The Venezuelan opposition met with members of Donald Trump’s administration last week to urge the White House to sanction Nicaragua and a company whose joint venture they say is helping to prop up the government in Caracas, according to multiple sources familiar with the conversations.
Five Venezuelan opposition party officials and activists met Thursday on Capitol Hill with U.S. State Department officials and staffers for the Senate Foreign Relations and House Foreign Affairs Committees. They urged Washington to investigate President Nicolas Maduro’s ties to Nicaragua and specifically the private company Albanisa, a joint venture between the Venezuelan state owned-oil company, PDVSA, and its Nicaraguan counterpart.
“There are operations that PDVSA has with other countries that should be investigated and should be included in the sanctions, such as the company PDVSA created with Nicaragua, Albanisa,” Carlos Vecchio, national coordinator of the Voluntad Popular party in Venezuela, told McClatchy.
Vecchio, in the meetings with the State Department and members of Congress, charged that Albanisa is involved in corruption, money laundering and financing for the Maduro regime. Albanisa officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Trump launched a series of financial sanctions to punish Venezuela and its leaders in July after Maduro held a vote, widely panned as fraudulent, that started the process of unwinding democratic institutions. The economic minister at the U.S. embassy in Managua followed suit, warning U.S. citizens and companies to review business transactions with Venezuela-affiliated companies such as Albanisa to ensure compliance with U.S. sanctions.
The Trump administration has promised to continue ratcheting up the pressure on Caracas until the Venezuelan government restores some democratic institutions.
The U.S. State Department confirmed the meeting with Venezuelan opposition leaders but administration officials would not specifically discuss the possibility of extending sanctions to entities outside of Venezuela.
“All options are on the table,” said a spokesperson for the National Security Council, which has played a lead role in tailoring Washington’s response to Maduro.
At the State Department, a Western Hemisphere Affairs division official said the Trump administration will continue to monitor the political situation in Venezuela, and will take action against those they think are abusing positions of power and violating people’s rights.
“As long as the Maduro regime continues to conduct itself as an authoritarian dictatorship, we are prepared to bring the full weight of American economic and diplomatic power to bear in support of the Venezuelan people as they seek to restore their democracy,” that State Department official said.
Some members of Congress appear ready to move against Nicaragua.
“Nicaragua continues to offer its unconditional support to Nicolas Maduro and his dictatorial regime in Venezuela,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said in a recent speech on the House floor. “We need to take a closer look at these ties.”
In the State Department’s 2017 Transparency report, State officials said Nicaragua had not publicly accounted for all the assistance it receives from Venezuela or properly audited Albanisa.
“And this assistance has not been subject to audit or legislative oversight,” the report stated. “Allocations to and earnings from state-owned enterprises were included in the budget on a net basis, but most state-owned enterprises, including ALBANISA, have not been subject to audit.”
The Trump administration has sanctioned 40 Venezuelans, including Maduro. In August, the administration also issued economic sanctions restricting Venezuela’s ability to borrow money from American creditors and banned debt trades for bonds issued by the Venezuelan government and PDVSA.