NY Times’ Venezuela Reporting Has Hit Rock Bottom

May 19th, 2019 - by Diana Ekizian / Courtesy of Kevin Swanwick

(May 18, 2019) — The New York Times has finally hit bottom. I have been following their stories closely and have noted that they’ve been filing from Lima, Peru, not VZ. Why? Because they don’t have reporters on the ground. They are taking in sources from Eliot Engel’s department under John Bolton (unnamed government sources) and not questioning the veracity of the statements.

Now today, this makes the front page: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/17/world/americas/venezuela-economy.html#commentsContainer&permid=100542964:100543468

Oh, it’s filed from Caracas. And it is a one-sided hit piece that blames all of the economic woes of VZ on Chavez and Maduro. Never mind economist Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot’s recent empirical study showing how devastating the US sanctions are and how they are creating the massive economic contraction. [See article below — EAW] Never mind the writing and of Francisco Rodriguez, the most respected economists in the world on Venezuela, bar none. [See article below — EAW] Rodriguez a Chavez and Maduro policy critic, has followed the economy closely and has written numerous times about the devastating effects of the sanctions. Poor economic planning can be remedied but sanctions are a brutal downward spiral. 

I also noticed that the writer is very selective about where he goes. I looked up the author, Anatoly Kurmanaev. Where is he from? He has published with the WSJ and has freelanced, but is tied to this publication: https://www.caracaschronicles.com/2019/05/17/code-pink-the-worst-of-american-imperialism/ 

This pub was started by opposition supporters in the early Chavez period around the time of that failed coup. It is supported and read by the European elite sector of society. That group never accepted the afro-indigenous Chavez, or the overwhelmingly popular Bolivarian Constitution.

This lead article calls Code Pink “the worst of American Imperialism,” because they peacefully protested at Engels’ confirmation hearing. Never mind that Engel is a convicted war criminal and his murderous direction in El Salvador and Guatemala was covered by investigative journalist, Allan Nairn, many years ago. 

This is what the New York Times has become. They were wrong on Vietnam, they were wrong on Grenada, Panama and Haiti and they are wrong on Venezuela. But then the NYT seems to have never seen a war it didn’t like. Maybe Kurmanaev is the new Judith Miller.

“If learning is not followed by reflecting and practicing, it is not true learning.”
 – Thich Nhat Hanh

Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela 

Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs / Center for Economic and Policy Research

(April 2019) — This paper looks at some of the most important impacts of the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the US government since August of 2017. It finds that most of the impact of these sanctions has not been on the government but on the civilian population.

The sanctions reduced the public’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and infants), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who fled the country as a result of the worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. They exacerbated Venezuela’s economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths. All of these impacts disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans.

Even more severe and destructive than the broad economic sanctions of August 2017 were the sanctions imposed by executive order on January 28, 2019 and subsequent executive orders this year; and the recognition of a parallel government, which as shown below, created a whole new set of financial and trade sanctions that are even more constricting than the executive orders themselves.

We find that the sanctions have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018; and that 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 US is a signatory. They are also illegal under international law and treaties that the US has signed, and would appear to violate US law as well.

Why More Sanctions Won’t Help Venezuela

The people, not the government, will pay the price.

Francisco Roderiquez / Foreign Policy

Venezuela is not a tyrannical autocracy; it is a deeply divided and polarized society. United States and the anti-Maduro opposition will not win the hearts and minds of Venezuelans by helping drive the country’s economy into the ground.

(January 12, 2018) — During the first year of his administration, U.S. President Donald Trump has taken an increasingly hard line against the government of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro. Washington has tightened sanctions on Caracas and even suggested a military intervention to remove the Venezuelan leader from office. Twelve months into Trump’s term, Maduro seems even more entrenched in power, and Venezuela’s opposition is more fractured than ever.

U.S. foreign policy toward Venezuela is premised on a series of misconceptions. Perhaps the most widespread and serious one is the idea that Venezuela is a totalitarian dictatorship. While Maduro has certainly done many things to undermine democracy, Venezuela is no North Korea.

Venezuela is not a tyrannical autocracy; it is a deeply divided and polarized society.

 Public opinion research shows strong and deep-seated support for Chavismo,the movement created by the late populist leader Hugo Chávez, among large swathes of the population. Many voters continue to credit Chavismo with redistributing the country’s oil wealth through its social programs and giving the poor a voice in Venezuelan politics. Around 25 percent of Venezuelans support Chávez’s successor, Maduro — a remarkably high number given the state of the economy — and about 50 percent believe that Chávez was a good president. Recent regional elections have shown that the government coalition is able to mobilize close to 6 million voters to support its candidates — nearly one-third of the country’s adult population, and more than enough to win a low-turnout election.

In addition to misreading the country’s political mood, American policymakers also seem convinced that the country’s authoritarian leader will only leave power by force. Economic sanctions are ostensibly intended to raise costs for the military and are expected to somehow spur a rebellion against Maduro. This misguided approach stems from a poor understanding of the government’s internal dynamics and an excessive faith in the effectiveness of sanctions as a tool for bringing about regime change.

