Senator Bill Nelson wants tougher sanctions against ‘economic basket case’ Venezuela

U.S. Florida Sen. Bill Nelson gives remarks on crisis in Venezuela

Sen. Bill Nelson gives remarks on the crisis in Venezuela at his regional office in Coral Gables, Florida on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.
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Sen. Bill Nelson gives remarks on the crisis in Venezuela at his regional office in Coral Gables, Florida on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.

It’s time for stronger economic sanctions against the “economic basket case” that Venezuala has become, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Tuesday.

“The people are starting to starve,” Nelson, a senior member of the Senate’s armed services committee, told reporters. Earlier in the day, he met with military officials at U.S. Southern Command for a debriefing on the latest conditions in the South American country.

Inflation in the socialist nation has risen close to 700 percent in 2016, creating food shortages so intense citizens have resorted to eating flamingos, anteaters and pigeons.

Read More: Hungry Venezuelans killing flamingos and anteaters for food, biologists say

Under the “Maduro diet,” as citizens wryly call food shortages under President Nicolás Maduro, the average citizen has lost 19 pounds, Nelson noted.

A violent clash between pro and anti-government supporters at the Basilica of St. Teresa in Caracas was captured on video on April 12, 2017.

The senator called for increasingly strict economic sanctions on the leadership of the Maduro regime, especially members who spend time — and money — in the U.S.

“Yank their visas. Freeze their bank accounts,” Nelson said. “Make it hurt for those who are perpetuating the violence.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has already accused Venezuela’s vice president of being a drug dealer, and has frozen $3 million of his assets. More recently, the U.S. worked with other foreign governments to threaten to suspend Venezuela’s government from the Organization of American States, or OAS, unless elections are held.

Read More: With even birth control in short supply in Venezuela, some women turn to sterilization

Although some in the Venezuelan expatriate community have called on the Trump administration to halt deportations for Venezuelans in the United States, Nelson said the current immigration laws work well enough for anyone seeking political asylum.

More Venezuelans asked for political asylum to the U.S. last year than any other group, according to the U.S. government's Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“Our role is going to have to be humanitarian assistance — if President Maduro would ever let it in,” Nelson said.

Venezuela has been wracked by an economic crisis with soaring inflation and shortages of commercial goods. Most economists blame the woes on price controls, falling prices for oil exports, heavy government spending and production-crippling policie