By Alvaro Verzi Rangel
The new strategy of the United States in its desperate pressure for a change of government in Venezuela, including threats of invasion, consists of a collective punishment on the civilian population, so that social unrest intensifies, increasing the difficulties and economic crisis to produce the fall of the constitutional president Nicolás Maduro.
For phase 2 of the US Southern Command’s Operation Venezuelan Freedom, Chavismo’s social base is the greatest obstacle to accessing Venezuela’s oil, and both human and natural wealth, and that is why Washington is accelerating the use of collective punishment against the poorest and most vulnerable population in its series of provocations.
But already the provocations are not only against Venezuela and accusations are launched against Moscow. The spokeswoman of the Russian chancellery, Maria Zakhrova, said that “the statements about the supposed Russian responsibility of the situation in Venezuela are absurd”.
The US government, in its plan to suffocate the Venezuelan economy, has now proposed to attack the Local Food and Production Committees (CLAP), and prepares sanctions against Venezuelan government officials related to the food boxes. The CLAP system has been effective in combating the resale, speculation, hoarding and contraband of basic items (and the economic war and US sanctions).
The Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate considered the food and distribution program of the CLAP boxes with which the Venezuelan government guarantees the population’s food, as an unusual threat to the internal security of the United States, which is why Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Meléndez proposed a law that sanctions the distribution of CLAP boxes and prevents companies anywhere in the world from selling, distributing land or sea, or forbid banks to process payments, for food.
This week, Washington also pressured some large brokerages to suspend trade in jet fuel with Venezuela, under threat of facing sanctions, raising pressure for President Nicolás Maduro to step down. They also demanded commercial flights not operate direct flight to and from Venezuela.
To sanctions, embargoes, and piracy of Venezuelan funds and resources are added other unilateral coercive measures of direct attack on the Venezuelan population, evidencing their indiscriminate and inhuman nature similar to what occurs with medicines, medical and technological equipment of all types, automotive parts, trade transactions, international reserves, which affect the entire population without distinction of political preference, creed, race or social status.
On Washington’s recommendation, the opposition (led by Guaidó) announced the hiring of veteran lawyer Lee Buchheit to help restructure the debt and guarantee the transnational bank its payment. The financing of the opposition depends to a large extent on that.
Dialogue in Norway
The talks in Norway last week with representatives of the government and the opposition sought to build a peaceful agenda in an international support initiative to achieve a solution to the crisis, and created positive expectations both within Venezuela and in the world’s major metropolises, even though the US government did not take notice, at least officially.
While every attempt at negotiation between government and opposition, start with their request to call for elections, President Nicolás Maduro proposed “Let’s have elections, we will legitimize the only institution that has not been legitimized in the last five years”, referring to the National Assembly, in contempt, managed by the opposition and presided over by Juan Guaidó.
From the opposition, the initial response has been one of rejection of the proposal for early elections (only) of the National Assembly. And the exit of Maduro from the presidency, before holding presidential elections, an otherwise difficult subject to negotiate. Meanwhile, Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, said that this body decided to continue in office “at least” until December 31, 2020.
The dialogue proposed by Norway is necessary to reach an agreement of political recognition that allows peace to be restored. It should not be a dialogue between two groups just considering their interests, but seek a solution to the political conflict, with the necessary international accompaniment, but without other countries deciding the fate of Venezuela as a nation.
The situation chart shows that before the successive failures of Washington in its search for accomplices for an invasion of Venezuela (in which it lost the support of the Lima Group and the European Union), the US Southern Command withdrew its threats, and Washington decided to give priority to economic sanctions and creditors – mostly vulture funds – move in for debt payments.
In the last week there was a meeting, in the US Department of State, of Carlos Vecchio (representative of Juan Guaidó) with Elliott Abrams and Sergio de la Peña, undersecretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere of the United States, who served as US military attache in Venezuela, and has developed simulation projects of low intensity conflicts.
But Vecchio’s much-touted meeting with Vice Admiral Craig Faller, head of the Southern Command, to ask him on behalf of self-proclaimed Guaidó about an urgent invasion of Venezuela, was suspended. International agencies changed their script and now point out that Washington prefers to exert ongoing economic and diplomatic pressure to expel Maduro, postponing – at least for now – the use of military force, although threats continue.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the diplomatic headquarters of Venezuela was taken by US police forces, in violation of the provisions of the Vienna Convention. We can highlight the words of the Rev. Jesse Jackson before this aggression: “People should protest because if they can violate this international law they can violate another.”
The confrontation also continues, measured by the financial embargo that still exists and limits banking transactions for imports. To circumvent the sanctions, Venezuela intends to “use the Russian ruble in mutual trade agreements and abandon transactions in dollars,” according to Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s representative to the UN in Geneva.
It should be remembered that these proposals and decisions take place within the framework of the first steps of the negotiations, which have begun to be developed through the Norwegian government.
Sanctions reduced the caloric intake of the population, increased illness and mortality (both for adults and children) and displaced millions of Venezuelans who left the country as a result of worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. That is, they exacerbated the economic crisis and made it almost impossible to stabilize the economy.
More severe and destructive than the broad economic sanctions of August 2017 were the sanctions imposed by an executive order (of Donald Trump) of January 28, 2019 and subsequent ones this year; along with the recognition of a parallel government that created a new set of sanctions that are even more suffocating than the executive orders themselves, says Mexican analyst John Saxe-Fernandez.
The sanctions inflicted very serious damage to human life and health, including more than 40,000 deaths between 2017 and 2018, which includes them in the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population, as described in the Geneva international conventions and The Hague, of which the EU is a signatory. These sanctions are also illegal under international law and the treaties that the EU has signed. But that does not matter to Trump, his allies / accomplices and the radical Venezuelan opposition.
There were profound repercussions in Venezuela to the resignation letter of Isaías Rodríguez, the Venezuelan ambassador in Italy, harassed by health problems and a debt of nine million euros, who maintains diplomatic representation with individuals and Italian companies. “I resign, President, to my doses of insomnia, stress, affliction and the triangular-headed vipers that have been around you for a long time,” he says in the letter, without identifying the vipers.
Rodriguez, also a member of the current National Constituent Assembly, is a leader much loved by the public, for his courage, loyalty and humility. He was a constituent in 1999, Executive Vice President and Attorney General of the Republic during the 2002 Coup D’Etat against Hugo Chavez.
Álvaro Verzi Rangel is a Venezuelan sociologist, Co-Director of the Observatory on Communication and Democracy and the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis (CLAE, www.estrategia.la )
Translated by JRE/EF