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IN ITS latest move to strangle the Venezuelan economy and bring Venezuelans to their knees, the Trump administration has levied new punitive sanctions against the Russian state energy giant Rosneft for trading Venezuelan oil, as well as the Venezuelan state-owned airline Conviasa.
These aggressive measures are the most recent in what now amounts to an extensive economic blockade of Venezuela of the type employed against Cuba since the early 1960s.
This involves an oil embargo, the international blocking of bank accounts and obstruction of financial transactions outside Venezuela and other restrictions.
Combined, they have severely affected the country’s capacity to import food, medicines or anything else.
In response, the Venezuelan government is pursuing legal proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to have the US government’s unilateral coercive measures investigated, describing them as a “crime against humanity” and a “weapon of mass destruction.”
The US’s sanctions have been intensified since the failure of the US-backed attempted coup of self-proclaimed President Juan Guaido, launched in January 2019.
Alongside the sanctions, illegal under international law as well as treaties signed by the US, Washington’s threats of military action against Venezuela are still on the table.
In January 2019, Idriss Jazairy, the UN’s special rapporteur on coercive measures’ impact on human rights, voiced his major concerns about US sanctions against Venezuela: “Coercion, whether military or economic, must never be used to seek a change in government in a sovereign state. The use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.”
As a predominantly oil-based economy, Venezuela is inherently vulnerable to effects of a blockade.
Oil revenues provide the Venezuelan government with the foreign exchange needed to import essential goods: food, medical equipment, spare parts and equipment needed for electricity generation, water systems or transport.
The sanctions have cut deeply into these export earnings and reduced the government’s ability to import these essential goods.
They have also constrained Venezuela’s capacity to operate freely in the global market, further restricting its essential financial dealings.
The loss of credit and therefore the resources to maintain oil output through maintenance and new investment have led to production plummeting, with earnings falling still further.
The impact on the Venezuelan people is severe, whatever their political views. A report by the Washington-based Centre for Economic Policy estimates that the sanctions have inflicted more than 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018.
Food and medicine imports continue to be delayed, disrupted and cancelled.
With these figures in mind, it isn’t surprising that polls show a majority of both pro-government and anti-government Venezuelans are against the US sanctions.
The US drive to bring about “regime change” in Venezuela stepped up a gear in August last year with the announcement of powers to create a total blockade and what we are seeing now are logical consequences of that stance.
Specifically, US executive order 13884 freezes all Venezuelan assets in the US and empowers the US Treasury Department to issue secondary sanctions against non-US third parties doing any type of business with the Venezuelan government, not just in the oil, banking and mining sectors.
The impact is not just on companies trading with Venezuela such as Russia’s Rosneft, but also on countries and companies now holding off from doing business with Venezuela for fear of being sanctioned and paying penalties.
In part, the reasons for this acceleration of US aggression lie in the failure of self-proclaimed President Guaido to make any headway in his attempt to topple elected President Nicolas Maduro.
Not only has he lost the presidency of the national assembly to a rival right-wing opposition party prepared to work with the government, but he has also been mired in scandal, primarily about corruption and misuse of over $450 million of USAid channelled to him supposedly as “humanitarian aid” since the first attempted coup in January 2019.
A PanAm Post investigation, for example, has alleged that some of Guaido’s administrators of USAid’s “humanitarian aid,” have embezzled funds, inflated expenses and engaged in fraud.
Guaido’s European tour, during which he met Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, failed to garner much support, although he had more success with Trump who lavishly endorsed him at his 2020 State of the Union address.
But the Lima Group, of US-allied Latin American countries plus Canada, failed even to mention Guaido in the chair’s statement on Venezuela from its latest meeting.
Trump’s ever-harsher sanctions hurt (and indeed kill) ordinary Venezuelans, hitting the poorest the hardest. Furthermore, by adding to an already deep polarisation, and exacerbating divisions, they make much needed dialogue less likely, making it less likely the country can move forward peacefully and address the problems it faces.
Progressives internationally should support peace and dialogue, and oppose Trump’s illegal “regime change” agenda.
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