US Senate panel passes bill to deal with Venezuelan crisis

A U.S. Senate committee approved a bipartisan bill Wednesday that seeks to accelerate planning at international financial institutions for Venezuela's reconstruction.

The measure adopt also would authorize $400 million in new humanitarian assistance and formally recognize and support efforts by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó to restore democracy.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee amended the measure to include three bills approved in March by the House of Representatives to expand U.S. humanitarian assistance in Venezuela, prohibit U.S. arm sales to the government of President Nicolás Maduro, and counter Russia's presence and influence in the South American country.

People line the street with their vehicles as they wait to fill up with gas at a fuel station, top right, in Cabimas, Venezuela, Wednesday, May 15, 2019. U.S. sanctions on oil-rich Venezuela appear to be taking hold, resulting in mile-long lines for fuel in the South American nation’s second-largest city, Maracaibo. (AP PhotoRodrigo Abd)

The legislation now moves forward to be considered by the full Senate.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called the proposal the most comprehensive legislative effort to date to confront the crisis in Venezuela.

The governments of the United States and about 50 other countries recognize Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, saying they consider Maduro's re-election last year fraudulent because strong opposition candidates were prevented from running.

A supporter of Venezuela's opposition leader and self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaidó gholds a national flag at a rally in Guatire, Venezuela, Saturday, May 18, 2019. (AP PhotoAriana Cubillos)

The House Judiciary Committee was poised Wednesday to debate a separate bill that seeks to protect Venezuelan citizens currently living in the United States from deportation by granting them temporary protected status.

A corresponding TPS bill has also been introduced in the Senate. A group of 23 Democratic senators and Rubio sent a letter in March to President Donald Trump asking him to give the protection to more than 70,000 Venezuelans in the U.S.

Temporary protected status is granted to people from countries ravaged by natural disasters or war and lets them remain in the U.S. until the situation improves back home. About 300,000 people have received those protections.

Militia members and supporters of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro sing an anthem to late former President Hugo Chavez, outside Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, May 20, 2109. Maduro is celebrating the anniversary of his disputed re-election amid a growing humanitarian crisis and political upheaval. (AP PhotoAriana Cubillos)

But the Trump administration has moved to discontinue that specific protection for many countries and it has not publicly addressed the possibility of conceding TPS to Venezuelans.

"We requested asylum three years ago and have not received a response yet. We need another option such as TPS," Venezuelan migrant Ricardo Calleja told The Associated Press.

Calleja, who attended the House hearing, left Venezuela for Baltimore in 2016 with his wife and two young sons.

Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo