US sanctions against Venezuela are deadly, hypocritical

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On May 3, Venezuelan authorities said they had arrested 13 armed insurgents, including two former U.S. military personnel. U.S. military veteran Jordan Goudreau, who leads a Florida-based security company, SilverCorp USA, has claimed responsibility for the incident. United States-backed Juan Guaidó also mounted a failed coup attempt in 2019, making this the second failed coup against Venezuela in the last two years.

For the last six years, the United States has levied ever-escalating sanctions against Venezuela in an attempt to impose regime change. The United States’ targeted interest in Venezuela is hypocritical. The damage that the sanctions have caused and still cause — especially compounded during a global health crisis — are inexcusable, especially from a country that lauds its pro-humanitarian intentions abroad while disregarding abuses in select, allied countries. In addition, the imposition of Guaidó — a foreign-picked legislator without a popular mandate — demonstrates that the United States’ purported claim to uphold democracy is nothing but a farce, disguising an unofficial foreign policy of imperialist aggression.

In a report published by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs argue that the people of Venezuela, rather than its government, have suffered more from the fundamental harm caused by the economic sanctions. The report estimates that more than 40,000 people have died due to U.S. sanctions against Venezuela. Similarly, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report criticizing the sanctions, claiming that the measures “disproportionately affect the poor and the most vulnerable classes.”

In addition, the U.N.’s World Food Programme released a report Feb. 25 that states that one in three Venezuelans are food insecure and “in need of assistance.” But food imports have dramatically decreased in Venezuela over the last seven years — from $11.2 billion in purchases in 2013 to $2.46 billion in 2018 — unequivocally due to a collapse of government revenue directly caused by the restrictive sanctions against Venezuela’s national oil company and government as a whole.

Furthermore, as of 2018, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have been unable to receive cancer therapy or dialysis because of the U.S. sanctions, which block access to life-saving medicine and treatment. Venezuela has been unable to import the necessary amounts of insulin needed by patients. Funds for many critical health assistance programs in Venezuela were being funded by the state oil company, which is now unable to export and gain revenue.

For all of these reasons, the United States, by claiming Guaidó to be the interim president, is creating a parallel state in Venezuela. Guaidó’s support among Venezuelans, however, has seemingly failed to grow. In addition, he has been linked to paramilitaries in the past. The push by foreign governments to have Guaidó installed without an election is abhorrent. It demonstrates that the United States’ verbal commitment to democracy serves as a cover for its otherwise anti-democratic policies abroad.

When it comes to human rights abuses, the record is equally skewed. High-profile denouncements of human rights in Venezuela populate many reports, yet these reports are contested and largely pale in comparison to those of neighboring countries Brazil, Colombia and Haiti — all of which enjoy the blessing of U.S. foreign policy.

Colombia’s astronomical rate of human rights abuses is comparatively overlooked. The Colombian Commission of Jurists, or CCJ, alleges that Colombian government has covered up the political killings of opposition social leaders. The CCJ has also reported that 90% of human rights violations occur with impunity.

Hundreds of other organizations in Colombia have sent the U.N. letters documenting the Colombian government’s unwillingness to combat human rights abuses by paramilitaries. The organizations also complained about the unchecked power of police and security forces. The United States’ lack of action in the face of these events, however, condones the Colombian government’s blind eye to human rights abuses.

The hypocritical nature of these actions could not be more clear: While Colombia’s human rights profile is as sinister as it gets, the United States lauds their partnership, hardly bothered by humanitarian concern to punish its right-wing ally. The hypocrisy demonstrates that the U.S. sanctions — as well as the recent narco-trafficking charge against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — are overtly political and another attempt to weaken the international standing of the Venezuelan government.

Each of these moves demonstrates that the United States’ actions against Venezuela are anti-democratic and anti-humanitarian. During the State of the Union address this year, President Donald Trump stated that the U.S. government is “supporting the hopes of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans to restore democracy.”

This rhetoric is deceptive in nature. It covers the fact that Guaidó was not well-known in Venezuela before being hand-picked by foreign powers to be the country’s next president. It covers the fact that the United States has had a deep and recent history of overthrowing leftist leaders in Latin America and undemocratically installing right-wing figures from the opposition. It covers the fact that former national security adviser John Bolton has said the coercive economic sanctions “will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”

Despite these serious contradictions, the U.S. opposition to the Venezuelan government has adopted a hegemonic stance, unyielding to evidence that the Venezuelan people have been harmed more by the U.S. government than by their own. At the very least, the United States’ taxpayer support and the pledge of the U.S. president and Congress to depose the Venezuelan president amounts to an anti-democratic and deeply damaging policy of intervention that should be fundamentally reconsidered, if not revoked altogether. Constituents who agree should contact their congressional representatives and share their perspectives with any who might hold interest.

Jonathan Molina is a research apprentice at the Latinx Research Center at UC Berkeley. He is a junior political science major, intending to minor in global studies.