Economists Warn Trump’s Sanctions Target Venezuela: ‘A Death Sentence for Tens of Thousands’

April 28th, 2019 - by Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams

“It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”

 (April 25, 2019) — Two American economists warn that U.S. sanctions targeting Venezuela “are a death sentence for tens of thousands of people” and that the nation’s humanitarian crisis will worsen as long as the sanctions continue.

Since August of 2017, President Donald Trump has imposed sanctions that “have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018,” write Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs.\

Their paper—entitled Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela (pdf)—was published Thursday by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and comes as Trump continues to back opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s effort to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

The broad sanctions Trump imposed in 2017 fueled a sharp decline in oil production that impeded the Maduro government’s ability to “import medicine, food, medical equipment, spare parts and equipment needed for electricity generation, water systems, or transportation,” and the U.S. president has ramped up economic pressure since offering his support to Guaidó earlier this year.

In late January, asCommon Dreams reported, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA), the state-run oil company that serves as “a primary source of income and foreign currency for the country.” Earlier this month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence unveiled more sanctions targeting the Maduro government as well as companies that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

Overall, Trump’s sanctions have “exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths,” write Weisbrot and Sachs. “All of these impacts disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.”

“These sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the U.S. is a signatory,” the economists say. “They are also illegal under international law and treaties which the U.S. has signed, and would appear to violate U.S. law as well.”

Given the toll Trump’s economic policies are taking on Venezuela’s civilian population, Weisbrot, in a statement Thursday, called on federal lawmakers to take action.

“The sanctions are depriving Venezuelans of lifesaving medicines, medical equipment, food, and other essential imports,” he said. “This is illegal under U.S. and international law, and treaties that the U.S. has signed. Congress should move to stop it.”

As Sachs put it, “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,” he said. “It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”

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Disrupting Elliott Abrams

Pat Elder / Common Dreams

CODEPINK’s Ariel Gold interrupts Elliott Abrams.

(April 27, 2019) — Elliott Abrams, the U.S. State Department Special Representative for Venezuela, delivered the keynote speech at the Atlantic Council’s event “Venezuela After Maduro: A Vision for the Country’s Future.”

See the entire 1 hour 26 min. Atlantic Council video here.

Following are several clips of what Abrams had to say, followed by our commentary. The best part of the event occurred when the brilliant CODEPINK activist, Ariel Gold interrupted the vicious neo-conservative at 25:38:

“It should not be up to you to determine the future of Venezuela.  How dare you orchestrate a coup in Venezuela! How dare you impose economic sanctions that harm the people of Venezuela! How dare you!”

Abrams had no choice but to pause while the truth was spoken.

Click here to see Ariel’s brave action.

Abrams (in quotes)  “Venezuelans deserve to hear our views not only about today’s Venezuela but also about tomorrow’s… Very few countries have ever seen such a political, social, and economic calamity befall them after decades of democracy and prosperity.”

CODEPINK:  Whatever calamities the brave people of Venezuela are experiencing are largely the result of economic sanctions imposed by the US with the intention of strangling the Venezuelan economy. Economic sanctions are akin to warfare.

Abrams says when he first began work in the region almost 40 years ago,   “Venezuela was one of only two democracies in Latin America… and it was the richest nation in the region… It was not only the birthplace ofBolivar but a beacon of his ideals.” 

CODEPINK:  The eradication of democracy, transparent governance, and human rights throughout Central and South America are the direct result of US intervention.

Abrams had the audacity to claim, “The current state of affairs is not normal for Venezuela, it is not acceptable for Venezuelans, and I am absolutely convinced it is not Venezuela’s destiny.”

CODEPINK: If this dangerous man’s vision of Venezuela’s destiny is realized, we fear the resulting violent coup and bloody civil war.

Abrams says he envisions that the everyday lives of its citizens could be improved “with a stabilized currency, reliable power, clean water, connectivity without censorship, and other developments.”

CODEPINK: Abrams is referring to the resulting reality for the top 1% of Venezuelan society.

Abrams tramples on hallowed history by invoking Bolivar, “…That (vision of) Venezuela is not a mirage and will not take a miracle. It is rooted in the optimism of Bolivar, that ‘ a people that loves freedom will in the end be free’ That future Venezuelan society will have room for the full participation of every citizen.”

CODEPINK: The irony here is difficult to stomach. We are currently residing in the Venezuelan Embassy where many of the walls are adorned with portraits of Simón Bolívar and the library shelves are filled with books of his writings. Bolivar, El Libertador, also said, “The United States appear to be destined by Providence to plague America with misery in the name of liberty.”

Abrams said, “billions…will be invested in Venezuela” it will take “years of steady work” to “bring the country back to where it stood decades ago.” Oil reserves & skilled citizens give “strong reason for optimism.”

CODEPINK:  Abrams provides part of the reason behind US meddling – oil reserves.

Abrams said, “Maduro was selected as president of the PSUV by a very small group of self-interested individuals who… continue to have access to all the food and medicine they want… While Venezuelans struggle to buy harina pan and chicken to make a reina pepiada. (The PSUV is the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela, or the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.)

Abrams continued, “We believe the Maduro regime must come to an end for Venezuela to recover democracy and prosperity. But like all of the country’s citizens, the PSUV is entitled to a role in rebuilding your country.”

CODEPINK:  Who is Elliott Abrams to say whether or not the PSUV is “entitled to a role”?

Abrams said the US “will not pick who is elected president in Venezuela.”

CODEPINK:  Abrams is actually correct on this account! The US is attempting to install Juan Guiado as President without an election.  

Regarding the military, Abrams says “Venezuelans deserve to be protected by a professional military… and not have their leaders rely on armed gangs or on foreign powers… to surveil, abuse & imprison patriotic Venezuelan military officers and enlisted men and women.”

CODEPINK:  The Venezuelan military overwhelmingly supports the Maduro government.

Regarding the economy, Abrams claimed, “Decisions about the economy cannot be made by one man or a small group whose goal is to steal resources, reward sycophants, and above all use money to stay in power.”

CODEPINK:  This is precisely what Abrams is intending to do.

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