President Trump's decision to expand sanctions against Venezuelan officials drew rare praise from a senior Senate Democrats pushing for a crackdown on the socialist regime.
Trump's Treasury Department imposed sanctions on several current and former members of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's regime in an attempt to deter the late Hugo Chavez's successor from making autocratic changes to the nation's constitution. The political crisis is unfolding in the context of a food shortage that has sparked protests against the government, while Maduro is working to deprive opposition leaders of political power.
"The expansion of targeted sanctions against Maduro cronies with Venezuelans' blood on their hands is not only appropriate, it was necessary," said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a senior member of the Foreign Relations Committee. "We must call on countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean to take similar or collective action in light of this devastating economic, social, and democratic collapse in our backyard. The world is watching, and our hemisphere must not stand idly by as Venezuela burns and millions clamor for help."
The Treasury Department unveiled the new sanctions Wednesday, on the cusp of a referendum that Maduro is pushing to establish a new legislative body that would have the power to rewrite the constitution. Maduro's allies on the Supreme Court previously abrogated the authority of the current National Assembly, which is the only branch of government led by opposition parties.
"As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime's ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom, and the rule of law," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday.
Mnuchin threatened to impose sanctions on anyone who participates in the rewriting of the Venezuelan constitution, as well. "As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy," he said. "Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions."
The new sanctions list features several current and former officials that Menendez and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., recommended should be targeted for punishment. And Menendez promised Wednesday to "continue to work in a bipartisan manner" with Trump's team and congressional Republicans to pressure Maduro. That's unusual solidarity between Trump's team and a pair of lawmakers who have raised doubts about his administration's commitment to human rights around the world.
"Sadly, there is no shortage of individuals deserving of sanctions," they wrote to Trump in a Wednesday letter. "Your leadership will send a clear message to those who violate fundamental freedoms, and may also discourage others acting on behalf of the Maduro regime to continue the systemic repression and violation of human rights."