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Trump Takes Action to Squeeze Maduro in Venezuela

WH: Strongman 'starving' his people via 'smash-and-grab' tactics

People assemble in front of the consulate general of Venezuela in Miami on May 20, 2018, to protest against Venezuelan elections, which the U.S. and other western countries called a sham. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)
People assemble in front of the consulate general of Venezuela in Miami on May 20, 2018, to protest against Venezuelan elections, which the U.S. and other western countries called a sham. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images file photo)

President Donald Trump has ordered new economic actions aimed at preventing the Venezuelan government from selling off state assets, with senior administration officials charging it with “starving” its people via a “smash-and-grab” operation.

The White House was joined by members of both parties on Capitol Hill in harshly condemning the Sunday re-election of President Nicolas Maduro to a second six-year term. Trump aides called the election “fraudulent” and the result of an “illegitimate process,” and several senators echoed that sentiment.

“Maduro and his cronies” orchestrated Sunday’s outcome because they are “too afraid” of the Venezuelan people “to have real competition,” one senior administration official said Monday. He also alleged that Maduro “manipulated the process” and “silenced opposition voices” and “stifled the free press.”

The Trump administration officials painted a dismal picture of corruption and intimidation, saying the Maduro government has been cutting off food aid to neighborhoods determined to be voting against the strongman president and his political party. In short, Maduro has forced his people to make a decision: “You vote for the regime or you explain to your family why there’s no food on the table,” the administration official said.

Notably, the Trump officials warned the outflow of fleeing Venezuelans is putting economic pressure on neighboring Colombia — a close U.S. ally — that threatens to pull that country into the “abyss” with Venezuela.

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All are reasons why Trump on Monday signed an executive order intended to help block the Venezuelan government from selling off more public assets. Specifically, Trump’s order “blocks the liquidation of assets … that hurt the Venezuelan people,” a second administration official told reporters, saying those state-owned items are being “sold off for pennies on the dollar.”

The order also “denies corrupt Venezuelan officials” the ability to “devalue and sell public assets for kickbacks,” while prohibiting any U.S. individuals or entities from buying Venezuelan debt. It also “closes down the sale of accounts receivable,” the second official said, particularly those of oil transactions.

Sen. Marco Rubio has been perhaps the chamber’s loudest voice of opposition to the Maduro regime.

“Until a constitutional and democratic order is restored in Venezuela, the Maduro regime should face increasing isolation from the international community,” Rubio, a Republican from Florida, said in a statement on Sunday. “The democracies gathered at the G20 summit this week in Argentina should collectively reject the results of the fraudulent election conducted by the regime today.”

Rubio travels with an unusual security detail for rank-and-file U.S. senators. It was reported last year that the increased protection was tied to a death threat from former Venezuelan military chief Diosdado Cabello.

Vice President Mike Pence also weighed in on the current crisis in Venezuela on Monday.

“Venezuela’s election was a sham — neither free nor fair. The illegitimate result of this fake process is a further blow to the proud democratic tradition of Venezuela,” Pence said in a statement. “Every day, thousands of Venezuelans flee brutal oppression and grinding poverty — literally voting with their feet. The United States will not sit idly by as Venezuela crumbles and the misery of their brave people continues.”

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Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member on Foreign Relations, had similarly harsh rhetoric.

“The election in Venezuela this weekend was a shameful mockery of democracy,” Menendez said in a statement on Monday. “Nicolas Maduro’s blatant effort to consolidate a dictatorship will perpetuate the depraved policies that have turned Venezuela into a failed state and should be of concern to those who seek an enduring, peaceful solution to this crisis.”

Rubio, for his part, also said he backed the Trump administration taking further measures in the country.

“I now fully support President Trump’s position that all policy options to help return Venezuela to a path of democracy and prosperity should be considered. This includes any measures that will open the way for the delivery of international humanitarian aid to be delivered to the people of Venezuela,” Rubio said.

The order Trump signed Monday builds on two actions he took last year targeting the Maduro government, with the first administration official saying the administration has already blocked “tens of millions” of dollars from landing in Maduro’s coffers, a figure he said is “rising.”

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