Latam neighbors agree to impose sanctions on members of Venezuelan government

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Latin American countries on Monday agreed to impose sanctions on some members of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government as part of efforts to force him out of office but expressed reservations about any use of force.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro takes part in a rally against the U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, in Caracas Venezuela, August 10, 2019. REUTERS/Manaure Quintero/File Photo

Colombian Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said the measures would allow governments to freeze assets belonging to Maduro-linked officials within their countries, targeting those suspected of illicit activities, corruption and human rights violations.

“This allows countries in the region to, through collective action, create the conditions for the Venezuelan people to live freely sooner rather than later. It’s a transcendental step of great significance in favor of peace and legality,” the Colombian minister said.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido has been recognized as Venezuela’s leader by the United States and most Western countries since January, but Maduro retains the recognition of the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.

Guaido’s team has called Maduro’s 2018 re-election fraudulent and is hoping to use the U.N. gathering of world leaders this week to rally more support after months of stalemate and failed talks.

Peru, Chile and Costa Rica have proposed an amendment to the Rio Treaty - a Latin American mutual defense treaty invoked by members of the Organization of American States earlier this month in response to Venezuela’s political and economic crisis - to rule out the use of force.

Many Latin American countries do not have legal mechanisms to implement sanctions or travel bans on Venezuelan officials, and the treaty could provide them with one, a senior U.S. official said earlier on Monday.

“It is not just an option for these countries, this treaty makes it an obligation,” Venezuelan opposition envoy Julio Borges told reporters.

The Venezuelan information ministry could not immediately be reached for comment but it has previously criticized the Rio Treaty.

The sanctions measure received 16 votes in favor from signatories of the Rio Treaty. Only Uruguay voted against and Trinidad and Tobago abstained.

The Lima Group, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Peru said in a joint statement that they did not support a military intervention to oust Maduro.

“We do not support any invocation to the use of force or military interventions,” Peruvian foreign minister Nestor Popolizio told reporters in New York.

Borges said that U.S. President Donald Trump’s attendance at a meeting solely about Venezuela on Wednesday was a “clear sign” that pressure on Maduro would increase.

Reporting by Luc Cohen and Mary Milliken; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool