Sanctions Are Genocidal, and They Are the US’s Favorite Weapon

Far from precision-guided munitions, sanctions are weapons of starvation, which target the most vulnerable civilians for slow and painful death by deprivation of food and medicine

After withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran last year and resuming sanctions last November, the White House in April announced that its goal was to “drive Iranian exports to zero.” To make this drive happen, the White House stopped allowing (my emphasis) countries like India, China, Japan, Turkey, and South Korea to import Iranian oil: dictating to sovereign countries whom they can trade with.

The dictating doesn’t stop there. Last December the United States had Canadian authorities detain and imprison a Chinese executive, the chief financial officer of telecom company Huawei. Meng Wanzhou is currently on trial in Canada, on the allegation that her company violated U.S. sanctions against Iran. Not content with having told China that it cannot trade with Iran, the United States has gotten a third country, Canada, to take a Chinese corporate executive captive in what Trump suggested was leverage for a trade deal: “If I think it’s good for what will be certainly the largest trade deal ever made, which is a very important thing—what’s good for national security—I would certainly intervene, if I thought it was necessary,” he told Reuters in December.

The trade deal with China didn’t come through, and a “trade war” has begun. Meng Wanzhou is still stuck in Canada. And the blockade against Iran is still tightening. Economist Mark Weisbrot assessed some of the damage to the Iranian economy in a recent segment on the Real News Network, noting that when sanctions were imposed in 2012, oil production dropped by 832,000 barrels per day and GDP by 7.7 percent; when they were lifted in 2016 in the nuclear deal, production increased by 972,000 barrels per day and GDP increased by 12 percent that year. In 2018 when sanctions were imposed, oil production fell dramatically again and inflation rose by 51 percent; shortages of dozens of essential medicines, according to a study at the University of California, have followed.

Some basic economics are in order here. A country that does not need to import or export is called an autarky, and in today’s global economy there are no autarkies. All national economies depend on trade: they export, earn foreign currency, and use that to import what they cannot produce. Driving a country’s exports to zero means destroying the country’s economy, and depriving the country’s people of necessities.

Sometimes billed as an alternative to war, sanctions are in fact a weapon of war. Far from precision-guided munitions, sanctions are weapons of starvation, which target the most vulnerable civilians for slow and painful death by deprivation of food and medicine. They are an alternative to war in the sense that unlike the invasion of ground troops or even the dropping of bombs, they pose little risk to the aggressor. This is their appeal to someone like Trump, who revealed the genocidal intent behind the Iran sanctions when he threatened (on Twitter) “the official end of Iran.”

In the 1990s, one focus of the antiwar movement was the impact of the genocidal sanctions against Iraq, which killed 500,000 children (a “price” that Madeleine Albright famously said was “worth it”). Antiwar activists feared that the sanctions were part of a military strategy that would end in even more devastating shooting war. Those fears proved true. Today’s sanctions seem to draw from the same playbook.

International law recognizes that sanctions are a form of warfare, and places the use of the sanctions weapon in the hands of the United Nations Security Council. And so it happened that between the 1990 and 2003 U.S. wars on Iraq, the UN played the shameful role of administering the Iraq sanctions. But today’s unilateral sanctions imposed by the U.S. circumvent any UN legalities. In the same Real News segment, UN Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures Idriss Jazairy noted that about one-quarter of the world’s population is under some form of unilateral sanctions. Iran, Venezuela, Syria, Cuba, Sudan and others are under various U.S. sanctions regimes. Yemen is fully blockaded by the U.S., UK, and Saudi Arabia; Gaza and the West Bank are completely sealed in by Israel; Qatar is blockaded by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and the list goes on.

U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have already killed 40,000 people between 2017 and 2018, according to a report by Mark Weisbrot and Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs. The more intense sanctions imposed in 2019 will kill still more. Venezuela’s electrical grid is damaged, most likely because of sabotage. Maintenance of potable water pumps has become impossible without imported spare parts, leaving millions without water. A Venezuelan professor of economics, Pasqualina Curcio, told a delegation of the End Venezuela Sanctions coalition that sanctions have cost the country $114 billion, “which is nearly equal to one year’s worth of Venezuelan GDP at a typical oil price, or 26 years’ worth of medical imports.”

One of the tactical arguments anti-sanctions campaigners sometimes make is that sanctions “don’t work.” And for their declared purpose of “regime change,” indeed they do not. But when a policy is so widespread, such a first resort, perhaps the declared purpose is not the real purpose. If the purpose is to destroy economies, isolate countries, coerce allies, keep tensions near boiling and maintain a constant threat of war, sanctions are successful. It has been shown time and again that torture “doesn’t work” for obtaining information. But torture is not a technique for obtaining information. It is a technique for breaking a person and, when practiced on a mass scale by an apartheid state or dictatorship, for breaking a society. Sanctions are similar: the point is to break the society, not “regime change.”

