By Jesse Chacón Escamillo
Illegality of unilateral coercive measures
With the advent of the new world order after the Second World War, sophisticated warfare mechanisms are used against countries, their effects are not manifested in the destruction of infrastructure and shedding of blood, but in a slow and often deadly agony over innocent populations. The United States with the support of some allies, now make an indiscriminate use of unilateral coercive measures (UCMs). The pain and death inflicted on vulnerable populations in Cuba, Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, and now Venezuela through UCMs has been classified by experts as crimes against humanity. As described by the independent expert of the United Nations, modern-day economic sanctions and blockades are comparable with medieval sieges of towns with the intention of forcing them to surrender.
International law admits de use of sanctions against States in the multilateral arena. The Charter of the United Nations in Chapter VII, defines that only the Security Council may decide actions against a State in order to contribute to the maintenance of peace and international security, therefore a unilateral sanction with extraterritorial effects goes beyond the limits of legality. It should be noted that a sanction takes form and validity when implemented within the scope of a particular jurisdiction. Among others, the basic principles of jurisdiction are the territory over which they are imposed, the nationality of the persons to whom they apply, and the effects they produce. The premise is that these principles converge in the jurisdiction of the State that imposes them and not on a third one. As pointed out in a recent report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on the enjoyment of human rights, extraterritorial sanctions are illegal, since they do not comply with any of the jurisdiction’s principles; moreover they transgress the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, in particular article 33 relative to collective punishment.
On the other hand, a study of the Human Rights Council of the United Nations has shown that UCMs may negatively impact human rights in several ways. In Venezuela, the population experiences an unprecedented impact, experts from the UN Human Rights Council assert that sanctions should not be the answer to the situation in Venezuela, they have aggravated the economic crisis and caused unemployment and emigration; in short, economic sanctions kill.
The attempt to bring Venezuela to its knees through UCMs
Since 2014, the Venezuelan people have been the victims of an escalated attack by the United States, to which some allies have joined. A report from the US State Department recognizes that in the last three years, at least 150 UCMs against Venezuela have been imposed. The goal is to asphyxiate the economy and to generate a scenario of death and confrontation; which should lead to a regime change. These illegal measures are openly acknowledged and even celebrated by the US government. On 24 April, the State Department published a list with data on the actions taken to overthrow the government of President Maduro; after realizing their incriminating nature, they removed the information from their website. This document called “Fact Sheet: US Actions on Venezuela” celebrates the fact that the Venezuelan government has been prevented from participating in the international market, and has not been able to use its financial resources. The document emphasizes, among others, the freezing of more than 3.2 billion dollars (a number that has been increasing), the drop in oil production by 736,000 barrels per day, and that an estimated of 25 oil transporters with 12 million of barrels are stranded due to the difficulties of finding buyers. This sadistic celebration of human pain, brings to mind the worst face of fascism that was defeated during the Second World War.
Sanctions targeted key sectors of the Venezuelan economy. Among others, assets and accounts in the United States of the state oil company Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), CITGO and its subsidiaries, have been frozen, imposing in addition, sanctions to companies that make deals with them. According to an estimation of the US government, only the measures imposed against PDVSA will cause a loss in 2019 of 11 billion Dollars in exports, freezing additionally 7 billion Dollars in assets. In the mining sector, the operations of the state company Minerven, which exploits the second largest gold reserves in the world, have been blocked. Sanctions have also been imposed on the most important banks in Venezuela. Furthermore, Venezuelan funds have been frozen and confiscated in foreign banks for an amount close to 5.5 billion dollars. It is estimated that these sanctions are causing losses for 24.3 billion dollars. The sanctions have also reached numerous officials of the Venezuelan government, who are restricted for traveling, and in the use of the international financial system.
Economic losses caused by UCMs
One of the major consequences of these actions has been the reduction of 36.4% in oil production. In a recent study, the American academics Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, project that due to sanctions, oil export revenues in 2019 will fall to an unprecedented 67.2% from 2018. Since almost all of the foreign exchange necessary for purchasing essential and life-saving supplies (food, medicines, medical equipment, etc.) is generated by the sale of oil, a devastating effect is experienced by the Venezuelan population. A recent national survey showed that general mortality increased in 31% from 2017 to 2018. This would imply an increase of more than 40,000 deaths. Similarly, the risk for the most vulnerable population is growing. The estimates show that more than four million people are at high risk. This includes 80,000 people with HIV who cannot access antiretroviral treatment since 2017; 16,000 people who require dialysis, 16,000 people with cancer, and 4 million people with diabetes and hypertension.
UCMs can be compared with weapons of mass destruction. For example, the nuclear bomb dropped by the United States in Nagasaki killed 75.000 people; the measures imposed on Venezuela have already killed more than 40,000 people in a couple of years, and millions are at high risk. Given the conditions, it seems that a death penalty has been imposed to these people, and all in the name of democracy and freedom.
Denouncing and fighting UCMs
For several decades now, the use of UCMs has been condemned in international forums, a quick review of statements in the framework of the United Nations show us more than 50 resolutions of the General Assembly, the Council and the Commission of Human Rights. Regrettably, this condemnation does not seem to have an effect on the United States, the greatest transgressor of international law. What actions could be taken to counteract the abuse by this State, which does not respond to anyone, and for which multilateralism and international law does not seem to apply? The peoples who are victims of this abuse, should take the battle to international legal forums, so that the case of the transgression of human rights can set legal precedents. Diplomacy, on the other hand, should be the instrument that generates awareness among the States that become accomplices in these crimes. It should also be considered that sanctions are part of political decisions driven by the interests of governments and not by the people; we call for a great movement of peoples that transcends borders to face the blockade, and that by joining their voices they echo in the actions of those who are causing pain and death.