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Sanctions Are Like Bombs

by Harald Neuber Friday, Nov. 22, 2019 at 11:24 AM

Venezuela is one of 41 states that depend on external food assistance to avert a humanitarian crisis. The US government is copying its blockade policy against Cuba. There is hardly any criticism of US sanctions. Six million, 60% of the population, are sustained by the food program.


Donald Trump at the UN General Assembly

The US seizes the assets of the Venezuelan government

By Harald Neuber

[This article published on September 26, 2019, is translated from the German on the Internet,]

Venezuela is one of a group of 41 states that depends on external food assistance to avoid a humanitarian crisis according to a report [1] of the United Nations Food Organization (FAO). Besides the South American crisis state, the UN organization only cites Haiti in this region as needing help.

The FAO refers to political conflicts as a reason for hunger crises alongside weather conditioned-losses in agricultural food production. The hyperinflation in Venezuela has greatly weakened the local purchasing power according to the report. [2] Grain production declines on account of deficient agricultural equipment." Oblivious to that deficiency, the US government intensifies the punitive measures against Venezuela.

The crisis in Venezuela is increasingly caused by sanctions against the incumbent government of President Nicolas Maduro. In the last years, the US has repeatedly imposed punitive measures against the government and economy of the South American state. The US under President Donald Trump supports the self-proclaimed interim president Juan Guaido. Through the sanctions, Washington tries to force the Maduro government to its knees and to chase the successor of the late leader of the "Bolivarian Revolution" Hugo Chavez from his office.

The worsening humanitarian crisis is accepted approvingly. The US government is copying its blockade policy against Cuba since the beginning of the 1960s. The "consistent" US-Cuba policy "has effectively punished the totalitarian Castro regime" – the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 [3] – according to one of the recent US sanction laws against Cuba. A government "without Fidel Castro or Raul Castro" is the goal.

Hardly Any Criticism of Sanctions against Venezuela

In the case of Cuba, the political-economic measures taken against a state with the target of a regime change were condemned every year by a clear majority of the UN General Assembly. In the middle of September 2019, Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez presented the new annual report on the US blockade that estimated the accumulated damage at 9 billion. In 2018 alone, the US blockade cost Cuba .3 billion.

While the aggressive US policy against Cuba is internationally proscribed – though this doesn't change much -, the action against Venezuela meets far less opposition. Still, the humanitarian consequences are obvious. Migration from Venezuela increases more and more because of the political, economic and social crisis. Supply shortages mount up that can hardly be cushioned by the government.

In early September 2019, the Trump administration announced [6] new sanctions against persons and corporations connected with the government food program, the so-called Clap. [7] Assets of three persons and 16 firms which had 50% or more share were seized… The punitive measures involve a dozen businesses with offices in Columbia, Panama, and Italy.

The local production- and supply committees (Clap) form a food distribution network maintained by the Maduro government in cooperation with local municipal councils. Six million households, more than sixty percent of the population, are sustained by the program according to estimates. The bulk of distributed food is imported. The US sanctions take effect here.

Sanctions Provoke Domestic Conflicts

In April 2019, Venezuela's foreign minister Jorge Arreaza already warned of the negative humanitarian consequences of the US sanctions. [8] More than five billion euros of Venezuelan state funds in international banks could be seized. "We want to make known the consequences of the unilateral blockade of the US government against Venezuela that has cost the lives of thousands of Venezuelans," Arreaza said. The US punitive measures increasingly aggravate the Venezuelan state in buying food and medicine. In the spring, according to Arreaza's data, the Bank of England, Citibank, Clearstream, London, North Capital, the Portuguese Novo Banco and the Japanese banking house Sumittomo had already frozen millions.

In the middle of the year, the US diplomat Thomas Shannon [9], a critic of the Trump administration, insisted "the sanctions imposed by the United States against Venezuela are inflicting enormous harm on the Venezuelan people." [10] The sanctions are "more or less comparable to the bombing of Dresden and Tokyo," the former Latin American director of the US State Department said in an interview with the Financial Times. "We see the destruction of Venezuela as a country and as a society." That some people deny this is incredible, Shannon said. "Either their massive misjudgment in supporting sanctions against the Venezuelan oil- and gas industry or their desire to inflict tremendous harm on Venezuela to overturn Maduro is proven."

Venezuela's government canceled a planned meeting with the opposition in Barbados because of the increasingly aggressive US sanctions. In a comment, President Maduro explained the new punitive measures represented a "grave and brutal aggression." "With a great shock, we see the leader of the opposition delegation Juan Guaido acclaims, promotes and supports these actions."

Politicizing Humanitarian Aid

In the opinion of humanitarian actors in Venezuela, the relief in the past hardly led to improved availability of medical equipment. The emergency rooms in the South American country suffered.

A few weeks after his self-nomination, Guaido tried unsuccessfully to bring US goods from Columbia to Venezuela against the will of the Maduro government. After this conflict, Maduro gave permission to the International Red Cross and the United Nations to supply hospitals with medical equipment. "There is still no stable supply in our opinion," said Julio Castro [11] from the Venezuelan NGO Medicos por la Salud (Physicians for Health) [12]. Data from co-workers at Venezuela's 40 public hospitals corroborate his statement. Around 50% of the necessary supplies in emergency rooms are missing, Castro said.

Given this situation, the struggle around Venezuelan humanitarian aid is waged ever more intensely. A few days ago, the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights (UNHCHR) and the Venezuelan government signed an agreement on future cooperation. The continuing presence of a team of two UN human rights officials in the country is planned. The agreement is the basis for conversations on establishing a UN Human Rights office in Venezuela," UNHCHR said. [13]

On the other hand, the US promised million for the opposition around Guaido [14] after an aggressive speech [15] by President Trump against Venezuela before the UN General Assembly. The US development aid organization USAID explained the funds would go to the health sector alongside "independent media," political groups and the National Assembly dominated by the opposition.

Links in this article:

















Answer Coalition, “Sanctions are war,” March 5, 2019

Fabian Goldman, “Sanctions, war with other means,” 8/28/2019

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