Sanctions are Trump’s favorite weapon, but good Democrats are no different. Obama oversaw the destruction of Syria, Clinton laughed about the murder of Gaddafi and the destruction of Libya, and Albright said that 500,000 Iraqi children’s deaths were “worth it.” For the empire, genocide, like aggression, is a normal part of politics. Nuclear planners plan how to commit it. Sanctions officials administer it. And for the most part, human rights organizations take no position on it.

It is possible that at some point sanctions could become self-limiting. If enough countries are sanctioned, they might of course decide to trade with one another. In attempting to isolate so many big countries, the United States could isolate itself, creating a kind of “coalition of the sanctioned.” But from the U.S. perspective, with Brazil, India, and Egypt (the biggest countries in Latin America, South Asia, and the Arab world) all utterly subservient, perhaps this looks like a good moment to try to pressure China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela and Cuba. Trump’s planners can rest assured that it is not them, but millions of innocents in those countries who will pay for their power plays.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Ossington Circle Episode 21: Venezuela’s Crisis with Maria Paez Victor

The Ossington Circle Episode 21: Venezuela’s Crisis with Maria Paez Victor

I talk to Maria Paez Victor of the Canadian, Latin American, and Caribbean Policy Centre and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle about Venezuela’s revolution, Chavismo, Maduro, the Venezuelan opposition, and the idea of the upcoming Constituent Assembly.

The Ossington Circle Episode 14: Clouds of War Gathering with Manuel Rozental

The Ossington Circle Episode 14: Clouds of War Gathering with Manuel Rozental

In this episode of The Ossington Circle, Colombian physician and activist Manuel Rozental returns from a trip to Turkey, during which he spent time with Syrian refugees, to talk about the advancing war in Syria and on the planet.

For Venezuela’s Bolivarians, victory even in defeat

What preceded this 17-year Bolivarian era? A corrupt power-sharing electoral machine (resulting from the Punto Fijo Pact, signed by the country’s main political parties and effectively keeping them in power) ruled Venezuela after a period of dictatorship ended in 1958. From 1958 to 1998, Punto Fijo administered poverty for the population, enforcing it through limiting press freedom, police violence, and even state-sponsored murder and disappearances. I went to a very moving event in Caracas in 2004 in which survivors of the “dirty war” of the 1960s and 1970s commemorated their lost loved ones.

The beginning of the end for Punto Fijo was the 1989 riots — known as Caracazo — that were sparked when people woke up to doubled bus fares. The army was called. Hundreds of people were killed. In 1992, a group of army officers, among them Hugo Chavez, tried to overthrow Punto Fijo. When the coup failed, Chavez went on television to call on the soldiers to stand down, took responsibility, and went to jail. When he got out, he advocated an electoral and constitutional path to change. Twenty successful elections later, the Bolivarians have lost the legislature.

Why did they lose? From 2008 on, and especially since the oil price drop in 2014, Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy suffered, as did the Bolivarian social programs and the people that benefited from them. Macroeconomic mistakes by the government in an already difficult situation fed the black market in dollars and the smuggling economy (see analysis by Greg Wilpert), which led to major suffering, frustration and a loss of support for the government.

Continuing problems of corruption within the state, as well as crime, also hurt. Both of these problems preceded the Bolivarians, but the revolution was not successful enough in dealing with them. The opposition earned points campaigning on both.

The Bolivarians accomplished much since arriving on the scene. Massive barriers to health care and education were removed. Social services were built where there had been none. Before it became the target of smugglers, a program guaranteeing affordable prices for staple grocery and other items was very successful.

But here is the Bolivarian accomplishment to celebrate after Dec. 6: The opposition, who look nostalgically on the days of Punto Fijo, were only able to win by using the fair electoral system and constitution established by the Bolivarians.

The opposition had tried a military coup in 2002. They had tried a national strike and sabotage of the country’s oil infrastructure from 2002 to 2003. They tried a recall referendum in 2004 and made false claims of fraud when they lost. They tried sabre-rattling and foreign threats. They tried skirmishes on the border with Colombia, and they tried infiltrating paramilitaries across the border to carry out acts of destabilization.

Most recently, there were violent opposition actions in the streets and another Venezuela-Colombia border problem. Day in, day out, for the entire 16 years of Bolivarian rule, virulent, false, anti-government broadcasts have been on Venezuelan television and in the Western media. The Bolivarian movement survived it all, always forcing the contest onto the democratic field of elections and winning. And when they lost on that field, they conceded defeat.

