U.S. President Donald Trump's special representative for Venezuela pledged on Thursday that Washington would "expand the net" of sanctions on the South American nation, including more on banks supporting President Nicolas Maduro's government.
"There will be more sanctions on financial institutions that are carrying out the orders of the Maduro regime," Elliott Abrams told a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing.
The United States and dozens of other countries have recognized Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido as oil-rich Venezuela's interim president and increased pressure on Maduro, a socialist, to step down.
Washington this week revoked the U.S. visas of senior Venezuelan officials and said on Wednesday it had identified efforts by Maduro to work with foreign banks to move and hide money.
Abrams, a neoconservative who has long advocated an activist U.S. role in the world, said he had been asking European banks to take steps to shield individual Venezuelans' assets from Maduro's government. He did not name the banks.
Some lawmakers pressed Abrams, who was appointed to his current position in January, about granting temporary protected status (TPS) for Venezuelans in the United States.
More than three million people are believed to have fled Venezuela in recent years amid a deep economic crisis marked by widespread shortages of food and medicine as well as hyperinflation.
Maduro, who took over as president in 2013 and was re-elected last year in a vote widely viewed as fraudulent, blames the crisis on a U.S.-backed sabotage campaign. His opponents say his socialist policies have caused the meltdown.
U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat who wrote legislation calling for TPS, said: "The Venezuelan diaspora is fantastic, they're incredible. All the more reason to give them TPS."
Abrams said TPS was under consideration and he would discuss it with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. There are 74,000 Venezuelans who have applied for asylum in the United States, Abrams added.
He accused Russia and Cuba of shielding Maduro, who Abrams said was protected by "thousands and thousands" of Cuban military and intelligence officials while Moscow has supplied tens of millions of dollars to the government.
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