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Wednesday, 04 August 2021

Sanctions as weapons of mass destruction

Eying the largest known reserves of oil in the world, Trump has tightened the noose around the neck of the Venezuelan people, hoping to instigate regime change, writes Faiza Rady

Faiza Rady, Saturday 31 Aug 2019

“I remember well when TV was first introduced to Venezuela in 1962, the whole family would gather and watch in awe as international news stories reached our own living room. We were totally mesmerised,” recalled Wilmer Omar Barrientos, ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to Cairo, at a recent press conference. “What we didn’t know then was the TV’s function of mind control, how theproduction of embedded corporate news has been historically used by the US and its allies to promote their imperialist ambitions through campaigns of disinformation — as in the case of Venezuela and a host of other countries.”

Venezuelans refer to it as guerramediática, while late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez spoke of “media dictatorship”, writes Nino Pagliccia in the US journal Counterpunch. It goes without saying that the most effective defence strategy of the US corporate media is to respond to such accusations by going on the offensive. A case in point, last April,Time magazine announced that “Venezuelans are starving for information” reportsPagliccia, to which Venezuela.Analysis.comretortsthat,“Creative reporting about Venezuela is the world’s most lucrative fictional genre”. In the real world there are three private TV channels in Venezuela, and a satellite provider that includes FOX News, CNN and BBC. And what’s more, opposition print and online media are uncensored and widely available.

As for “fictional genre”, some of The New York Timesstories may top the list of ingenious and creative reporting. “How else would you interpret the NYT information that Hizbullah is in Venezuela?” asks Pagliccia.Theirs is a bizarre and incongruent interpretation of the Lebanese origins of Tareck El-Aissami, theVenezuelan minister of industries and national production.

On a more serious note, take the ad nauseum echoed insinuations in the US press that Nicolas Maduro is an “illegitimate” president. “Let’s leave fiction aside for a while and look at his record,” said Ambassador Barrientos. “Maduro first won the presidential elections on 14 April 2013. He also won the second elections on 20 May 2018, with67 per cent of the vote, amounting to the votes six million people. Moreover, five candidates representing different political parties and ideologies challenged Maduro’s bid for the presidency. The most right wing parties decided to boycott the elections; however, this was a matter of their choice— they weren’t politically sidelinedor forced to do so. They simply refused to participate because they anticipated defeat. And more importantly, a review of the validity of the elections based on international standards was verified by international observers.”Also, previous elections were lauded in 2012 by former US President Jimmy Carter, who described the election process in Venezuela as “the best in the world”.

Meanwhile, the US and its allies decreed that Maduro should be replaced by self-proclaimed “Interim President” Juan Guaidó.The current president of the National Assembly— arotating title for party delegates in the legislature—Guaidó is a US-backed candidate who went public with his self-appointment in a street rally on 23 January, one day after US Vice President Mike Pence posted a video online claiming that Maduro is a dictator with no legitimate claim to power, and asserting US support for Guaidó, The Times reported.

The Trump administration’s support for their choice candidate was promoted at the international level on 6 August when Guaidóattended a 56-country conference in Lima, Peru, where US allies acknowledged himas Venezuela’s “legitimate interim president”.

“Even so,” comments Barrientos, “the 56-country meeting doesn’t represent a global majority, namely about 120 countries which support Bolivarian Venezuela and our elected president, Nicolas Maduro. Among those are Russia, China and the United Nations as a representative body of the international community.”

At the heart of US insistence to effect regime change in Venezuela isthe country’s oil reserves, the largest worldwide. “But it’s not only the greed for oil,”says Barrientos. “The US onslaught on our country is also based on their need to eradicate our successful socialist history, dating back to Hugo Chavez’selection to the presidency in 1998. This in addition to our oil resources motivated the US-backed coup against Chavez in 2002, and their relentless imposition of sanctions under the Obama administration in addition to their current escalation.”

Since 1998, the US has been on the warpath to shatter Venezuela’s socialist achievements, such as providing free healthcare, free education at all levels, subsidised food networks and housing construction. Prior to the sanctions, Venezuela also boasted the lowest inequality level in the Americas,having reduced poverty levels from 80 to 20 per cent.

On 5 August, the Trump administration further intensified its sanctions, freezing all government assets in the US and threatening to impose sanctions on any country trading with Venezuela. The following day, US National Security Advisor John Bolton addressed the Lima conference, saying: “We are sending a signal to third parties that want to do business with the Maduro regime: proceed with extreme caution. There is no need to risk your business interests with the United States,”reports Kevin Young on NACLA, a Central and South American news site.

In January 2019, the administration-imposed sanctions barred Venezuela’s state oil company from trading with the US. And in August 2019, Trump cut off Venezuela from accessing US financial markets.

Guaidó applauded the latest sanctions regime on Twitter, writing that sanctions “safeguard… the Venezuelan private sector which does not do business with a dictatorship”, andconcluding that sanctions “look to protect the Venezuelans”.

The sanctions that “safeguard the private sector”, as Guaidó claims, have cost the Venezuelan economy an estimated $130 billion in frozen and lost revenues, says Pagliccia.In the real world, this alleged “protection of the Venezuelans” has wreaked havoc on the country’s people. A report published by the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in April, researched by renowned economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, recounts:“We find that sanctions have inflicted and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018; and that these sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions to which the US is a signatory. They are also illegal under international law and treaties that the US has signed… Congress should move to stop it.”

The authors predict that the January 2019 sanctions will almost certainly result in tens of thousands more avoidable deaths. This is based on an estimated 80,000 HIV patients who have not had antiretroviral treatment since 2017, 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 people with cancer, four million with diabetes and hypertension, many of whom cannot obtain insulin or cardiovascular medicine.

In the meantime, US government officials are candidly celebrating their anticipated “victory” over Venezuela’s socialist government. At a 11 March press conference, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that Guaidó’s finest hour was nearing because,“You can see the increasing pain and suffering that the Venezuelans are suffering from,”cites Young.

The same US strategy and posture dates back to the early embargo against socialist Cuba. After the 1959 Cuban Revolution, State Department official Lester Mallory wrote privately that “every possible means should be undertaken to weaken the economic life of Cuba… to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow the government.”

The ever-tightening US siege on Venezuela was aptly described by international lawyer and former UN special rapporteur on human rights Alfred de Zayas, who accused Washington of waging economic warfare and comparing its results to the “medieval sieges of towns” for which the people always pay the highest price.

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