Letters & Opinion

Sanctions Killing Venezuelans While (some) Neighbours Procrastinate!

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Chronicles Of A Chronic Caribbean Chronicler By Earl Bousquet

It’s extremely difficult to fathom how one can help others by harming them. But the Trump Administration insists its broad regime of punitive sanctions against Venezuela is to help its citizens, many of whom instead opt to leave the country than live with the effects.

Venezuela and its 32.8 million people sit on the largest certified oil reserves in the world, making it a constant target of successive US administrations with eyes set more on extracting its natural resources than improving its people’s welfare.

Turning back the clock
Trying hard to turn back the hands of time, Washington has since 2017 taken the ongoing fight to return access and control of Venezuela’s oil to US corporations to the highest levels since socialist popular President Hugo Chavez was first elected in 1998.

Chavez survived Presidents George Bush Jr and Barack Obama. But since taking office in 2017 – and particularly since January 2019 — the Trump White House has tried every trick in the book to depose his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, including: Supporting unelected opposition leader Juan Guaido as ‘Interim President’ while plotting the armed overthrow of the elected president; encouraging a failed army coup on April 30; continuing to invite the national army to rebel; directly funding opposition political activities; crippling Venezuela’s oil exports; seizing Venezuelan diplomatic and property assets in the USA; confiscating billions of dollars of the Venezuela national oil company PDVSA’s assets in the US; and continuing to pile new sanctions every time it appears the warring parties might be edging closer to smoking the peace pipe.

Washington has for the past two years employed a consistent multi-pronged strategy combining political and diplomatic pressure with open threats of military intervention – backed by a regime of deadly trade, economic, financial and other related sanctions – all aimed at creating conditions for Maduro’s downfall.

Overwhelming Costs
Over 150 sanctions have been imposed since 2017 and the costs to Venezuela have been deadly and overwhelming: by July 2019 sanctions measures had cost the country over US $116 Billion – or, eleven times the value of its international reserves.

On August 5, 2019 another round of new sanctions was imposed, this time freezing assets of the Venezuelan government and associated entities — and prohibiting any and all affected federal, state and/or private US transactions with Caracas.

The state today still spends up to 75% of its reduced earnings on providing social services to the most needy and 4.6 million pensioners are still getting paid.

Desired Effect
But the sanctions are having the desired effect as they continue to curtail the government’s ability to provide social services, thus hitting ordinary Venezuelans hardest where they hurt most.

A popular government food-supply program called CLAP directly benefits 17 million needy citizens and serves a statistical average of 120 million-per-year. But it’s now been rendered helpless by the latest sanctions, which stop the country from importing the essential ingredients for the free food-for-the-poor packages.

Venezuela can also no longer import basic medicines, leaving millions vulnerable to preventable diseases — and death — as stocks dry-up, rendering hospitals and health facilities across the country helpless.

Taking Lives
But worst of all, the sanctions are also taking lives.

The US-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) in April 2019 released the findings of a study entitled “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela” that revealed 40,000 Venezuelans had died since 2017 as a direct result of the sanctions.

The investigators found (at the time) that: 80,000 Venezuelans with HIV had not had anti-retroviral treatment since the sanctions started to bite hardest in 2017; 16,000 couldn’t access dialysis; 16,000 had cancer; and a whopping four million had diabetes and hypertension, many of whom couldn’t even obtain insulin or cardiovascular medicine.

Co-authors, Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs concluded that the US actions were directly “depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food and other essential imports” — and were deliberately aimed at “wrecking the economy to create a basis for regime change.”

The sanctions have also lowered Venezuela’s oil production, falling with every new announcement at a rate of 431,000 barrels per day (or 36.4 percent) since January 2019. And with a projected 67 percent decline for this year now most likely to worsen, many more Venezuelan lives are at stake.

United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet on August 8 indicated that far from helping Venezuelans, the sanctions were hurting them – and badly.

She warned that the “extremely broad” sanctions announced by Washington on August 5 will also have “far-reaching implications for the rights to health and to food in particular, in a country where there are already serious shortages of essential goods…”

But like with the CEPR, it’s like the top UN official was also talking to the wind, as Washington has taken every opportunity – especially since their respective reports — to repeatedly underline that its ultimate objective is to ‘Get rid of Maduro’ – and apparently by any means possible or deemed necessary.

‘America’s backyard’
Like all before them, the Venezuela sanctions today reflect the Washington’s constant pursuit of unilateralism and interventionism in ‘The Americas’, according to its 21st Century application of the age-old interventionist ‘Monroe Doctrine’ policy of forever treating Latin America and the Caribbean as ‘America’s backyard’.

But the majority of the world’s nations and people support a peaceful path for Venezuela’s future, as reaffirmed by two important back-to-back international events hosted in Caracas in July – both of which also condemned the US sanctions: the Ministerial Summit of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries was attended by 120 nations; and the 2019 Sao Paolo Forum brought together another 120 representatives of social and political movements from across the neighbouring Latin American and Caribbean region.

The US sanctions versus Venezuela, however, have the same intent as all others everywhere else before and since: to force Washington’s will on unwilling governments.

To be continued…

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