Venezuelans will suffer more under the impact of a fully-fledged US blockade, writes Ken Livingstone.
President Trump has recently imposed sweeping new sanctions against Venezuela in his bid to oust the elected government of President Maduro. The embargo measures now constitute a fully-fledged economic blockade of the type employed against Cuba since the early 1960s.
The new measures enacted by an Executive Order on August 5th totally block all Venezuelan assets in the US and prohibit all transactions with Venezuelan state agencies.
The order also authorises 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, with the warning by National Security Adviser John Bolton that those who ignore the order “risk [their] business interests with the United States.”
This ramping up of the blockade has been characterised by the Venezuelan government as “economic and political terrorism.”
US sanctions are illegal under the Charter of the Organization of American States (especially articles 19 and 20 of Chapter IV) and illegal under international human rights law, as well as treaties signed by the United States.
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.”
The combined impact of the US sanctions regime to date has been to severely restrict the country’s capacity to import food, medicines or anything else.
As a predominantly oil-based economy, Venezuela is inherently vulnerable to the 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 transportation.
The sanctions have cut deeply into these export earnings and reduced the government’s ability to import these essential goods. They have also constrained the Venezuelan government’s ability 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. Between August 2017 and December 2018, losses to the Venezuelan economy are estimated at $23 billion.
The impact on the Venezuelan people has been severe. A report by the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy estimates that the sanctions have inflicted more than 40,000 deaths from 2017-18. Food and medicine imports continue to be delayed, disrupted and cancelled. For example:
- at least US$1.2bn the Venezuelan government would use to purchase food and medicines was withheld by Euroclear, a Belgium-based financial services firm
- US-based Citibank financial institution refused to accept money Venezuela was depositing to pay for importing a huge cargo of insulin for diabetic patients, holding up the shipment for many days in port
- international banks suspended payments to foreign suppliers for three months, holding up the arrival of 29 container ships carrying supplies needed to process and produce food products in Venezuela
- in September 2017, 18 million food packages provided by the government could not be distributed because payments for food imports were blocked, requiring complex payment transactions with various allied countries to secure the imports
- three children awaiting bone marrow transplants in Italy have died as a result of the US’s seizure of Venezuela’s oil company subsidiary, Citgo, freezing its funds allocated to pay for the treatment
In July, the US Treasury Department imposed new sanctions against a host of individuals and companies connected to Venezuela’s CLAP subsidised food programme, with further discussions taking place to target sanctions on companies in Brazil, Mexico and elsewhere supplying food to Venezuela. The intention seems to be to starve the population into submission.
Alongside the raft of blockade measures, US threats of military action against the Venezuelan government are still on the table. President Trump recently floated the idea of a naval blockade of Venezuela, prompting the Venezuelan Government to start preparing a formal complaint to the Security Council of the United Nations.
No doubt inspired by the Cuban Government’s annual tabling of a motion condemning the US blockade of its country at the United Nations, Venezuela is also leading a similar campaign in the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which brings together 120 countries.
The final document from a recent NAM summit meeting held in Caracas and chaired by President Maduro condemned US-led sanctions and set up a Venezuela-led working group to study the effects and ways of mitigating sanctions against Venezuela and other sanctioned NAM states, including Cuba and Nicaragua.
The US is not alone in imposing sanctions and freezing assets. The Bank of England, although nominally independent of the government, is stopping 31 tonnes of Venezuelan gold deposited in its vaults, worth almost £1 billion, from being repatriated to its rightful owners, the Venezuelan government.
The British government is also directly complicit, through its support of EU measures unanimously agreed in November 2017. The then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt also urged EU members to impose new sanctions on Venezuela in January 2019. The new US sanctions, though, seem a step too far for the EU which has criticised the “extraterritorial application of the unilateral measures” of the blockade.
As leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn has criticised the British government’s position saying: “The future of Venezuela is a matter for Venezuelans… [the] call for more sanctions on Venezuela is wrong. We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else. There needs to be dialogue and a negotiated settlement to overcome the crisis.”
It is clear that the US blockade will not help Venezuela’s people at all but simply exacerbate the country’s problems and divisions and put at severe risk millions of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens. Campaigning in Britain and internationally will continue to call for the immediate and unconditional lifting of all economic and financial sanctions, which are illegal under international law.
First published by Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.