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Venezuela: UN special rapporteur’s report slams sanctions – but Biden retains them

We need to step up our campaign against the illegal US sanctions on Venezuela, writes KEN LIVINGSTONE

AN overwhelmingly damning report by UN special rapporteur on human rights Alena Douhan has catalogued the massive harm inflicted on the Venezuelan people by the illegal sanctions imposed primarily by the US but also by Britain, the EU and Canada.

Yet less than a month after its publication in February, President Joe Biden has chosen to renew by executive order what the Obama administration in 2015 termed “a national emergency with respect to the situation in Venezuela,” on the absurd grounds that the country continues “to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The special rapporteur’s interim report, based on first-hand observations and extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders, makes a number of critical points about the sanctions.

At its heart is an unequivocal statement that the unilaterally imposed sanctions violate international law. 

With a wealth of detail, it makes the case that since 2017 the coercive measures issuing from Washington have completely debilitated the Venezuelan economy. 

The government’s revenue has shrunk by 99 per cent, leaving the country currently living on 1 per cent of its pre-sanctions income, massively degrading the quality of life of the population. 

The report recognises that the government has sought to address structural problems in the economy but concludes that “the hardening of sanctions faced by the country since 2015 undermines the potential positive impact of the current reforms as well as the state’s capacity to maintain infrastructure and implement social projects. 

“Today, Venezuela faces a lack of necessary machinery, spare parts, electricity, water, fuel, gas, food and medicine.”

Among the report’s recommendations, it urges “the governments of the United Kingdom, Portugal and the United States and the corresponding banks to unfreeze the assets of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) to acquire medicines, vaccines, food, medical and other equipment, spare parts and other essential goods to guarantee the humanitarian needs of the people of Venezuela and the restoration of public services.”

In doing so, the report echoes other high-level calls for the sanctions to be suspended during the pandemic or lifted outright. 

In March 2020 UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres called for the waiving of sanctions, saying: “This is the time for solidarity not exclusion.” 

The Pope has also appealed for an end to sanctions preventing countries from “providing adequate support to their citizens.” 

But Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken appear to be committed to key elements of the Trump administration policy of “regime change”: maintaining the blockade, demonising President Nicolas Maduro as a “dictator” to delegitimise the elected government, bankrolling internal destabilisation and supporting the fraudster Juan Guaido as “interim president.”

Following the elections for a new national assembly in December 2020, former deputy Guaido no longer has any elected position, since he led his supporters in a boycott of the election. 

But not all opposition parties signed up to this, opting instead to contest assembly seats — even though they were threatened with sanctions by the US for their temerity in doing so.

As a result, there is now in the assembly a small but significant number of opposition members supporting self-determination and national sovereignty, leaving the increasingly discredited Guaido and motley extreme right-wing forces outside the assembly wedded to support for US sanctions and US-backed “regime change.” 

Further fragmentation of the anti-Chavista opposition is evident in former presidential candidate Henri Falcon’s condemnation of Guaido’s tactic of boycotting the assembly elections and the criticism of Guaido by Henrique Capriles, also a former presidential candidate, as an ineffective leader.

For now, Guaido is still being supported by the US (and Britain) despite his involvement in serial coup attempts, repeated calls to the military to oust Maduro and mounting evidence of corruption in his camp. 

The European Union, though, no longer recognises Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president” after he stood down as an assembly member and had no further claim to be its head, but it is still refusing to accept the December assembly elections as legitimate.

Guaido’s reputation will not be enhanced internationally by his hard-line stance opposing the UN special rapporteur’s support for the Venezuelan government’s proposal for part of the more than $1.8 billion worth of Venezuelan assets frozen by the Bank of England to be used to purchase $120 million worth of Covid-19 vaccines.

Meanwhile, Venezuela is tackling the pandemic as best it can, given that the US blockade is severely restricting its ability to buy necessary medical supplies. 

Were it not for the assistance of China, Russia, Turkey and agencies of the United Nations, Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza has explained, Venezuela would not even have the vaccine, PCR tests, ventilators or masks.

This makes the task of opposing the blockade all the more urgent. Now more than ever it is vital to step up our expressions of international solidarity with Venezuela in defence of their national sovereignty and to make it clear that sanctions are illegal, unjustifiable and unacceptable.

We must urge the US and British governments, and the EU, to lift all sanctions and engage constructively with the elected Venezuelan government.

Sign the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign petition against the US’s illegal sanctions on Venezuela at bit.ly/stopvenezuelasanctions.

Follow Ken at www.twitter.com/Ken4London and www.facebook.com/KenLivingstoneOfficial.

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