More than 40,000 people have died in Venezuela since 2017 as a result of US sanctions, according to a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot. The report examines how US sanctions have reduced the availability of food and medicine in Venezuela and increased disease and mortality. We speak with Jeffrey Sachs in our New York studio. In the report, he writes, “American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela’s economy and thereby lead to regime change. It’s a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people.”
(May 3, 2019) — This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. Our guests are Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan professor at Pomona College in California; Jeffrey Sachs is with us here in New York, leading economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. He’s recently co-authored a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research headlined “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela.”
So much is being used against the presidency of Maduro, saying he’s brought the country to an economic standstill. You make a different case, Jeffrey Sachs.
JEFFREY SACHS: Well, it’s not an economic standstill. It’s a complete economic collapse, a catastrophe, in Venezuela. There was a crisis, for sure, before Trump came to office, but the idea of the Trump administration, from the start, has been to overthrow Maduro. That’s not a hypothesis. Trump was very explicit in discussions with presidents of Latin America, where he asked them, “Why shouldn’t the US just invade?” He said that already in 2017. So the idea of the Trump administration has been to overthrow Maduro from the start. Well, the Latin leaders said, “No, no, that’s not a good idea. We don’t want military action.” So the US government has been trying to strangle the Venezuelan economy.
It started with sanctions in 2017 that prevented, essentially, the country from accessing international capital markets and the oil company from restructuring its loans. That put Venezuela into a hyperinflation. That was the utter collapse. Oil earnings plummeted. The earnings that are used to buy food and medicine collapsed. That’s when the social, humanitarian crisis went spiraling out of control. And then, in this year, with this idea, very naive, very stupid, in my view, that there would be this self-proclaimed president, which was all choreographed with the United States very, very closely, another round of even tighter sanctions, essentially confiscating the earnings and the assets of the Venezuelan government, took place.
Now Venezuela is in complete, utter catastrophe, a lot of it brought on by the United States deliberately, creating massive, massive suffering. We know there’s hunger. We know there’s a incredible shortage of medical supplies. We can only imagine, because we won’t know really until the dust settles and careful studies are done, how much excess mortality there is, but, surely, in a context like this, this is a catastrophe largely created by the US, because, as was said earlier, this is an all-or-nothing strategy. What the US—what Trump just doesn’t understand and what Bolton, of all, of course, never agrees to, is the idea of negotiations. This is an attempt at an overthrow. It’s very crude. It’s not working. And it’s very cruel, because it’s punishing 30 million people.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you come up with the number 40,000 dead as a result of these crippling US sanctions?
JEFFREY SACHS: Let me be clear: Nobody knows. This was a very basic, simple calculation based on estimates of universities in Venezuela that mortality had increased by a certain proportion after the sanctions. I don’t want anyone to think that there is precision in these numbers. What is certain, though, staring us in the face, is that there is a humanitarian catastrophe, deliberately caused by the United States, by what I would say are illegal sanctions, because they are deliberately trying to bring down a government and trying to create chaos for the purpose of an overthrow of a government.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
JEFFREY SACHS: Why are they doing that? This is normal US right-wing foreign policy, nothing different. This is the same foreign policy that we saw throughout Latin America in the 20th century. It’s the same foreign policy that we saw catastrophically in the Middle East. This is Mr. Bolton. This is Mr. Bolton’s idea of diplomacy. This is Trump’s idea of diplomacy. You punch someone in the face. You crush your opponent. You try whatever way you can to get your way. It’s very simpleminded. It’s very crude. And, Amy, it never works. It just leads to catastrophe.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Miguel Tinker Salas back into this conversation, professor at Pomona College. As these protests were taking place in—or this coup attempt was taking place in Venezuela, in Honduras there were massive protests against privatization, also huge demonstrations in Paris. You certainly don’t get the same kind of coverage.
MIGUEL TINKER SALAS: No, you don’t. And the reality is that what’s happening in Honduras is fundamental. You have an effort at privatization. You have layoffs of doctors and of professors and of teachers. And there’s massive street protests happening in Tegucigalpa and all the major cities. And the attention is all on Venezuela. And the same thing is happening, in other contexts, for Central America, the immigration that’s happening as a result of failed US policies. As a colleague was saying earlier, the reality is this was tried elsewhere. The regime change that’s being tried in Venezuela has been tried elsewhere in Latin America and has led to humanitarian crisis throughout Central America—Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, in Mexico until very recently. So, again, we know the formula. We know it doesn’t produce the change that most people want. And what it does is it aggravates conditions for the majority of the population. So, you have, in the case of Venezuela, mistakes made by the Maduro administration that are now exacerbated by the sanctions and that take a toll on humans and on the population of the country.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been showing, for our radio audience, video, just to let you know, of the tear-gassing of people in Paris and Honduras right now. Of course, Honduras is a US ally. We’re not getting as much coverage of this. Finally, I wanted to ask Jeffrey Sachs about this issue you raise of collective punishment, and saying that collective punishment of a civilian population, as described by both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the US is a signatory—in that way.
JEFFREY SACHS: And, I would say, of the OAS also, which explicitly prohibits this kind of hostile action against another country. US sanctions are now being imposed to bring down governments everywhere. You have, similarly in Iran yesterday, a big announcement of the collapse of the Iranian economy, and the IMF attributed it to US sanctions. So, this is what the Trump administration is trying to do also vis-à-vis Nicaragua. Trump said yesterday, total blockade on Cuba, if they don’t smart up. This is pure bullying. It is completely against international law. It creates havoc. It’s hard enough to achieve economic progress, but when the US is using its political power to break other countries, the results absolutely can be devastating.
And we see it in Venezuela, that it was the kick that pushed Venezuela into this catastrophic, spiraling decline and hyperinflation. It’s always blamed in our press on Maduro, but people don’t even look and understand how the US has the instruments of sanctions blocking access to financial markets, pushing enterprises into default, blocking trade, confiscating the assets owned by the Venezuelan government, precisely to and with the design of creating this kind of crisis, because the idea is, if the pain is enough—in the thinking of people like Bolton—then there will be a military overthrow. So they’re trying to create absolute disaster.
Well, what’s so stupid about these American policies, these neocon policies, is they do create disaster, but they don’t achieve even the political goals of these nasty people like Bolton. It’s not as if they’re effective and nasty; they’re completely ineffective and totally nasty at the same time. But Congress, in our country, nobody looks. It’s unbelievable that you have this basically one-man show of Trump doing damage, rampaging around the world. There is no oversight at all. And in the international institutions, like the IMF, the Inter-American Development Bank, people are scared to even say the truth, that this bully, of the United States, especially with the kind of president we have right now—no one wants to speak the obvious facts of how much damage is being done, how many lives are being lost, how much suffering is being created, how many refugees are being created—deliberately. And then, of course, you get The New York Times or someone else saying it’s Maduro’s whatever, because they don’t even look at the obvious process.
AMY GOODMAN: And you Democratic leaders, as well, in Congress saying the same thing. And so, we’re going to turn right now to a Democrat in Congress. We want to thank Jeffrey Sachs, who is a leading economist, director of the Center for Sustainable Development, Columbia University. We’ll link to your report that you put out with the Center for Economic and Policy Research headlined “Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela.” And, Miguel Tinker Salas, thanks for joining us, professor at Pomona College in California.
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