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Once again Donald Trump has stepped up US aggression against Venezuela with sanctions, this time aimed at harming the economy.
The latest sanctions prohibit Venezuela from buying or selling assets in the US financial system and prevent Venezuela’s US-based fuel company from sending profits back to Venezuela.
This will result in restricted access to financing, with the inevitable effect of reducing imports and exacerbating existing shortages and hardship.
This latest assault on Venezuela’s national sovereignty follows the US Treasury Department’s earlier announcement of direct sanctions on President Nicolas Maduro, freezing any of his assets in the US and prohibiting people from the US from dealing with him.
While claiming to support democracy, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s statement showed that US sanctions were motivated by opposition to Venezuela’s government and aimed at “regime change” in the oil-rich country.
“By sanctioning Maduro, the United States makes clear our opposition to the policies of his regime,” he stated.
Trump’s attempts to intimidate the Venezuelan government using ideologically driven sanctions started early in his presidency.
In February 2017 the Treasury Department accused the Venezuelan Vice-President Tareck El Aissami of drug-trafficking and froze his alleged assets in the US under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, making the vice-president the top-ranking official of any country to be sanctioned in this way.
No evidence was provided for the allegations, which flew in the face of evidence of Venezuela’s increased efficiency in drug seizures and, during El Aissami’s tenure as interior minister, the prosecution of over 100 major drug kingpins — including the extradition of 21 to the US.
Trump’s sanctions follow on from those imposed by Barack Obama in 2015 with an executive order that declared “a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States” supposedly posed by Venezuela.
This ludicrous characterisation of events was a pretext designed to provide the legal basis for using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act to impose sanctions.
As economist and Latin America expert Mark Weisbrot remarked, the sanctions are not only illegal under US and international law, but also “by starving the economy of foreign exchange, will harm the private sector, the Venezuelan people, the poor and the vulnerable.”
Furthermore, they will cause the economy to shrink, inflation to soar and supplies of essential goods to plummet.
At a time when many opposition groups have reduced their violence and committed to participation in forthcoming regional elections, US claims to “support the people of Venezuela” ring hollow.
The likely negative effects of sanctions have even been recognised by US Congress members.
In a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, nine Congress members pointed out that sanctions in place since 2015 have done nothing for the political situation, over 60 per cent of Venezuelan people oppose sanctions, and the latest sanctions will do nothing to help the people and economy of Venezuela.
Clearly Trump’s harsh and barely legal actions against the progressive elected government of Venezuela will damage the economy, have little public support within Venezuela, will cause unnecessary hardship among the people he claims to be supporting, and have even provoked criticism within the US Congress.
They will do nothing to bring about the dialogue the country so desperately needs and are more likely to cause further divisions within Venezuela.
Susan Grey is a member of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign executive commitee.
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