Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Exclusive: U.S. mulls sanctions against Venezuelan lawmakers over bid to seize congress - sources

Juan Guaidó

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Trump administration is considering sanctions against some of the Venezuelan lawmakers who took part in a bid supported by President Nicolas Maduro to wrest control of the country’s congress from U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, according to two people familiar with the matter. 

Deliberations over the possible sanctions targets, including Maduro-backed lawmaker Luis Parra and more than a dozen others, are in the early stages, and a final decision is not imminent, the sources told Reuters on Tuesday. 

Venezuelan troops blocked Guaido from entering parliament on Sunday for what was expected to be his re-election as head of congress, allowing Maduro’s socialist party to hand the post to Parra. Later in the day, opposition legislators quickly re-elected Guaido - recognized by dozens of nations as Venezuela’s rightful interim leader - at the offices of a pro-opposition newspaper. 

“We go after those who undermine the constitution,” said one of the sources, a high-ranking U.S. government official who declined to be named because details of the deliberations have not been made public. “This is no different.” 

The White House declined comment. The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

The measures against the lawmakers could start with bans on their travel to the United States, a restriction that Washington has already slapped on dozens of Maduro allies, and might later involve financial sanctions against them, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Special envoy Elliott Abrams said the United States was looking at additional sanctions to step up pressure on the Venezuelan government on Monday, but did not specify potential targets. 

Last January, Washington recognized Guaido as the OPEC nation’s legitimate interim president and began ratcheting up sanctions and diplomatic pressure in an effort to oust Maduro. 

A year later, Maduro remains in power, backed by the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba. A senior administration official told Reuters in October that Trump’s frustration over the lack of results had spurred aides to ready further actions. 

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Peter Cooney, Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker

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