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The White House is preparing to increase pressure on Latin American countries to take action against Venezuela, whose political and humanitarian crisis will be high on the agenda at next week’s Summit of the Americas in Lima, Peru.
The Trump administration is studying more options to force Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro from office, though it is not planning to announce new actions at the Lima summit, according to a senior U.S. official who briefed reporters about the president’s trip on Thursday.
“Increasing pressure on the Maduro dictatorship” is a major administration goal, the official said. That includes “more U.S. steps to pressure both Maduro and the cronies he keeps in power through corruption,” he added.
The summit of regional heads of state will be Trump’s first visit to the region as president. He will be accompanied by his daughter Ivanka Trump who will attend meetings to discuss women’s economic empowerment.
The White House does not expect Maduro to attend the summit. “That will be a very good sign that the region is focused on good governance and democracy,” the senior U.S. official said.
Trump will hold a separate meeting during his trip with Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, where the two leaders are expected to discuss the humanitarian crisis on Colombia’s border with Venezuela. The United States said last month it would provide $2.5 million for food and medicine to help tens of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the worsening economic crisis in their country.
According to the United Nations, an estimated 1.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country in search of food, medicine and opportunity. More than 15 countries across Latin America and the Caribbean have taken in displaced Venezuelans. Others have sought exile in Florida.
The United States has hit 20 current and former Venezuelan government officials with sanctions in recent months, including Maduro. The White House has also banned U.S. banks from purchasing new Venezuelan debt.
The official summit agenda deals with ways to combat corruption while supporting democratic governance. But the Trump administration is adding "leadership on Venezuela" to that mix.
The Trump administration wants Latin American governments to draw up their own measures to sanction Venezuelan officials and industries, according to The Miami Herald.
Canada and the European Union have already joined the U.S. effort to starve the Maduro government of desperately needed cash.
There are some signs that the region is willing to take more action of its own. Last month, Panama’s Economic and Finance Ministry issued a warning to the nation’s banks that Maduro, along with more than 50 Venezuelan nationals, are considered “high risk” for laundering money and financing terrorism.
Costa Rica has also turned away travel by senior Venezuelan military officials, the U.S. official told reporters. “The region is doing what it can to follow the U.S. leadership,” he said.
Peru has led the so-called Lima Group, which includes Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia and others, and has publicly demanded that Maduro allow free elections and release political prisoners.
Trump will find likely resistance at the summit to punishing Venezuela, says Eric Farnsworth, vice president of the Americas Society and Council of the Americas.
“Although … Maduro has been disinvited from the Lima summit due to his government’s authoritarian abuses, those from allied nations including Bolivia, Cuba, and some Caribbean countries are planning to attend and will likely prevent a consensus from developing at the summit around an action plan to deal with Venezuela’s crisis,” he wrote in a recent opinion article for Univision.