of 1977.

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