White House

Cruz pushes for stiffer gold penalties against Venezuela’s Maduro

Sen. Ted Cruz is leading a group of Republican lawmakers that has devised a plan to punish countries, industries or financial institutions caught moving gold for Venezuela or Iran.

The aim is to increase economic pressure on Venezuela leader Nicolás Maduro and warn banks in Russia and Turkey to think twice before trying to come to his aid.

“Our enemies work with each other, and too often with some of our problematic allies, to circumvent American sanctions by illicitly trading precious metals and stones,” said Cruz, a Texas Republican.

It’s unclear what support Cruz’s legislation will receive in a divided Congress. But President Donald Trump has made the removal of the Maduro government a priority.

Trump will travel to Miami on Monday to build support to his efforts among the Venezuelan American community. He has already slapped dozens of individual and sectoral sanctions on the Maduro government and recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela.

The Guaidó -led opposition has lobbied for penalties against the Maduro government, believing Caracas is using sales of Venezuelan gold to offset U.S.-imposed sanctions.

Trump signed an executive order in November, announced by National Security Adviser John Bolton, that targeted people and entities involved in gold sales in Venezuela.

Cruz’s legislation takes the measures further. It allows the United States to designate entire “jurisdictions of primary money laundering concern,” which gives the administration broader authority to sanction groups of connected financial institutions. That threat, sanctions supporters say, incentivizes all parties in a particular sector to abide by the rules.

“My legislation would close these loopholes, which are used by illegitimate regimes like those of Maduro and the Ayatollah to cling to power and continue enriching themselves,” Cruz said.

Franco Ordoñez is a White House correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau with a focus on immigration and foreign affairs. He previously covered Latin American affairs for the Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald. He moved to Washington in 2011 after six years at the Charlotte Observer covering immigration and working on investigative projects for The Charlotte Observer.