Venezuela poses a clear threat to regional stability and its economic collapse could drag down key US allies in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina and Colombia, a senior Treasury Department official warned.
Marshall Billingslea, assistant secretary for terrorist financing at the Treasury Department, also accused the government of President Nicolas Maduro of contaminating Venezuelan water supplies at gold mining sites.
“Venezuela poses a clear threat to regional stability and security on top of the horrific humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our very eyes,” Billingslea told the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
Oil rich Venezuela’s economy has sunk into crisis under Maduro forcing tens of thousands of Venezuelans into neighbouring countries amid hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and power cuts.
Billingslea said Maduro’s government was “one of the largest criminal enterprises in the Western Hemisphere” involved in money laundering, graft, fraud and illegal mining schemes, including mining gold and sending it abroad for processing.
“It is being done not just illegally, but it is being done at enormous environmental expense,” he said, “The regime has basically awarded itself control over a huge percentage of the country and is now stripping this gold out and dumping massive amounts of chemical and mercury contaminants into water supplies.”
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment about Billingslea’s remarks.
The Trump administration has sought to pressure Maduro, his relatives, and senior members of the Socialist Party through sanctions but the government has shown no willingness to hand over power or negotiate a transition.
Billingslea said the US was collaborating with countries such as Mexico, Colombia, Panama, Argentina and Spain to block assets stolen from Venezuela.
“We are on the hunt for Maduro and (his wife) Cilia Flores’ money and we are not going to stop until we find it,” Billingslea said, adding: “It’s not their money, it’s money they stole.”
Meanwhile at least 6,000 Venezuelans lined up at Peru’s northern border on Tuesday in hopes of entering the country before a deadline for acquiring residency, and another 4,000 were due to arrive in the next two days, Peru’s ombudsman’s office said.
Peru was one of the first countries to offer temporary residency cards for Venezuelans who have been fleeing their crisis-stricken homeland and crossing Colombia and Ecuador to reach Peru.
As the number of Venezuelans in Peru has surged to nearly half a million, the government moved the deadline from the end of the year to the end of October.
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