WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. lawmakers said on Friday they expected Washington would announce more sanctions on Venezuela if its government proceeds with an effort to elect a legislative body that critics call a plan to create a dictatorship.
Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who has worked closely with President Donald Trump’s administration on Latin American issues, held a news conference with two other Republican members of Congress, all from Florida, to discuss the issue ahead of the controversial vote in Venezuela on Sunday.
Julio Borges, who leads Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly legislature, telephoned in to the news conference to discuss the vote.
Rubio noted that the Trump administration had announced sanctions this week, and added, “You can expect more.”
The Trump administration imposed sanctions on 13 senior Venezuelan officials on Wednesday, heaping pressure on unpopular President Nicolas Maduro to scrap plans for the new congress.
A senior Trump administration official told Reuters this week that the administration would make good on Trump’s threat to take action and would act “very quickly” on further sanctions if Maduro goes ahead with his plan.
Another lawmaker at the news conference, U.S. Representative Mario Diaz-Balart, said he hoped Maduro will “take a deep breath” and back off. “If they don’t, the United States will not stand still,” he said.
Rubio insisted the United States was not seeking to dictate to Venezuela. “What unifies us today in this cause isn’t interference in another country’s affairs, but support for its people,” he said.
Rubio said Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin had been involved in the issue, and that Trump had spoken to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Venezuela this week.
Rubio said he had spoken to Trump three times this month about Venezuela and that he had spoken to Vice President Mike Pence about it on Thursday and earlier in the week as well.
“There is high-level engagement throughout this administration on this issue,” Rubio said.
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by James Dalgleish