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A SIGNIFICANT sense of relief was evident among progressives in the United States and throughout much of the world when Donald Trump was defeated in his re-election bid last year.
Given his catastrophic approach to Covid-19, alliances with extreme-right elements in US society, and further steps towards war on Iran, this was entirely understandable.
Having lived through the tenure of numerous US presidents (from both major parties), though, there are some policy agendas which have been constant: notably their approach to Latin America.
There has been a long and bloody history of targeting governments that dare to stand up for the interests of their people, and propping up brutal reactionary forces.
From beginning of the ongoing US blockade against Cuba under Dwight D Eisenhower, Richard Nixon’s vow to make the Chilean economy “scream” (culminating in support for the coup against the elected socialist government of Salvador Allende and support for the subsequent Pinochet dictatorship), to the arming of the Contras in Nicaragua in the Reagan years, and the Obama administration’s role in the 2009 coup in Honduras — the list goes on and on.
Since the turn of the century, one country in the region has risen further and further up the target list for “regime change” — Venezuela.
Just as with Chile in the 1970s, the US has never forgiven it for having the temerity to elect a president committed to using the country’s natural resources for the benefit of ordinary citizens.
That’s why they welcomed the attempted coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002 — before it was defeated amid a wave of popular mobilisation, as brilliantly captured in the documentary The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.
The bid to destabilise Venezuela has particularly intensified during the last few years, with a programme of sanctions which can be traced back to 2015: when Obama issued an executive order describing Venezuela (a country with a population smaller than California, and which has never used or indeed owned nuclear weapons) as an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
These sanctions have had real and devastating consequences for the Venezuelan people — affecting the country’s ability to import items including medicines and foodstuffs.
A study by the US-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research found that a shocking 40,000 Venezuelans died as result of sanctions in 2017-18 alone.
These sanctions are not only against both international and even US law — but an affront to any sense of basic morality.
And there has been an even more aggressive stance towards Venezuela since another failed attempt at regime change in 2019, creating the current farce whereby for over two years the US have recognised Juan Guaido, a man who currently holds no elected office, as the president.
This has involved various international banks seizing Venezuelan funds. Novo Blanco, for example, holds an astonishing €1.5 billion, with Clearstream holding €453 million.
Predictably, the British government has essentially gone along with the US position every step of the way on this.
As part of this support for Washington’s bid to devastate and destabilise the country, the Bank of England has continued to hold billions worth of Venezuelan gold — despite repeated requests for its return, and a British appeals court finding in favour of Venezuela on the matter.
Such measures would be an outrageous attack on sovereignty in any case, but they are particularly shameful at a time when the whole world should be working together to protect health during the pandemic.
Opinion polling suggests that these sanctions are opposed by an overwhelming majority of Venezuelans, among both supporters of the government of Nicolas Maduro and those of opposition parties.
In the aftermath of withdrawal from Afghanistan, there is also widespread desire for a new foreign policy direction in the US itself.
For instance, the Pew Research Centre found that 73 per cent of Americans believed greater diplomacy, rather than military strength, was the best way to ensure peace.
Here in Britain, YouGov found that Jeremy Corbyn’s speech on foreign policy during the 2017 election campaign was received positively among the public, including a plurality of Conservative voters.
It’s clear that even many countries broadly aligned to the US are questioning its approach to Venezuela: with Germany, for instance, having reversed its recognition of Guaido and having taken some steps towards rebuilding relations.
Regionally, having Mexico now offering to help facilitate a peaceful process of dialogue in Venezuela and rejecting right-wing aggression towards the country has also been a hugely welcome development in the last couple of years.
After his victory over Trump last November, Biden promised a new direction for the US. There would be few more meaningful examples of this than finally breaking with the Monroe Doctrine.
The labour movement in Britain has had a long and proud history of supporting self-determination and social progress in Latin America: it’s vital that we keep this up by demanding that our government end its support for sanctions against Venezuela and that the Bank of England return the country’s gold.
I’d encourage readers to support the important work of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign on these key issues, as well as this paper in reporting on them — something much of our media seems strangely reluctant to do.
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