The economic war levied against Venezuela

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognised as the country's rightful interim ruler, is seen at the Metropolitan University in Caracas

The economic war levied against Venezuela by the US and its allies is a war crime under the UN Charter and international law, and must be exposed as such. The reason we should care is not only due to the gross injustice, but because it is a slippery slope – today it is Venezuela and tomorrow it will be another country the US seeks to control. 

What is playing out in Latin America today is the 21st century version of the Monroe Doctrine – the Americas for the Americans. This paradigm is in contrast to the Bolivarian Doctrine held by Venezuela and other countries that is about the sovereign equality of states, and the right to pursue independent foreign and economic policies. US President Donald Trump made his position clear in a speech three months ago in Miami when he targeted Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua, saying that there will be no socialism in Latin America.

The US has to ensure that the largely successful socialist model put in place under former President Hugo Chavez, and continued under President Nicolas Maduro, fails. Even UN agencies recognised the success of the Venezuelan model to improve the social lives of its people. Under the social model illiteracy was reduced to zero, there has been improved access to education, free health care, and pensions to 100% of the elderly. The idea of the US is to force the dismantlement of this system so that it cannot serve as an economic and social model for other Latin American countries to pursue. Such a system does not directly serve the interests of the US, or allow them to control Venezuela’s oil – the largest proven reserves in the world.

Ten years ago there was a proliferation of left wing governments in Latin America – Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, Rafael Correa in Ecuador, Manuel Zelaya in Honduras, and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay. The US has employed a variety of strategies to remove such left wing leaders from power, ranging from outright coup d’états – when they put President Zelaya of Honduras on a plane and removed him from the country, to instigating parliamentary coups like in Paraguay, and using the judicial system in Brazil. In Venezuela a new formula was used – economic sabotage.

Economic sabotage started under the Obama administration with an Executive Order known as the “Obama Decree,” which designated Venezuela as “an unusual and extraordinary threat to US national security.” From that moment the US executive branch was endowed with exceptional power to carry out a set of unilateral coercive measures to intervene in the internal affairs of Venezuela. Coercive economic measures are used as a weapon of war, and since Trump came in he has taken 150 unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela. It is technically inaccurate to depict such measures as sanctions, as only the UN Security Council can impose sanctions on a country if it is deemed a threat to international peace and security. 

According to the UN Charter states must allow the free passage of medical and hospital goods and essential food, and humanitarian law stipulates that states are prohibited from imposing a blockade, siege or economic sanctions that will cause starvation. The extreme unilateral measures taken by the US have been in direct violation of the UN Charter, as well as international and humanitarian law. According to Venezuela, an estimated 300,000 people are at risk due to a lack of medicine. 

Venezuela imports most of the medicine it needs, and 34% of that comes from the US. While the US tries to claim that food and medicine are not affected by the Executive Orders, the illegal obstruction of the country’s payments in international banking to prevent the importation of medicines and goods have led to an inability of the state to provide medical care to its people. For example, in May last year, payments of US$9 million for the acquisition of supplies for dialysis for the treatment of 15,000 patients were blocked. In collusion with the US, in the same month last year Colombia blocked the shipment to Venezuela of 400,000 kg of food.

The US has gone full throttle to economically asphyxiate Venezuela, imposing a unilateral embargo on its oil exports, which comprise 95% of the country’s income. In January this year the Trump administration approved new economic coercive measures against the Venezuelan state owned oil company by freezing US$7,000 million in assets of the subsidiary company CITGO, in addition to an estimated loss of US$11,000 million of its exports in the next few years. In an illegal move, the Bank of England also announced the illegal confiscation of US$1,359 million dollars of gold belonging to Venezuela in January this year. The total funds belonging to Venezuela which have been frozen or illegally confiscated by international banks comes to over US$5 trillion.

Shannon Ebrahim is the Foreign Editor for the Independent Media Group.