By Fiona Edwards
Published on Eyes on Latin America, Feb 6, 2019
The Trump administration is attempting to bully the Venezuelan people into submission through a combination of economic sanctions, military threats and intense international political pressure. The goal of the US administration is to force Venezuela’s democratically elected government out and to replace it with a puppet regime loyal to US imperialism, under the Presidency of the unelected Juan Guaido.
US National Security Advisor John Bolton has been explicit about the US interests involved in overthrowing the Venezuelan government. He said:
“We are in conversation with major American companies now that are either in Venezuela or in the case of Citgo here in the United States. I think we are trying to get to the same end result here. Venezuela is one of the three countries — I call it the troika of tyranny. It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It would be good for the people of Venezuela, it would be good for the people of the United States. We both have a lot at stake here making this come out the right way.”
Juan Guaido’s envoy to the US has stated that he would allow foreign private companies a “greater stake” in Venezuela’s oil industry if Guaido replaces the Maduro government.
Toppling Venezuela’s government is regarded as the first step to eliminating what John Bolton describes as Latin America’s “troika of tyranny” which also includes Nicaragua and Cuba. If the US succeeds in overthrowing the left in Venezuela it would be a colossal defeat for all progressives across the world. It would significantly strengthen the US-led right wing offensive in the region, leaving the left governments in Nicaragua, Cuba and Bolivia vulnerable to further attacks and isolation.
Trump’s decision to recognise Juan Guadio as Venezuela’s “interim President” failed to incite the Venezuelan military to orchestrate a coup to remove Venezuela’s democratic government. Accordingly, the US has resorted to increasing the pressure politically and economically through extremely aggressive measures, including new economic sanctions which have the potential to devastate Venezuela’s oil industry.
In another sign that the US government is upping the ante against Venezuela, convicted war criminal Elliott Abrams – who presided over the 1980s ‘dirty war’ era in Latin America which saw US-backed death squads murder hundreds of thousands of people – has been appointed the US’ Special Envoy on Venezuela.
All this indicates that the US is fully committed to delivering regime change in Venezuela as an immediate foreign policy goal, and is prepared to dramatically and rapidly escalate its assault on the Venezuelan people to achieve this end.
US economic sanctions will starve and kill the Venezuelan people
A central plank to the US’ strategy to overthrow the government in Venezuela is to weaken its political support internally by using economic sanctions as a means to impoverish and demoralise the Venezuelan people.
On Monday 28 January 2019 – just days after recognising the unelected Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president” – the Trump administration announced new sanctions which effectively amount to a US oil embargo on Venezuela. These sanctions, which are expected to be active from April, are extremely dangerous.
Venezuela is overwhelmingly reliant upon its oil industry which is responsible for 90% of government revenues and used to fund social welfare programmes. Currently, Venezuela exports just under half of its total oil output to the US – about 450,000 barrels of oil per day. John Bolton estimates that the new US sanctions will cost the Venezuelan economy $11 billion in lost exports in 2019.
The US has also seized $7 billion of assets from Venezuela’s oil company and handed control of Venezuela’s bank accounts in the US to Juan Guaido. This move is designed to bolster the right wing Venezuelan opposition in its attempt to set up a parallel, illegitimate government in the country.
This dramatic escalation of the Trump administration economic war on Venezuela is designed to foster the conditions for regime change by punishing the Venezuelan people. The Economist, a vocal cheerleader of regime change in Venezuela, outlined both the purpose of US sanctions and also the humanitarian consequences in a tweet on 1 February 2019, which stated: “Juan Guaido and Donald Trump are betting that sanctions will topple the regime before they starve the Venezuelan people.”
Since 2015 the US has imposed wave upon wave of sanctions against Venezuela which have already cost the economy billions of dollars and has caused the Venezuelan people to suffer.
A former United Nations Special Rapporteur, Alfred de Zayas, who visited Venezuela at the end of 2017 on a UN fact-finding mission, reported that the US sanctions are killing the Venezuelan people by creating shortages of food and medicine. His report recommended that the US sanctions on Venezuela should be investigated as possible “crimes against humanity” by the International Criminal Court. De Zayas said, “modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns. Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.”
Trump’s sanctions are also making it “nearly impossible” for the Maduro government to take the steps necessary to lift Venezuela out of its economic depression and end the hyperinflation which is engulfing the country according to economist Mark Weisbrot.
The new economic sanctions announced by the Trump administration are designed to starve, kill and punish the Venezuelan people so that they submit to the US and its puppet, illegitimate, unelected “interim” president.
US military threats
With the economic pressure mounting, Trump continues to assert that US military intervention in Venezuela is “an option” and John Bolton was recently photographed with his memo pad showing a note that said “5,000 troops to Columbia.”
Columbia and Brazil – both large countries ruled by extremely right wing governments that are closely aligned to the US – border Venezuela and have been cited as possible allies for a US led military intervention against Venezuela. However, a meeting of the Lima Group on 4 February 2019 where Brazil and Colombia were represented ruled out support for military intervention.
A US-led war on Venezuela would cause horrific devastation for the people of Venezuela and the entire region. The lessons of the recent US-led wars on Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere, which caused the deaths of more than a million people with millions more injured and displaced is that US military intervention produces catastrophic results.
US mobilises international pressure
Another strand to the US plan for overthrowing the Venezuelan government is to isolate it internationally.
A number of US allies, including Canada, Israel, some right wing governments in Latin America and European governments including France, Germany, the UK, Spain and Portugal have recognised the unelected Guaido as Venezuela’s “interim president.”
But Venezuela is not alone. Within Latin America, the governments of Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Uruguay are calling for dialogue and reject US intervention. Many major governments internationally recognise Maduro as the legitimate President of Venezuela including India, South Africa, Russia, China, Iran and Turkey. The African Union also recognises the Maduro government.
The people of Venezuela should determine their own future, not Trump
In the wake of the US’ escalating threats against Venezuela, massive pro government protests have taken place all across Venezuela. Such protests are not accurately reported in the Western mainstream media. Major news outlets are spreading disinformation in order to build international public opinion behind the US regime change operation in Venezuela. Censorship is also taking place – nearly 2,000 pro-Venezuela Twitter accounts were removed for “engaging in a state-backed influence campaign.”
The notion that Trump, Bolton and the rest of the US administration are applying sanctions, political pressure and issuing military threats in the name of “freedom” and “democracy” is absurd. According to an opinion poll of January 2019 the Venezuelan people reject US intervention in their country, with:
- 81% disagreeing with US economic and financial sanctions that are currently applied against Venezuela
- 86% disagreeing with international military intervention in Venezuela to remove President Maduro from power
The Venezuelan people are facing immense attacks and threats from the US. The goal of the US is to deny the Venezuelan people their right to determine their own affairs, to choose their own President, to control their country’s resources and for their country to pursue an independent foreign policy.
Progressives across the world can help the people of Venezuela in this moment of dire crisis by joining the call for the US to lift the sanctions on Venezuela and build opposition to a further escalation of US aggression including the threat of war.
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