By Laila Tajeldine – Mar 9, 2023
Today, March 9, two events with great impact on Venezuela coincide. One of them is that eight years have passed since Obama signed the executive order declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the security of the United States. The decree provided the legal basis for the coercive measures taken by Washington against Venezuela, aimed at suffocating its economy and overthrowing the Bolivarian Revolution. Another event, which is a consequence of this “decree,” is that 1000 days that have passed since the kidnapping of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab.
Without the Obama Decree, it would have been difficult to carry out the actions against Venezuela in the magnitude with which it was done and in such a short period of time. From that moment until today, 929 unilateral coercive measures have been imposed on Venezuela and the country has suffered a loss of more than $230 billion. All of this has affected the lives of the Venezuelan people who, since the beginning of the Revolution, had achieved a standard of living that allowed them to advance on the path of integral and sustained development. The coercive measures imposed by the United States were intended to be complemented by the recognition of a parallel government, attempted coup and intervention, destruction of the public services, assassination attempts, and the kidnapping of the country’s diplomatic official, Alex Saab.
On April 9, 2018, Alex Saab was appointed as a special envoy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela for humanitarian affairs, with specific tasks in the Islamic Republic of Iran when the United States and Venezuela still maintained diplomatic relations. Then, in January of the following year — 2019 — Venezuela and the United States ended diplomatic relations when the US attempted to impose a parallel government, with National Assembly Deputy Juan Guaidó at the head. In July of the same year, the United States began the persecution of Alex Saab and sanctioned him through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).
The United States also started an aggression never before seen against Venezuela. It executed what former US Ambassador to Venezuela William Brownfield said months before, “we must accelerate the collapse in Venezuela, even if it produces a period of greater suffering for the people,” with sanctions against the Venezuelan oil industry.
For the United States, the sanctions against the Venezuelan oil industry were essential for the fulfillment of its political objectives since they not only prevented the export of oil from Venezuela and consequently paralyzed said industry but also paralyzed the arrival of basic necessities for the Venezuelan people that were purchased with earnings from that oil.
Although the sanctions constituted a strong blow against Venezuelans, food, medicine and fuel continued to arrive in the country, though not at the same flow. At that time, the United States pinpointed Alex Saab as the one who was managing to break the blockade against the country at the center of US policy. This was confessed by former US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, who, in his book A Sacred Oath, published in 2022, states:
At Maduro’s direction, Saab was reportedly on a special mission to negotiate a deal with Iran for Venezuela to receive more fuel, food, and medical supplies. Saab was Maduro’s long-standing point man when it came to crafting the economic deals and other transactions that were keeping the regime afloat… access to him [Saab] could really help explain how Maduro and his regime worked. It was important to get custody of him. This could provide a real road map for the US government to unravel the Venezuelan government’s illicit schemes and bring them to justice.
In his book, Esper exposes to us the perverse plan put together to kidnap the diplomat who was helping to maintain the entry of basic necessities into Venezuela.
On June 12, 2020, while Alex Saab was traveling to Iran to execute a new diplomatic mission, he was arrested in Cape Verde at the request of the United States in an irregular manner — without an arrest warrant or an Interpol red alert. Subsequently, after over a year, on October 16, 2021, and despite directives from international organizations and courts to release him from prison and not to extradite him, Alex Saab was extracted to the United States, where his diplomatic immunity is not recognized.
Now, considering what Esper said and all the evidence that we know of, a judge in Florida, United States, who conducted the trial on the diplomatic immunity of Venezuelan Special Envoy Alex Saab, said that the documents confirming Saab’s immunity seem fraudulent. Judge for yourselves.
Before Special Envoy Saab’s departure to Iran on his third mission on June 12, 2020, the US government had detailed information about his diplomatic activities on behalf of Venezuela to negotiate the trade of resources like oil in exchange for goods needed by the Venezuelan people. In particular, the US government announced that it was aware that Special Envoy Alex Saab was involved in refining Venezuelan gold, using that gold to purchase goods and that he had visited a gold mine in Venezuela with an “Iranian delegation.”
