US lawmakers call for action on Venezuela food corruption

Venezuelan officials may face U.S. sanctions for profiting from food shortages that have exacerbated hunger in the South American country.

The calls by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle come in response to an Associated Press investigation that found trafficking in hard-to-find food has become big business in Venezuela, with the military at the heart of the graft. Embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro has given the military increasingly broad control over the food supply as shortages have led to widespread malnutrition this year.

"When the military is profiting off of food distribution while the Venezuelan people increasingly starve, corruption has reached a new level of depravity that cannot go unnoticed," said Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said President Donald Trump should take immediate action to sanction the top officials named in the AP report. 

"This should be one of President Trump's first actions in office," Rubio, who is chairman of the Foreign Relations subcommittee that oversees Latin America, said in a statement.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Florida, said she is urging the State and Treasury Departments to apply sanctions to Gen. Rodolfo Marco Torres and Gen. Carlos Osorio, two key figures involved in fraudulent food imports, as well as anyone else getting rich off Venezuela's food shortages. She is also asking that government agencies ensure U.S. companies are not doing business directly with any Venezuelan business owners fronting for corrupt officials. 

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, joined Ros-Lehtinen in calling for those involved in food corruption to be held accountable.