By Bruce Zagaris and Dale Eppler
The House-Senate Appropriations bill, which is expected to pass this week, has several provisions on Venezuela (at around page 1270 in the 1783 page text), including a new requirements on asset recovery and coordination of economic sanctions with other countries. In April, Senator Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the “Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development (VERDAD) Act of 2019 with broad bipartisan support. It directs a new strategy for Venezuela in coordination with Congress, and earmarks substantial funds to support it. We understand there also were very high level meetings in the Executive branch during the past week on Venezuela but, thus far, no word from the White House on any change in the direction of U.S. policy.
The language in the bill is as follows:
Subtitle E—Supporting the 8 Reconstruction of Venezuela
SEC. 151. RECOVERING ASSETS STOLEN FROM THE VENEZUELAN PEOPLE.
(a) RECOVERING ASSETS. —The President, acting through the Secretary of State and in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, shall advance a coordinated international effort—
(1) to work with foreign governments—
(A) to share financial investigations intelligence, as appropriate;
(B) to block the assets identified pursuant to paragraph (2); and
(C) to provide technical assistance to help governments establish the necessary legal framework to carry out asset forfeitures; and
(2) to carry out special financial investigations to identify and track assets taken from the people and institutions of Venezuela through theft, corruption, money laundering, or other illicit means.
(b) STRATEGY REQUIREMENT.—
(1) IN GENERAL.—Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President, acting through the Secretary of State and in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, shall submit a strategy for carrying out the activities described in subsection (a) to Congress.
(2) ADDITIONAL ELEMENTS.—The strategy required under paragraph (1) shall—
(A) assess whether the United States or another member of the international community should establish a managed fund to hold the assets identified pursuant to subsection (a)(2) that could be returned to a future democratic government in Venezuela; and
(B) include such recommendations as the President and the Secretary of State consider appropriate for legislative or administrative action in the United States that would be needed to establish and manage the fund described in subparagraph (A).
Subtitle F—Restoring the Rule of Law in Venezuela
SEC. 161. DEVELOPING AND IMPLEMENTING A COORDINATED SANCTIONS STRATEGY WITH PARTNERS IN THE WESTERN HEMISPHERE AND THE EUROPEAN UNION.
(a) STRENGTHENING SANCTIONS CAPACITY IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN.—The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, shall offer to provide technical assistance to partner governments in Latin America and the Caribbean to assist such governments in establishing the legislative and regulatory frameworks needed to impose targeted sanctions on officials of the Maduro regime who—
(1) are responsible for human rights abuses;
(2) have engaged in public corruption; or
(3) are undermining democratic institutions and 18 processes in Venezuela.
(b) COORDINATING INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS.
— The Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, shall engage in diplomatic efforts with partner governments, including the Government of Canada, governments in the European Union, and governments in Latin America and the Caribbean, to impose targeted sanctions on the Maduro regime officials described in subsection (a).
(c) STRATEGY REQUIREMENT.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, shall submit a strategy for carrying out the activities described in subsection (a) to: (1) the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate; (2) the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate; (3) the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs of the Senate; (4) the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the House of Representatives; (5) the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives; and (6) the Committee on Financial Services of the House of Representatives.
It is not clear yet how the executive branch, working with Congress, will implement the proposed sanctions and asset recovery program. We expect Treasury and State will lead the coordination with other governments. Presumably, the U.S. and its partners will furnish technical assistance to smaller jurisdictions in the region that are willing to help them find, freeze, and even forfeit assets that are the proceeds of crime. Until now, one potential challenge is that some small jurisdictions, especially those that have maintained friendly relations with Chavez and Maduro, and that benefited from PetroCaribe, do not want to take steps inimical to the Maduro regime. Another problem is that governments are much better at freezing accounts than they are at identifying and tracking the proceeds of corruption.
The next issue of the IELR will have a more comprehensive discussion of the provisions.