Much remains to be seen: how the Bolivarian president and the opposition legislature will manage, the extent to which the opposition will respect the democracy and the constitution that brought them into the legislature, whether the movement can regroup and find a way to resolve the country’s economic problems.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering at this time that Venezuela’s democracy is an achievement of the Bolivarians. Even in losing, they have won, at least for now.

First published on Ricochet: https://ricochet.media/en/804/for-venezuelas-bolivarians-victory-even-in-defeat

Hugo Chavez, Presente

I only started paying attention to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela at the time of the 2002 coup. At the time, I was deeply engaged with the Canada Colombia Solidarity Campaign. Friends I was making were on the run, living underground, trying to work in a context of disappearances and massacres, assassinations and torture, in a country that was being reshaped by a massive military program called Plan Colombia. We believed at the time that Plan Colombia was not just about Colombia, but about the whole hemisphere and very specifically about Venezuela, its oil wealth, and its uncooperative government. But I didn’t know much about that government or think much about it other than that it was up to Venezuelans to decide, and it seemed to me that they had decided.

In the 48 hours or so that the 2002 coup lasted, I interviewed some Venezuelan activists who had gone underground, and they gave me some readings (Richard Gott, Juli Buxton to start). I looked at the data. When Chavez was restored, I started following Venezuela closely. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised became my favourite documentary. And over the next 11 years, with two visits to Venezuela, I saw so much to admire. Everywhere I went in Venezuela, as I heard the language, saw the people, saw the physical landscape, I was reminded of Colombia. But the everyday paranoia and fear of the regime that I could feel in Colombia didn’t exist in Venezuela. While Colombia was living through this nightmare of displacement and violence in its US-sponsored counterinsurgency, Chavez’s Venezuela was actually making real progress for its people. That Colombian nightmare was always in the back of my mind whenever I heard about Venezuela, that if the US had their way, Venezuelans would be living that nightmare too.

The welfare and the democratization, the regional and international diplomacy, are all huge achievements, a tremendous legacy. But for many of these years I have thought of Chavez’s legacy in terms of avoided losses. Thousands of people *not* massacred, millions *not* displaced, thousands *not* dying from preventable diseases, tens of thousands of opportunities for education *not* wasted, for fourteen years. Almost a generation.

Greg Grandin, in his article On The Legacy of Hugo Chavez, wrote something that I really felt:

“Let’s set aside for a moment the question of whether Chavismo’s social-welfare programs will endure now that Chávez is gone and shelve the leftwing hope that out of rank-and-file activism a new, sustainable way of organizing society will emerge. The participatory democracy that took place in barrios, in workplaces and in the countryside over the last fourteen years was a value in itself, even if it doesn’t lead to a better world.”

He made all of this happen in Venezuela, and the fact is that even if all he did was talk, I would have appreciated Chavez a lot and taken his loss personally, which I do. I remember during the 2004 recall referendum, when his people were concerned about how the opposition or the US might try to sabotage the revolution, he told a story from Venezuelan folk history about a character named Florentino, who played a game with the Devil, singing songs back and forth. Florentino was the last one to sing, and so he drove the devil off. The night before the referendum he told the opposition that he would invite them for breakfast – well, brunch, given how late they would be up celebrating. The next day he said, the brunch we prepared got cold, because nobody came. He was one of the only political figures to talk straight about Haiti, about Afghanistan, about Iraq, about Palestine and it was refreshing to everyone who knew what was happening in these places and knew how it was being hidden under clouds of confusion and lies.

Chavez is irreplaceable, but he is also, as Derrick O’Keefe wrote, undefeated.

Viva Chavez!

Colombia’s war and Venezuela’s foreign policy: The context of the recent release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez

[Published on ZNet: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/16296. Updated Jan 29/08.)

Continue reading “Colombia’s war and Venezuela’s foreign policy: The context of the recent release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo Gonzalez”

Venezuela and the lion’s mouth

This question came in the ZNet forum system today:

I’m sure you are aware of this issue, reported by NYT recently but first reported by the Miami Herald (as far as I can tell). I noticed that the companies (both the hardware & software companies) are located in South Florida. I can understand Venezuela’s concern about having a financial interest in a company located in a region known for its Opposition support overtly and covertly.

My question is, do you know when the contract for these machines and
allied software were negotiated and signed? Was it before or after Chavez came
to power?

Once again, the short answer is no, I don’t know when the contracts were signed. But the longer answer is below.

