The Trump administration called on members of the United Nations Security Council Monday to take bold moves to isolate Venezuela’s top officials, by launching money-laundering probes of certain members of the regime and blocking them from accessing their financial networks.
Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, pushed fellow ambassadors during a special meeting of the 15-member Security Council on corruption to take concrete action against Venezuela and warned there could be consequences for those who continued to support the government of President Nicolas Maduro.
“The one thing that I think we should start to look at is any country that is doing business with Maduro and his government is purposefully hurting the people of Venezuela,” Haley said. “Now the attention needs to go on those countries that are giving support to Maduro and continuing to get rich off of Maduro’s regime and we need to say enough is enough.”
The meeting reflects the increasing pressure the United States wants to place on allies to isolate Maduro’s government, as well as White House frustration that more countries haven’t taken similar steps as the United States and European Union.
Hyperinflation, food shortages, and economic collapse have driven up to 2.3 million Venezuelans to flee their country, said Marshall Billingslea, Treasury assistant secretary for terrorist financing, who addressed the council during an informal meeting held under a mechanism called the “Arria-Formula” to discuss Venezuelan corruption and the security impacts for the region.
He said more than half of the population now lives in poverty and rate of infant mortality and infectious diseases are spinning out of control.
“It is so bad that some Venezuelan journalists have told me that Syrian refugees in Venezuela asking to be sent home – preferring to test their fate against Assad and ISIS rather than face starvation,” Billingslea told the group.
He called on members to investigate Venezuelan leaders for money laundering in their countries and block Venezuelan officials from using their financial systems and report suspicious flows of currency.
The Trump administration has been ratcheting up pressure against the Caracas government with a series of economic and individual sanctions meant to pressure Maduro to restore Democratic institutions.
The U.S. government has already sanctioned 70 officials, including Maduro, and restricted U.S. investment and financial transactions, including those involving Venezuela’s new digital currency.
Last month, Maduro was also named as a suspect in a U.S. investigation into the embezzlement of more than $1 billion from PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil company.
While the United States, Canada, the European Union, Switzerland and Panama have all imposed sanctions, the United States still wants other countries in the region to do the same, visa revocations or take other measures to isolate Venezuela.
Some Latin American and Caribbean countries have been reluctant to take punitive measures against one of their own.
Despite Venezuela’s dramatic economic collapse, the country can still count on the support of nations that remain loyal to Maduro personally, or are reluctant to set a precedent for fear they could be the next target.
After Monday’s meeting, it’s unclear how far U.N. ambassadors are willing to go. Allies say they want to help and called for a return to negotiations with the Caracas government, but left open whether they’d be willing to take stronger measures.
“The international community is trying, madam president, to bring home to the Venezuela government how difficult and how damaging its policies are for its own country,” said Ambassador Karen Pierce, the United Kingdom’s representative to the United Nations. “But as you said, we do have to be mindful of the enormous human displacement that is going on.”
Haley left no question where the United States stands.
“I feel like we’ve been talking about Venezuela for a long time,” Haley said. “Now, we need to do something about Venezuela.”