By Katya Derevo
In the latest round of sanctions against Venezuela, on April 5, the United States identified and targeted 34 shipping vessels owned by Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA) and marked them as “blocked property” in an attempt to prevent the vessels from reaching Cuba.
The sanctions are not just a punishment on the Venezuelan oil industry; they also serve as a punishment on Cuba for standing in solidarity with the administration of President Nicolás Maduro.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement that the “[t]reasury is taking action against vessels and entities transporting oil, providing a lifeline to keep the illegitimate Maduro regime afloat.”
Back in January, when Juan Guaidó declared himself the interim president of Venezuela, socialist Cuba was one of approximately 50 countries that declared its support for President Maduro, who was democratically elected by the people last year.
These sanctions are being declared an act of “economic piracy” by Cuban diplomat Bruno Rodríguez, but U.S. officials are claiming that they are stopping payment from Maduro to Cuban security officials who are allegedly helping him to maintain control of the Venezuelan government. This is only the beginning.
The sanctions against the oil shipments on their way to Cuba are just the most recent of many sanctions implemented since the failed coup attempt by Juan Guaidó. Some have targeted governors and other high-ranking military officials while others have targeted the banking, mining and oil sectors in Venezuela.
Guaidó’s failure to capture military support
Juan Guaidó, the President of the National Assembly of Venezuela, declared himself the president of Venezuela back in January, despite President Maduro’s overwhelming support of the people at the polls in the prior election.
His claim to the presidency was backed by dozens of other countries, including the United States, Canada, Britain, Israel, and Australia, all countries that have a long history of imperialism. Guaidó was also backed by many Latin American right-wing government leaders as well. It was a clear attempt to allow U.S. corporations to have access to Venezuela’s oil reserves, which are some of the largest in the world.
When he declared himself president, Guaidó had been hoping that the the Venezuelan military would fall in line behind him, but in fact, the opposite happened. Most of the military continued to support President Maduro. The country’s Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino reaffirmed the military’s support of the president and disavowed the claim by Juan Guaidó.
Additionally, Venezuela’s Supreme Court remained solidly in support of President Maduro as well, ruling at the end of January that all actions led by Guaidó’s congress were null and void.
PDVSA and a few of the left-leaning governments in the region also remained in support of President Maduro.
Guaidó has also failed to capture the support of the people, as evidenced by the divide in the demonstrations that have taken place since Guaidó’s declaration in January. There are still many Venezuelans who support President Maduro, some of which are members of Bolivarian militias, ready to “take up arms, if it is necessary” to defend the Venezuelan people. Many Venezuelans feel that Juan Guaidó doesn’t represent them.
Sabotage and terrorism planned by the opposition
By the end of February, it became clear that the coup was not going through as Guaidó and his supporters thought it would. President Maduro still had a hold on the presidency.
On March 7, Venezuela suffered a nationwide blackout. Luis Motta Domínguez, the Minister of Electric Power, announced that the cause was rooted in sabotage to the central hydroelectric power plant and transmission area in El Guri, Bolívar state. Jorge Rodríguez, the Minister of Communication and Information, said the same, adding that the attack was aimed at harming the people and generating chaos and despair.
The blackouts were likely caused by the opposition with the support of the United States. Coincidentally, just one day prior, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio announced that Venezuela was “days away from grave scarcity of food and fuel,” and sent out tweets announcing the blackout just minutes after it occurred. It took five days to restore power to the whole country.
Eighteen days later, on March 25, the country experienced another blackout, this time caused by a “double attack” on the country’s main hydroelectric dam. Rodríguez issued a statement that accused the opposition of “sowing instability to achieve their destabilizing goals.” After the first attack that day, officials were able to restore power after about three hours. Several hours later, following a second attack, it took another day to restore power again.
Venezuelan authorities alleged that Juan Guaidó and other opposition leaders were involved in plotting to carry out acts of terrorism in the country. Using paramilitaries trained in Colombia, they planned to execute certain targets and commit acts of sabotage. Authorities arrested Guaidó’s chief of staff, Roberto Marrero, on accusations of leading a terrorist cell. Rodríguez claimed that Marrero was instrumental in hiring the mercenaries.
The U.S. responds to Maduro government with further sanctions
Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin demanded in a statement following Marrero’s arrest that he and other political prisoners needed to be released. The response to the arrest was the U.S. sanctioning of Venezuelan banks.
The Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank (BANDES) exists to support development projects. It is a major shareholder in the two major state-owned banks in Venezuela, the Bank of Venezuela and Banco Bicentenario, which are the banks that fund public pensions and benefits for the government. Any U.S. asset in which these entities hold more than 50 percent has been blocked as a result of the sanctions.
The U.S. Treasury has also imposed sanctions against the Venezuela General Mining Company (Minerven) and its president Adrian Perdomo. Venezuela sits on the second largest certified gold reserves in the world, and the company itself owns gold-processing plants and produces gold bars. Many of the mining operations are state-run.
Venezuela’s rich oil reserves have been a target as well, with a de facto oil embargo imposed in January that will cost the country approximately $11 billion in export revenue this year.
Idriss Jazairy, a human rights expert from the United Nations, stated that “economic sanctions are effectively compounding the grave [economic] crisis.” He showed concern that “these sanctions are aimed at changing the government of Venezuela.” Coercion, he said, should never be used to change the government of a sovereign state, and “[t]he use of sanctions by outside powers to overthrow an elected government is in violation of all norms of international law.”
Venezuelans are living under an “economic siege”
The actions of the United States are a form of economic warfare. Working-class Venezuelans are the ones who suffer every time the U.S. imposes a new sanction against the country. Under international law, these sanctions are considered illegal because they have not been endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.
“Sanctions kill,” said former special rapporteur for the U.N. Alfred de Zayas, who went to Venezuela in late 2017 to see for himself what was going on in the country. He noted how the sanctions affect the poorest people in society by causing food and medicine shortages that ultimately lead to death, which is a huge violation of human rights.
“Modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns,” de Zayas wrote in the report detailing what he found. “Twenty-first century sanctions attempt to bring not just a town, but sovereign countries to their knees.”
De Zayas said that the U.S. is attempting to overthrow the Venezuelan government in favor of a more business-friendly regime, which happened in Chile in 1973 and elsewhere in the region over the years. “I’ve seen that happen in the Human Rights Council, how the United States twists arms and convinces countries to vote the way they want them to vote, or there will be economic consequences, and these things are not reflected in the press.”
Eugenia Russian is the president of FUNDALATIN, a human rights organization in Venezuela that was founded in 1978, spoke about the “economic siege” that the country is living under and highlighted the impact it has on Venezuelans. “In contact with the popular communities, we consider that one of the fundamental causes of the economic crisis in the country is the effect that the unilateral coercive sanctions that are applied in the economy, especially by the government of the United States.”
“We will never abandon our duty of acting in solidarity with Venezuela”
In spite of the sanctions that the imperialist United States continues to dole out against Venezuela, with regards to the most recent sanctions that targeted shipments of oil bound for Cuba, Venezuela’s Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Arreaza has said that Venezuela will still fulfill its commitments to Cuba.
Likewise, Cuban leader Raúl Castro has promised to continue to support the Venezuelan people. In a recent speech to Cuba’s national assembly, Castro said, “We will never abandon our duty of acting in solidarity with Venezuela. We reject strongly all types of blackmail.” Cuba has been one of President Maduro’s strong supporters since Juan Guaidó proclaimed himself “interim president” of Venezuela.
The U.S. has a long history of intervening in foreign governments all across the world, under both Republican and Democratic presidents, and it’s clear that they will not stop punishing the Venezuelan people until they have successfully ousted the pro-socialist administration.
Though the United States government’s intervention has been pushed under the guise of human rights for Venezuelans, it is not up to the United States government to determine what is best for the Venezuelan people. In actuality, the reason for intervention has nothing to do with concern for the people; it’s about money. It’s about the control of the country’s rich natural resources and putting into power a government that is more pro-business and pro-capitalist.
A country that has more than a half million people experiencing homelessness on any given night, where 49 million people struggle to put food on the table for their families, where more than one in five children is at risk of hunger, where the official poverty rate is 12.3 percent, and where 28.5 million people have no health insurance has absolutely no business lecturing other countries on human rights. The U.S. needs to stop pretending to be a bastion of human rights and democracy because it’s a good example of neither.
We need to give our full support to working-class Venezuelans in determining their own future. Venezuela has a right to exist as a sovereign country without imperialist intervention. Cuba stands in full solidarity, so too should the rest of us.
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