In the wake of the successful elections for the new constituent assembly held in Venezuela on 30 July, which saw 545 members, pledged to the construction of a socialist future, voted in by direct, secret ballot across the whole country, US President Trump has enacted, by executive order, further sanctions against the defiant South American country.
These latest sanctions are designed to cut off financing to Venezuela from abroad by starving the economy of foreign exchange, and thus to further undermine the country’s economy and starve its people. They follow the Venezuelan Human Rights and Democracy Protection Act of 2014, which, along with sanctions, earmarked a $5m budget to “promote civil society in Venezuela” – ie, for funding pro-US propaganda and disruptive organisations in Venezuela. (HR 4587, Congressional Budget Office, 23 May 2014)
Using the traditional pretext of ‘concern for human rights and democracy’, the US continues to assert that the Venezuelan people have no right to defend themselves against the violence engendered by these US-backed groups, who themselves organise for the purpose of overthrowing the democratically elected government of Venezuela and bringing the rich back to power.
In a characteristic display of hypocrisy, the bill came mere months after the US national guard was brought into Ferguson, Missouri, to put down protests in the wake of yet another extrajudicial murder. By 2015, Obama had signed a presidential order calling Venezuela a threat to US national security – a further example of Goebbelsian propaganda.
To enact the latest sanctions, Trump had to tell the same lie. Namely, that Americans are suffering from a national emergency due to an “unusual and extraordinary threat to national security” posed by Venezuela. As US economist Mark Weisbrot has pointed out: “This is obviously ridiculous.” (Trump’s tough new sanctions will harm the people of Venezuela, Venezuela Analysis, 29 August 2017)
Of course, the Venezuelan people are not the enemy of US working people, and Citgo (a US-based subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, PdVSA) has donated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of heating oil to poor Americans since 2005, as well as offering a $5m aid contribution in the wake of the recent Hurricane Harvey.
A similar offer of aid was rejected after New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina, a move that has since been criticised by US officials, since promised federal aid has failed to materialise. (Despite oil donations, offers of Katrina aid, Chávez never caught on as saviour of poor in US, Fox News, 7 March 2013)
What Citizens Energy, the non-profit that distributed the donated oil, tried to do on a charitable basis before sanctions put an end to the programme, the Venezuelan government is doing on a national basis.
This is the crux of the matter – as soon as an independent government attempts to provide for its people rather than enabling the looting of its resources for profit, it becomes ‘a threat to US national security’.
In an abrupt volte-face Joe Kennedy (of the US political dynasty), the president of Citizens Energy, has declared that President Maduro has got to go, offering a litany of reasons straight from the US state department’s playbook, despite Maduro simply continuing the policies of his apparently acceptable predecessor Hugo Chávez, leader of the popular Bolivarian revolution. (It’s time for Maduro to go by Joseph P Kennedy II, The Washington Post, 8 August 2017)
US ‘democracy’ – a law unto itself
The sanctions are illegal, both under US and international law – hence the repeated lie that Venezuela is a threat to the US, which is the only way to justify passing the order. Furthermore, they violate the charter of the Organisation of American States (OAS), which states:
“No state or group of states has the right to intervene, directly or indirectly, for any reason whatever, in the internal or external affairs of any other state. The foregoing principle prohibits not only armed force but also any other form of interference or attempted threat against the personality of the state or against its political, economic, and cultural elements.
“No state may use or encourage the use of coercive measures of an economic or political character in order to force the sovereign will of another state and obtain from it advantages of any kind.” (Chapter 4, articles 19 and 20)
It would be farcical to claim that the United States takes this, or any of the other worthy words in the charter, seriously: the OAS has long been used as a tool to exert US pressure and control over sovereign nations in the western hemisphere.
It is no wonder that Venezuela is now preparing to leave the OAS, despite even right-wing Latin American governments failing to support the US’s current threats of military intervention against Venezuela.
Latest sanctions prove a step too far
The latest sanctions essentially block the operations of Citgo Petroleum Corporation, and are similar in form to the US’s energy sanctions against Russia. Citgo is barred from sending any dividends or profits back to Venezuela, and is severely limited in borrowing or in selling US assets.
This is likely to have a heavy impact on Venezuela’s presently struggling economy, where imports have already falled by 75 percent over the past five years.
Although it was claimed that the sanctions were targeted at Venezuelan government officials, the reality is that sanctions are not a surgical tool, especially when combined with the global drop in oil prices.
In reality, they gravely affect the Venezuelan economy and hence the livelihood of her people, who will now face more shortages of essential goods and more hardship as a result. The impoverished US citizens who were benefiting from Citgo’s social programmes will also be affected.
The purpose of the sanctions is regime change. They conveniently come just before the October regional elections, and are no doubt intended to bolster the counter-revolutionary opposition and to undermine the popular constituent assembly.
Venezuela is now moving towards dropping the use of the dollar in its oil trade – a move bound to enrage US imperialism, but one that is increasingly necessary if the government is to free the economy from imperialism’s financial clutches.
The dollar was dropped from foreign currency oil auctions just weeks after the announcement of sanctions, to be replaced by Chinese renminbi. This makes a lot of economic sense, as China’s economic relationship with Venezuela has grown hugely since Chávez first came to power. (Venezuela seeks dollar freedom by pricing oil in yuan, Sputnik, 28 September 2017)
The real threat to national security
The petrodollar is the dreadnought of America’s economic might, with which it is able to pressure and punish nations that have been required to trade in dollars – through necessity or force.
It allows the US to exert enormous influence through sanctions or the freezing of assets, and has been a major tool with which it has bullied Venezuela and many other countries that have attempted to implement independent economic policies for the benefit of their peoples.
Countries that have previously shifted away from trading oil in dollars include Iraq and Libya, and their subsequent destruction by the forces of imperialism underscores how serious such a move is.
A key difference today is that China, Russia, Iran, and other countries are increasingly able to challenge the global US empire. Many of the US’s allies are also growing tired of the constant war required to maintain its global hegemony, and even some of the more right-wing governments in Europe and South America find their tolerance for constant threats of regime-change wars lessening.
However, despite Korean leader Comrade Kim Jong Un’s correct rebuttal against US threats that “a frightened dog barks louder”, the US is a frightened dog with the world’s largest military force and is not a threat to be underestimated. As Chairman Mao put it: US imperialism is indeed a paper tiger, but one with iron teeth.
The Venezuelan government, army and people know this and, responding to threats of military intervention, have declared that they must be ready “to defend every inch of the [national] territory”. (Maduro puts army on alert as Venezuela threatened by ‘the most criminal empire’, Sputnik, 27 September 2017)
Victory to Venezuela!