US Congress Mulls New Sanctions against Venezuela over Alleged Food Corruption

Both Republican and Democrat members of the US Congress have issued calls for new sanctions against top Venezuelan food ministry officials over corruption allegations.

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US Congress members issued calls for new sanctions against Venezuela. (Archive)
US Congress members issued calls for new sanctions against Venezuela. (Archive)

Caracas, January 23, 2017 (venezuelanalysis.com) – US congress members on both sides of the aisle have issued calls for new sanctions against top Venezuelan food ministry officials over corruption allegations. 

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, urged the new Trump administration to sanction Venezuela’s food minister, Gen. Marco Rodolfo Torres, and other leading officials charged with overseeing the country’s food imports.

“This should be one of President Trump's first actions in office," said Rubio, a hardline opponent of Venezuela and Cuba, who chairs the Latin America Foreign Relations subcommittee.

The statement comes in response to an AP report released last month that accused high-ranking military officials, including Rodolfo Torres and his predecessor Gen. Carlos Osorio, of receiving kickbacks from government contracts for food imports. The article relies largely on the testimony of retired military officers opposed to the government as well as internal ministry documents allegedly obtained by AP. 

Senator Ben Cardin, D-Maryland, ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, echoed calls for further sanctions, citing unsubstantiated allegations of starvation in the country. 

Republican congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida and Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, likewise stated that they would push for sanctions by the US State and Treasury Departments against the officials in question in addition to pressuring US companies to cut ties with Venezuelan firms linked to corruption.

In July, Rubio, Cardin, and Menendez co-authored a Senate resolution backing Organization of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro’s effort to suspend Venezuela from the body under the Inter-American Democratic Charter, citing “abuses of internationally recognized human rights”. 

The latest drive for sanctions follows outgoing US President Barack Obama’s January 13 renewal of an executive order branding Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security. The decree was originally signed in March 2015 and included sanctions against seven Venezuelan government officials, freezing their assets and barring entry into the US. 

More recently, Trump secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson has indicated that if confirmed he would press for a “transition to democratic rule” in Venezuela, which has been widely interpreted as an endorsement of US-backed regime change efforts.