On 5 August, Donald Trump used an executive order to announce a total economic embargo on Venezuela. The embargo comes after years of crippling and illegal US sanctions, which between 2017 and 2018 reportedly caused 40,000 deaths.
In a letter to US congress on 5 August, Trump said:
I have determined that it is necessary to block the property of the Government of Venezuela in light of the continued usurpation of power by the illegitimate Nicolas Maduro regime, as well as the regime’s human rights abuses, arbitrary arrest and detention of Venezuelan citizens, curtailment of free press, and ongoing attempts to undermine Interim President Juan Guaido of Venezuela and the democratically-elected Venezuelan National Assembly.
A White House official added that Trump’s latest measures should be “taken seriously”, offering democratically elected president Nicolás Maduro a “short window” to resign.
According to Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez (who is no fan of the Maduro government), the embargo will:
Prohibit all North American companies from doing business with the Venezuelan government. The majority of these transactions had already been blocked in January after the US recognised Juan Guaidó…
The threat of secondary sanctions on companies from other countries who do business with the Venezuelan government could lead India, which now buys half of Venezuela’s oil, to reduce or end its Venezuelan purchases…
In summary, this measure will make it more difficult to import all kinds of goods, and will further reduce the country’s meagre oil exports. It will worsen the country’s economic crisis, without necessarily weakening the regime.
Though the embargo is not expected to begin until 7 August, the effects are already being felt. On the morning of 6 August, the Venezuelan opposition announced that it was withdrawing from the diplomatic negotiations in Barbados, saying “the dialogue is dead”. This came despite the Venezuelan government announcing two hours earlier that it would not allow the opposition-backed embargo to affect the negotiations.
A successful negotiated settlement, it would seem, is neither in the interests of the Venezuelan opposition nor its backers in Washington.
The decision is therefore an additional attack on the Venezuelan civilian population – similar to the US quarantine imposed on Cuba since 1962.
Notably, these measures rarely seem to work based on Washington’s stated objectives of ‘restoring democracy’ or ‘toppling’ the targeted government. Such sanctions on Iran, Syria, Cuba, and elsewhere have failed to enact ‘regime change’, while collectively punishing the civilian population – an illegal act under international law.
At the risk of famine, it thus appears that the Trump administration is determined to economically ruin Venezuela to set an example to the rest of the world.
Some commentators have also questioned whether Washington’s latest attack is designed to “cultivate domestic support” ahead of the 2020 presidential election. This is worth consideration given the recent apparently Trump–inspired mass killing in El Paso.
Venezuelan government responds to sanctions
Speaking to the Grayzone‘s Max Blumenthal prior to the embargo, Maduro spoke about the cost of sanctions on Venezuela, saying:
They [the US] prevent us from getting access to food, medicine, essential goods. We’re not asking that anyone give this to us – we have the money to buy it…
They’re going after our food. Because John Bolton… and Elliott Abrams… – who is known for the Iran-Contra scandal in the 80s – they say ‘we have to leave the Venezuelan people without food’. They say it openly and publicly. They’re immoral. We have to defeat them. US public opinion has to rise up in solidarity with the Venezuelan people.
Foreign minister Jorge Arreaza responded to the latest embargo by stressing:
Venezuela denounces to the international community the new executive order of the US that attempts to formalise the criminal economic, financial, and commercial blockade against Venezuelans, whose aim is to force an unconstitutional change of government in this country.
For the good of the Venezuelan people, the international community must condemn Washington’s illegal and unilateral sanctions on the country.
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