Like so many ‘issues’ reported in the likes of the NYT and Miami Herald, this is not an issue except inasmuch as the opposition will use every means at its disposal to cheat, including machines if necessary. This is a very bad situation to be in. The best-case scenario is that Chavez wins the referendum, after which the whole process will be called ‘flawed’, it will be claimed that he cheated, and so on, providing a pretext for whatever the US does afterwards. That’s the *best* case scenario. Worse scenarios abound: the opposition cheats, in which case the government has to use repression, which will bolster the claim that it is a dictatorship. The opposition tries to create a dramatic incident with terrorism close to the voting date, forcing the government to do a repression, again helping the claim that it’s a dictatorship. The opposition wins, somehow — a combination of threats of ‘civil war’, economic attack, etc. — like the 1990 elections in Nicaragua.

The opposition can (and has) keep trying until they win. They have all the resources, support, and the empire on their side. The Chavistas get to fail once…

Venezuelanalysis.com has two interesting articles on the subject. One, by Dieterich, discusses some of the precedents for electorally ending a revolution (I don’t know enough about Russia or Georgia to assess his assessment, though I am not entirely convinced by those examples… the Nicaragua example is a warning though). Another, by Hardy, discusses the fact that the only people interested in democratic processes in Venezuela are the government and their supporters.

Colombia and Venezuela, again

In a state of preoccupation about the recall referendum trap that Venezuela has found itself in, I thought I would check Colombia’s national newspaper, El Tiempo, to see what they are saying about it. El Tiempo is actually a better paper, even on Venezuelan issues, than any of the Venezuelan papers. I saw something that is quite ironic. It seems that yesterday, the very day that the results of the signature drive for the recall referendum came out in Venezuela, the Colombian Congress narrowly passed legislation enabling Colombia’s current president Alvaro Uribe Velez to be re-elected.

So, while the oligarchy of one country conspires to cut the term of a decent president in half, the oligarchy of another conspires to double the term of a most indecent president (see ZNet Colombia Watch for a mountain of articles about Uribe, going back years, and for the most damning piece, see this interview with Javier Giraldo).

When Uribe tried to get his own re-election prepared in a referendum in October 2003, it failed. So he defied the will of the people, defied the constitutional court, defied the constitution itself, and has finally slipped his re-election through the cracks, with no one paying attention.

Imagine if Chavez had tried to pull the same thing? Imagine the appalled notes of concern about democracy and constitutional process and the will of the people, coming from not only the State Department but other equally hypocritical sources?

Imagine, in other words, if Venezuela was ruled by someone like Uribe instead of someone like Chavez?

The frightening thing is that you don’t need to imagine it. If the US and the Venezuelan elite have their way, that’s exactly what you are going to see. And when that happens, you’ll find parts of the ‘left’ supporting it, the kind of ‘left’ that supported the paramilitary killers to take over Haiti and are supporting the ongoing slaughter there by focusing — at a time when Aristide has been driven out, the will of the people torn to shreds — on supposed crimes committed by the very parties (Aristide, Lavalas) who are now being hunted down, hounded, and murdered. You can be sure these people will be back to claim that whatever the US is doing in Venezuela is for the best, and what the ‘left’ in Venezuela really wants.

The Venezuela Recall Trap

Looks like yet another country will be going to the polls before the United States, with Venezuela set on the course of a recall referendum for Chavez. The article linked is from venezuelanalysis.com, which is where I would recommend English-speakers go. ZNet Venezuela Watch is good too, there is much overlap.

The whole thing is troubling. Even though Chavez and many Chavistas believe that Chavez could handily win the referendum, the point is not and never has been to let Chavez win. This is a destabilization program, pure and simple. And the climate of a referendum offers innumerable opportunities for destabilization. A quote from the article is a good summary:

“We would win the recall referendum by a wide margin, and that would be an excellent opportunity to re-legitimize the [revolutionary] process,” said a pro-Chavez activist who wishes to remain anonymous after losing a debate during a meeting with other grassroots leaders who rejected the recall. “U.S. imperialism wants the CNE to declare that there were not enough signatures for the recall, so they can say that Chavez prevented the opposition from exercising their democratic rights. It’s a trap to label Chavez as a dictator, invoke the OAS Democratic Charter against Venezuela and isolate us,” he said.

Those who reject the recall, arguing that there was fraud, say that it will be hard to combat fraud during the recall vote. Another Chavez supporter said that “they have huge technological resources, the support of the U.S. government, and all the media at their disposal. We are the majority, but they can win with fraud. They did it now, and they can do it again.”

“They won’t get any more votes than the signatures they collected,” said another Chavez supporter.

Chavez loyalists coincide that winning the recall won’t cause Chavez enemies to stop their efforts to oust him. “We have won 7 electoral processes in five years, how many more do we need to win in order to be seen as legitimate?”, asked a pro Chavez activist during the meeting.

It is a horrible situation to be in: the Venezuelans have no choice but to walk into a trap set for them by the US and the local oligarchy — forces that have nothing but a demonstratedly murderous contempt for the people.