Extensive academic research has shown that economic sanctions are rarely effective. When they work, it is because they offer the sanctioned regime incentives along with a way out by altering the conduct that led to the sanctions being imposed (such as the rollback of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for access to international trade). By contrast, the sanctions against Venezuela have backed the regime into a corner, increasing the costs that the government would face upon leaving power and raising the incentives for Maduro to dig in his heels.

An even more problematic idea driving current U.S. policy is the belief that financial sanctions can hurt the Venezuelan government without causing serious harm to ordinary Venezuelans. That’s impossible when 95 percent of Venezuela’s export revenue comes from oil sold by the state-owned oil company. Cutting off the government’s access to dollars will leave the economy without the hard currency needed to pay for imports of food and medicine. Starving the Venezuelan economy of its foreign currency earnings risks turning the country’s current humanitarian crisis into a full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.

That’s what began to happen in 2017. Last year, Venezuela’s export revenues rose from $28 to $32 billion, buoyed by the recovery in world oil prices. Under normal conditions, a rise in a country’s exports would leave it with more resources to pay for its imports. But in the Venezuelan case, imports fellby 31 percent during the same year. The reason is that the country lost access to international financial markets. Unable to roll over its debt, it was forced to build up huge external surpluses to continue servicing that debt in a desperate attempt to avoid a default. Meanwhile, creditors threatened to seize the Venezuelan government’s remaining revenue sources if the country defaulted, including refineries located abroad and payments for oil shipments.

U.S. economic sanctions have stopped Venezuela from issuing new debt and blocked attempts to restructure its existing debt obligations. Major financial institutions have delayed the processing of all financial transfers from Venezuelan entities, significantly hampering the ability of Venezuelan companies to do business in the United States. Even Citgo, a Venezuelan-owned subsidiary that owns 4 percent of the United States’ refining capacity, hasn’t been able to get U.S. financial institutions to issueroutine trade credit since sanctions were imposed.

Ever since the Vietnam War, most American policymakers have understood that foreign policy is not just about outgunning your opponent but also about winning the hearts and minds of the people. But 56 percent of Venezuelans oppose U.S. financial sanctions; only 32 percent support them. When it comes to foreign military intervention in Venezuela, 57 percent of those surveyed were opposed, while 58 percent support dialogue between the government and the opposition — and 71 percent believe that those talks should focus on seeking solutions to the country’s economic problems.

Venezuelans have good reason to be concerned that ordinary people will ultimately pay the price for sanctions. Recent data show that in the two months after Trump imposed financial sanctions, imports tumbled an additional 24 percent, deepening the scarcity of basic goods and lending credibility to the government’s argument that U.S. policies are directly harming Venezuelans.

Instead of undermining Maduro, sanctions are making it increasingly difficult for the country’s opposition to convince voters that the welfare of Venezuelans — rather than driving Maduro from power — is its real priority. It is not the first time the opposition has made this mistake.

Back in 2002, opponents of then-President Chávez called for a massive strike in the country’s oil sector. The strike brought oil production to a standstill and caused a double-digit recession in an attempt to get Chávez to resign. This event single-handedly convinced Venezuelans that they could not trust a political movement that was willing to destroy the economy in order to attain power. In a recall referendum held two years later, voters resoundingly backed Chávez.

The United States and the anti-Maduro opposition will not win the hearts and minds of Venezuelans by helping drive the country’s economy into the  ground if Washington wants to show it cares about Venezuelans, it could start by providing help to those most affected by the crisis. Extending protected migrant status for Venezuelans in the United States and providing support for neighboring countries dealing with an upsurge of Venezuelan immigration would be a start, as would support for apolitical organizations, such as the United Nations Development Programme, that have managed to channel aid to the country. The U.S. should also support negotiations aimed at creating institutions that make the coexistence of the country’s feuding political factions possible — rather than encouraging the wholesale replacement of one by the other.

I, as much as anyone else, would like to see Maduro go. His government’s gross mismanagement of the economy is the primary (but not the only) cause of the deepest economic crisis in Latin American history. The annulment of the opposition’s two-thirds majority in the National Assembly through trumped-up and unsupported charges of vote-buying was an assault on the country’s constitution and the catalyst for the political tensions that led to more than 100 deaths in last year’s protests. There is abundant evidence of serious human rights abuses during those protests, which merit an international investigation to determine the potential complicity of high-ranking members of government.

But for the same reasons that I oppose Maduro, I also vehemently disagree with the call voiced by President Trump and some opposition commentators for foreign military intervention in Venezuela. Whether we like it or not, Maduro is serving as president of Venezuela because he won an election recognized by the international community. Even if Maduro were impeached, he would then be replaced by his vice president, who could in turn appoint another vice president to serve in case he himself were impeached. Even a cursory look at the Venezuelan constitution shows that it does not entitle the National Assembly to name a new president. Conducting a military intervention to replace a constitutionally elected president with an unconstitutionally appointed one would be an even worse violation of Venezuelan law than anything that the Chávez and Maduro regimes have ever been accused of.

Maduro must leave office the same way he arrived: through the votes of Venezuelans. Venezuela is scheduled to hold a presidential election this year. Rather than encouraging the pipe dreams of military invasions and coups, the overriding priority of Venezuela’s opposition should be to convince voters that it would do a better job of leading the country. Trump and his administration must not continue to make that task harder.

Francisco Rodríguez is chief economist at Torino Capital and is a former head of the Venezuelan Congressional Budget Office.