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U.S. envoy vows sanctions on banks behind Maduro regime

Reuters file photo

U.S. diplomat Elliott Abrams at a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York on Feb. 28.

ReutersWASHINGTON (Reuters) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s special representative for Venezuela pledged on Thursday that Washington would “expand the net” of sanctions on the South American nation, including more on banks supporting President Nicolas Maduro’s government.

“There will be more sanctions on financial institutions that are carrying out the orders of the Maduro regime,” the envoy, Elliott Abrams, told a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.

The United States and more than 50 other countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as oil-rich Venezuela’s interim president and increased pressure on Maduro, a socialist, to step down.

Washington this week revoked the visas of senior Venezuelan officials and said on Wednesday it had identified efforts by Maduro to work with foreign banks to move and hide money.

Abrams, a neoconservative who has long advocated an activist U.S. role in the world, said he had asked European banks to take steps to shield individual Venezuelans’ assets from Maduro’s government. He did not name the banks.

Some lawmakers pressed Abrams about granting temporary protected status (TPS) for more than 70,000 Venezuelans in the United States.

More than 3 million people are believed to have fled Venezuela amid a deep economic crisis marked by shortages of food and medicine and hyperinflation.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee’s Western Hemisphere subcommittee, which held the hearing, warned that millions of Venezuelan refugees could threaten regional stability.

“This has the potential to be a regional catastrophe of epic proportions,” Rubio, who has worked closely with Trump on the administration’s Venezuela policy, told the hearing.

Maduro, who took over as president in 2013 and was reelected last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent, blames the crisis on a U.S.-backed sabotage campaign. His opponents say his socialist policies have caused the meltdown.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez, who wrote legislation calling for TPS, said: “The Venezuelan diaspora is fantastic, they’re incredible. All the more reason to give them TPS.”

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