On June 11, 2020, then-US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams, said in an email to Brian Hook, the State Department’s special representative for Iran, that then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wanted to “talk about Alex Saab, who is negotiating Iran-Venezuela deals.” This reference confirms the fact that senior Justice Department and State Department officials were aware that Special Envoy Saab was negotiating a deal between Iran and Venezuela.
Another piece of evidence is a June 14, 2020, email sent by then-US Special Representative for Iran and Venezuela Elliot Abrams to Deputy Attorney General Bruce Swartz, where he conveyed Secretary of State Pompeo’s feelings regarding Special Envoy Saab’s diplomatic status. Pompeo suggested arguments that could refute Special Envoy Saab’s diplomatic status. He cited the alleged illegitimacy of the passport as it was granted “by criminals, not by President Guaidó” and stated that Special Envoy Saab was neither accredited to Cape Verde nor on a diplomatic mission. Therefore, it is undeniable that Special Envoy Saab’s diplomatic credentials had been recognized by the US government.
More proof reaffirming that the US had full knowledge of Saab’s status and that he was on a diplomatic mission is the recently published book by Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Never Give an Inch, in which he acknowledges Saab’s role: “… Drug Enforcement Agency folks had a chance to nab Alex Saab… while he was on a mission to arrange a swap of Venezuelan gold for Iranian oil.”
Despite all this, the Southern District Court of Florida judge, Robert Scola, had an over-compliance with the US government. This is typical when it comes to Venezuela because even though everything indicates that, indeed, Alex Saab was a diplomat who was arrested while on a mission, the judge dared to say that the evidence presented by the defense seems fraudulent and concluded that since the United States does not recognize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s government, then it does not recognize its diplomats.
This conclusion is totally inappropriate, as the United States already has an agreement with the United Nations regarding diplomats whose governments it does not recognize. An example of this is the “Agreement between the United Nations and the United States of America regarding the Headquarters of the United Nations” of 1946, whose Article V, Section 15 states that “Every person designated by a Member [State of the United Nations]… shall, whether residing within or outside the headquarters district, be entitled in the territory of the United States to the same privileges and immunities, subject to corresponding conditions and obligations, as it accords to diplomatic envoys accredited to it. In the case of Members whose governments are not recognized by the United States, such privileges and immunities need be extended to such representatives, or to persons on their staffs…”
The clarity of this article again shows us the illegality committed by US officials in the case of Alex Saab, as it has been the practice of the United States, even when it does not recognize a specific government, to confer the extension of privileges and immunities to its officials just as they are conferred to the representatives of a government it does recognize. Therefore, the duty of the US authorities was to maintain this practice since it cannot be subject to an international double standard and must be a general and non-selective action.
The Venezuelan people are still victims of the inhumane blockade imposed by the United States, which has not changed at all with the arrival of the new president, Joe Biden. The blockade has caused great damage to Venezuela and its people directly. Yet, despite this, the Venezuelan people remain firm in their determination to follow the political and sovereign path that they have set for themselves, resisting and seeking solutions to their problems without giving in to the United States’ extortion. The same has happened with the Venezuelan diplomat, who, despite being tortured by the US authorities, has not given in to the US attempt to make him testify against his homeland.
It has been 1000 days since the kidnapping of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab, and the Venezuelan people continue to demand his release. The United States irresponsibly keeps him behind bars despite the damage this has caused to its international image and the internal pressures it is under to use him as a bargaining chip for exchange with US prisoners in Venezuela.
Alex Saab must be freed immediately. The US government and its institutions must respect international law, including its own domestic laws that prevent its authorities from acting in the way they do.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Laila Tajeldine is a Venezuelan Lawyer | University Professor | Political, international and human rights analyst | TV and radio presenter
Laila Tajeldine#molongui-disabled-linkSeptember 19, 2021
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