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We must end Britain's illegal sanctions on Venezuela

To step up opposition to US intervention in Latin America we need to confront our own government’s role in trying to force ‘regime change’ on the struggling socialist nation, writes TIM YOUNG

IMAGINE the chaos and hardship that British people would be experiencing if the government lost 99 per cent of its 2021-22 income of £915 billion.

Yet this is what US sanctions had exacted upon Venezuelan citizens by 2021, six years after the US had levied its first set of illegal coercive measures against the Venezuelan government.

These unilateral coercive measures were designed to bring about “regime change” and replace an elected government with a compliant administration that would no longer pose a challenge to US economic and political interests in the region.

Sanctions began in 2015 in a limited way with the freezing of Venezuelan assets abroad and the cancellation of visas for various Venezuelan officials. But even those partial measures had an effect.

Loss of confidence meant that foreign companies started pulling out, disrupting supplies of essential goods. Foreign banks became reluctant to handle transactions involving Venezuela. It became impossible to repatriate dividends from Citgo Petroleum, the US-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s oil company.

Then secondary sanctions were imposed by the US on other countries — with penalties for any country that dares to trade with Venezuela.

Large quantities of Venezuelan funds have been seized by foreign banks, including €1.5bn by Novo Banco, €453 million by Clearstream and £1.3bn in gold by the Bank of England.

Under Donald Trump, the sanctions programme was ramped up into a blockade akin to that imposed against Cuba since the 1960s.

Crucially, the toughest sanction measures targeted the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and its subsidiary Citgo, to disrupt Venezuela’s reliance on oil exports.

The effect was to cut PDVSA off from international markets and block it from servicing debt. The damage to the oil industry has cost Venezuela $100bn of revenue over the last five years.

As the blockade tightened, the impact on the lives of ordinary Venezuelans, particularly the poor, the sick and the elderly, became devastating, with far-reaching effects. The Washington-based Centre for Economic and Policy Research calculated they led to more than 40,000 deaths in 2017-18 alone.

The dire impact of sanctions also attracted the UN’s attention. In January 2019, Idriss Jazairy, the UN’s special rapporteur on coercive measures’ impact on human rights, voiced his major concerns about them: “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state.”

And two years later, UN human rights rapporteur Alena Douhan concluded from meetings with various Venezuelan sectors that “the sanctions and unilateral coercive measures applied by the United States and the EU, as a deliberate tool to achieve regime change in Venezuela, flagrantly violate international law and all universal and regional human rights instruments.”

The EU’s contribution to this policy of US aggression included, for example, an embargo on arms and various technological goods, and travel bans and/or asset freezes on around 55 officials.

The British government also slavishly contributed to this agenda, in particular by blocking Venezuela’s access to 32 tons of its gold, deposited in the Bank of England and worth around £1.3bn since 2018, on the bogus grounds that President Nicolas Maduro’s elected government had no “democratic legitimacy.”

Although Venezuela bitterly contested the Bank of England’s refusal to release the funds, which would have helped it to tackle the Covid pandemic, the High Court ruled against it in July 2022.

The court’s verdict was that control of the gold lay with US-backed opposition politician Juan Guaido, who had declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela in 2019 with no legal or constitutional justification.

Guaido’s record as “interim president” is one of repeated exposures for corruption, links to drug-traffickers in Colombia, involvement in serial coup attempts and recurring calls to the military to oust Maduro.

His standing among the opposition is now at its lowest as more moderate opposition parties broke with him to re-engage in electoral activity by participating in the December 2020 parliamentary elections, followed by extreme-right opposition parties participating in the regional and local elections in November 2021.

Yet despite this, Joe Biden’s policy remained to continue to support Guaido while promising to work with partner countries across the region “to exert pressure on the regime so the country can peacefully return to democracy.”

But the current global energy crisis occasioned by the war in Ukraine has shifted the US’s ground. Faced with experiencing substantial hikes in petrol and diesel prices following its ban on imports of Russian oil, in March it approached the Venezuelan government with a view to buying oil to shore up its domestic market.

But any progress in relieving sanctions on Venezuela has been minimal. In May, the US Treasury Department granted limited licences to Italy’s Eni and Spain’s Repsol to implement oil-for-debt swap deals with Caracas.

Meanwhile, the US oil giant Chevron is lobbying the US government for an expanded sanctions waiver enabling it to take greater control in joint ventures with Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, ramp up production and resume sales of Venezuelan crude oil.

But overall, for Venezuela, US economic aggression, hostility and destabilisation attempts persist. Campaigning against US sanctions and Britain’s continuing support for this drive to undermine Venezuela’s national sovereignty remains a key priority for all parts of the solidarity movement here.

Tim Young is a member of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign executive committee.

Sign the statement against US sanctions and for normalised relations with Venezuela at bit.ly/normaliserelationswithVenezuela.

Liverpool event: Viva la Solidaridad! Latin America’s Left Leads the Way, Monday September 26, 6.30pm, Zygmant Suite, Hard Day's Night Hotel, Liverpool, L2 6RR. Speakers include Maria Jose Pizarro, Colombian senator, John McDonnell MP, Richard Burgon MP, Claudia Turbet-Delof, Wiphalas Across the World and Julia Felmanas, Workers’ Party (PT), Brazil. Hosted by Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, Brazil Solidarity Initiative, Friends of Bolivia, Friends of Ecuador, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and Arise Festival. Kindly supported by the PCS, GMB, NEU, Thompsons Solicitors and Unite North-West Region.

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