Sanctions against the people
A new embargo against Venezuela became effective on August 5th through an Executive Order signed by United States President Donald Trump, titled “Executive Order on Blocking Property of the Government of Venezuela.”
This new executive order against the Bolivarian Republic came with the usual mantra from the media that the sanctions do not affect the Venezuelan people but the “Maduro regime.” Although the Executive Order directly indicates the blockade of all assets and interests of the Venezuelan government, what is not outlined clearly is that their interpretation of the Venezuelan government also means the Venezuelan State.
The intensifying sanctions campaign against the Venezuelan State began two years ago in August 2017 and has only increased the suffering of the Venezuelan people and does not threaten the collapse of the Bolivarian government. The sanctions have created significant obstacles for investments in Venezuela and directly affect companies operating in the country. This has only intensified the suffering of the Venezuelan people. Why would sanctions against the government affect the general population though?
Despite the media mantra that sanctions do not affect the people as the embargo does not target medicines and food, the sanctions do target the financial and technological sectors. This means that the buying, selling, updating and importing of medical, surgical, pharmaceutical, laboratory equipment, telecommunications, and internet and hosting will suffer obstacles because the Executive Order prohibits the assistance or sponsorship of entities or individuals in the material and technological exchange with the country.
The development of telecommunications go hand in hand with foreign investments, particularly from China. Therefore, it can be observed that the sanctions do not also aim to financially topple Venezuela, but also to hinder China’s impressive economic presence in Latin America, challenging Washington in its “own backyard.”
Similarly, servers, domains on the internet and hosting, begin to suspend their relations with Venezuelan companies. However, as internet and hosting companies begin to suspend their relations with Venezuela, as had happened with Sedo, it is only a matter of time before payment systems such as Paypal stop providing services to users in Venezuela.
In addition, because of the new sanctions, there is a strong possibility that commercial shipping to Venezuela will significantly reduce as shipping companies will suffer threats or sanctions when dealing with Venezuela. This will only amplify a food shortage in the Bolivarian Republic as foreign private distribution lines can face sanctions if directing goods to the country.
Lima Group in support of the sanctions
The Peruvian capital of Lima is the continued location for the Lima Group, a multilateral body consisting of Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru, with the full backing of Washington of course, and was the scene of a meeting between foreign ministers, diplomatic representatives and other operators involved in the regime change in Venezuela. The Peruvian host, Foreign Minister Nestor Popolizio, declared the body’s support for Juan Guaidó as interim president of Venezuela.
Popolizio said they expect the US blockade “will allow Nicolás Maduro’s departure from power sooner rather than later.”
“All countries have listened to the measures taken by the United States last night (Monday). They have raised them at the meeting and what we have done is take note of them, because we know they will have a real impact within the Maduro regime and we hope that allow the regime to leave sooner rather than later,” the Peruvian foreign minister told reporters.
And of course, that typical mantra was also made by Popolizio, with him stating that the sanctions are “not against the people of Venezuela.” Therefore, there is the disturbing reality that a dozen countries in the Americas support the blockade against Venezuela. With the effort to incorporate American countries into the same agenda, the possibility of this bloc expands the measures against Venezuela as part of adhering to US foreign policy.
The US policy of collective punishment on Venezuelan people
The most disturbing part in a report titled “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that 40,000 deaths in Venezuela can be directly attributed to Trump’s sanctions.
“The sanctions are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food and other essential imports. This is illegal under international laws and treaties that the US has signed. Congress should move to stop it,” said Mark Weisbrot, the CEPR Co-Director and co-author of the report.
The report was also co-authored by Jeffrey Sachs who teaches at Columbia University and was a director of the Harvard Institute for International Development at the Kennedy School of Government. He said that “Venezuela’s economic crisis is routinely blamed all on Venezuela. But it is much more than that. American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”
“The sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. They exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths. All of these impacts disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans,” the report said.
With these shocking facts revealed by the report, it is rendered shocking that American states, the overwhelming majority Latin, would support sanctions that have killed at least 40,000 people and surely more. Because of the little support that Venezuela finds in the region, it has had to look abroad and find new friends, the most obvious being the Great Powers of Russia and China, but also towards far away Middle Powers like Turkey and Iran in the Middle East – regional hegemons in their own right, but with little history of this level of activity in Latin America. It is largely because of these transcontinental relations on the international front that the Maduro administration has with these states that Venezuela has been able to survive against the intense sanctions and pressures it receives from the United States and the Lima Group.
Domestically, we should include, Maduro has been able to maintain support from broad sectors of the population as a result of the social welfare and wealth redistribution policies of the government. Without this support from Venezuela’s people, the mass mobilizations against those mobilizations sponsored by the U.S backed NGO sector against the government would not be possible.
Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs makes a compelling case. Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘Collective Punishment’ as: “A penalty inflicted on a group of persons without regard to individual responsibility for the conduct giving rise to the penalty”. It further reminds that “Collective punishment was outlawed in 1949 by the Geneva Convention”.
This is significant in that this places those in vectors of US power supporting these measures in the same camp as those who historically have committed similar atrocities – war crimes and crimes against humanity.
What should be reminded here as well, is that the results of the Nuremberg Trials have further informed international law and interpreted, probably justifiably, the Geneva Conventions also to apply to journalists and publications which authored and published editorials in support of such actions. Any number of US journalistic and news outlets have indeed published such: the question remains as to whether there will ever be a ‘truth and reconciliation’ period, where such publications are held to account for their commissions of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as the balance of power in the world continues to sway away from the post-WWII and post-Cold-War paradigms of (varying) US global hegemony.
US progressives and US soft power
This touches on another aspect of the relative inability of the US to successfully garner internal support for further action against Venezuela. For the last three or four decades, the US has relied significantly on soft-power vectors of influence in order to influence or even ultimately topple governments whose policies were at odds with the interests of multi-national and trans-national corporations with strong ties to the US or trans-Atlantic financial interests.
These soft-power vectors themselves take the form of numerous NGOs which may be financed by a web of private sponsors and even state-actors through the UN, or through the US’s own National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and US-AID.
In turn these NGOs rely on being staffed by members of civil society, citizens, professionals, who donate finances and expertise, or work as staff on payroll, who themselves identify as part of a general movement or progressive trend towards social and economic justice. Often these people come with a particular focus on human rights, and in particular often with a focus on the reproductive rights of women and the rights of women and girls.
Venezuela has done an excellent job at telling its own story in a way which is sympathetic to this very same milieu, and indeed relies upon real statistical data registered with the World Health Organization and the UN’s Human Development Index to effectively argue their case. Because of this proven track record, as a consequence the US has had a much more difficult time at exerting real soft power pressure upon Venezuela when compared to the more effective narrative it has been able to associate with countries like Iran. In short, the staff of US backed NGOs which may be more open to generally anti-Iranian or anti-Russian narratives on subjects relating to intersectional oppression and patriarchy, are much more apprehensive about being ‘deployed’ as a US soft-power agent to work against Venezuela – a country that has proven its commitment to ‘human rights’ within a language compatible with the discursive framework of the US and first-world left.
To wit, the Lima Group countries which have supported US actions against Venezuela are nearly universally led by governments which draw upon the US’ pre ‘soft-power’ strategy; one which echoes back strongly to themes of dictatorship and right-wing paramilitaries and death squads. Thus, the would-be staff of the US Non-profit industrial complex is more informed and better educated on the US history in Latin America as opposed to Eastern-Europe and the MENA region – even when some of the staff, supporters, and activists themselves come from those regions.
This phenomenon may be a product of a hierarchy of values – placing certain areas of observing human rights within a country (for example, the perceived status of women and girls) as a main priority, even over the generally disastrous consequences of US intervention. US intervention, though generally couched within the framework of defense if human rights as outlined in the so-called Chicago Doctrine (or R2P – Responsibility to Protect), often destabilizes a whole society, even the surrounding geographic region. Even though in the process of destabilization, and in the aftermath, the status of women and girls significantly deteriorates as they would be expected to, under worsened economic conditions and conditions of war (which lead to increases in human trafficking, lack of access to medical care, etc.), such consequences often escape the projections and calculations of staffers of US-backed NGO’s nominally dedicated to human rights.
Therefore, Venezuela has succeeded in disarming a significant segment of US soft-power efforts by strategically intersecting the ideological framework of the staffers and ‘zealots’ of the US NGO sector itself.
Concluding thoughts and policy recommendations
The recent round of sanctions against Venezuela, effective August 5th, will have a deleterious effect on transactions which effect individuals at the individual level, such as the suspension of various internet hosting possibilities, and even the cutting off of Paypal. Shipping companies may also feel significant pressure, and may evaluate that on the balance, business with Venezuela is a much less attractive option.
Countries such as China could work to protect their investments and commitments in Venezuela by offering assurances and guarantees to various international shipping companies, including supply-line security measures using its navy.
These US policies qualify as collective punishment, and those US policy advocates, politicians, corporate leaders, and media/journalistic outlets which have supported these illegal policies, are guilty of crimes against humanity. Ultimately, justice will demand that these individuals be brought to justice at The Hague, or other similar court empowered by the UN at the level of the General Assembly, and these should be pursued.
The US relies significantly on soft-power in numerous stages of a regime-change operation, but the operationalization of progressive/left oriented NGOs which the US uses effectively in other regions, are less of a utility given Venezuela’s success at telling its story within a discursive framework which the staff of these NGO’s find sympathetic.