WASHINGTON -- President Bush has ordered a partial cut in US assistance to Venezuela because of its alleged role in the international trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation.
The action means the United States will not support $250 million in Venezuelan loan requests expected to come before international lending institutions during the next fiscal year, a State Department official said.
If Venezuela secures sufficient support from other governments, its loan requests could be approved without US backing.
Bush took the action under legislation that calls for sanctions against countries that fail to crack down on international trafficking in persons. The legislation is designed to encourage countries to take decisive action against the practice. The decision was announced Friday in a White House memo to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell.
Left intact were programs designed to monitor Venezuelan elections and to support political party development, part of US efforts to promote democracy worldwide.
It is official US policy to carry out these activities on a nonpartisan basis, but Venezuela complained this year that the US program in that country favored groups that supported the recall of President Hugo Chavez.
Chavez won the Aug. 15 recall referendum by a wide margin.
A State Department report issued in June on trafficking in persons worldwide was sharply critical of Venezuela. ''Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation," the report said. ''Brazilian and Colombian women and girls are trafficked through Venezuela."
The report added that Venezuelans are trafficked internally for the domestic sex trade and to Western Europe, particularly Spain.
In an interview Friday, Powell said it remains to be seen whether the US-Venezuelan relationship can recover from the deep strains of the past several years.