Friday, December 26, 2014

Sanctions against Venezuela

"Venezuela is Latin America's biggest exporter of crude oil and has the world's largest petroleum reserves." - Brian Ellsworth and Andrew Cawthorne, Venezuela death toll rises to 13 as protests flare Reuters 02/24/2014

One of the ugly aspects of President Obama's Administration is that he consistently couples significant actions that please his Democratic base with nasty actions that will never please the Republicans, even though the latter are taken to please them.

The relaxation in relation with Cuba is coupled with a dangerous escalation in relations with Venezuela that gives further evidence that the US is cooperating with the radical opposition faction led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado in a "regime change" operation.

Alex Main writes in One step forward, one step back in US-Latin America policy The Hill 12/19/2014:

... Obama has supported a significant hardening of policy toward one of Cuba's closest allies in the region.

Venezuela has just joined Cuba as one of only two countries in the Western Hemisphere subject to U.S. sanctions. Legislation mandating sanctions against Venezuelan officials was approved by voice vote in the Senate on Dec. 8 and then sailed through the House on Dec. 10. On Dec. 18, just one day after his speech on a "new course" on Cuba, Obama signed the sanctions bill into law. Cuban-American Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), who authored the legislation, called it "a victory for the Venezuelan people."

The trouble is, the people of Venezuela don't seem to agree with Menendez. A survey carried out by independent pollster Datanalisis showed that nearly three quarters of Venezuelans oppose U.S. sanctions. The Caracas-based human rights organization PROVEA — a frequent critic of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — also vigorously rejects the measure. Other Latin American governments oppose the sanctions as well. At a May summit, South America's heads of state strongly voiced their opposition to the Senate bill and its House companion, authored by Florida Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
The US faith in economic sanctions has become downright reckless.

The Administration claims it's doing it to defend human rights. But who in the world can really take such claims from the Obama Administration seriously unless he closes the Guantánamo gulag station and prosecutes the torture perpetrators?

Main makes sense when he concludes his piece:

Such trade-offs may make sense from a Beltway perspective. But allowing legislators stuck in a Cold War mentality to steer U.S. Venezuela policy is dangerous and risks wrecking the good will that the administration's Cuba detente is generating throughout the region. In the words of President Obama, it's time to fully "cut loose the [policy] shackles of the past." Not just with regard to Cuba, but on policy toward Venezuela and other left-leaning Latin American governments as well.
The Real News has an interview with Main on the sanctions, Diplomatic Relations with Cuba and Sanctions for Venezuela 12/23/2014

The Latin American Herald Tribune reports on the opposition to US sanctions in, Venezuela and Bolivia Challenge OAS on Supporting U.S. and Cuba 12/25/2014 and G77 and China Condemn U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela, Say They Must Be Repealed 12/23/2014.

TV Pública argentina reports on the OAS statement on Cuba-US relations in Visión 7 - El acuerdo entre Cuba y EEUU con el apoyo de la OEA :

Evan Robertson reports in Venezuela in 2014: Maduro Administration Given Reprieve by Divided Opposition Venezuela Analysis 12/19/2014 that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has suffered a major fall in popularity since his 2013 re-election:

It is likely that falling presidential approval is tied to ongoing economic problems. According to the September IVAD poll citizens viewed product shortages as the country’s worst problem, followed by crime, which traditionally tops such polls. Both Datanalisis’ and IVAD’s most recent polls found that around 80% of citizens feel the situation in the country is negative. Further, according to the IVAD September poll, 70% of citizens do not trust that Maduro will be able to solve the country’s economic problems.
Venezuela is a petrostate and suffers from the kind of social distortions that often come with that status. One of them is the chronic problem the country has in developing a strong agricultural sector. Rural workers are attracted to the higher paying jobs and more diverse life opportunities offered by city life and the petroleum-related jobs available there.

And now come falling oil prices, which from what I read are largely linked to falling world economic activity but may also be influenced by secondary factors like OPEC countries' desire to undercut competition from fracking and even to weaken the regimes in Russia and Iran. Hostility to Maduro's government may also play a role, but if so, it appears to be a tiny factor.

Still, falling oil prices hammer petrostates like Venezuela and Russia.

But despite Maduro's fall in popularity, Robertson speculates that the ruling party may benefit in the 2015 parliamentary elections from the opposition's own unpopularity:

After the government’s victory in the December 2013 municipal elections, the more moderate wing of the opposition began to attend dialogue talks with government officials at the invitation of Maduro. Even Miranda state governor and opposition leader Henrique Capriles – who had unconvincingly claimed fraud after he was defeated by Maduro in the April 2013 presidential election – attended one such event. It appeared that Maduro’s legitimacy would be widely accepted and the country’s peace and governability would be guaranteed, allowing the government the breathing space to take difficult measures and attempt to solve distortions and problems in the economy.

However in early February 2014 the hard-line wing of the opposition – led by Leopoldo Lopez and Maria Corina Machado – launched an unrest strategy called “La Salida” (The Exit, or The Solution), which involved a mixture of mass protests, violent riots, and militant street barricades aimed at shutting down Venezuela’s cities. Perhaps not by coincidence, the movement’s strategy undermined the government’s ability to resolve the very problems that protesters ostensibly cited as reasons for their discontent: chiefly economic problems and high crime. The government meanwhile argued that the unrest was designed to provoke a state coup, and waited until local communities became fed up with street barricades before moving in to dismantle them. The toll of the February – May opposition unrest movement was over 40 deaths and some 1,000 wounded, as well as great damage to public property in the areas affected. Civilians from both sides and security officials were killed, and a debate over human rights abuses perpetrated by opposition militants and National Guard officers continues to be waged through media and institutions.

The Salida movement received reluctant support from the moderate wing of the opposition, and leaders such as Henrique Capriles appeared lukewarm over the strategy. Meanwhile citizen approval for the opposition MUD coalition fell to 36% in April according to Datanalisis, and polls showed that a vast majority of the population rejected the militant barricades, known as “guarimbas”, as a form of protest.
And he notes that Maduro's Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) "is being reorganized via internal elections and remains by far the strongest single political party in Venezuela. Some 30% of citizens identify with the PSUV compared with less than 5% for even the most popular opposition political party."

One of the standard features of economic sanctions is that it is easy for the leadership of the targeted countries to strike a nationalistic stance of defending the sovereignty of the country in the face of the country imposing thesanctions.

And that's what Maduro is doing. (Maduro: "En 2015 daremos un paso más en la lucha por la independencia económica" Panorama 25.12.2014) As any half-sensible leader would.

Henrique Capriles, Governor of the state of Miranda and the main national opposition leader, came out in favor of the sanctions. Capriles sobre sanciones de EE UU: "Nicolás ahora chilla en nombre de los enchufados" Panorama 18.12.2014. This is consistent with his desire to receive support from the rightwing Cuban community in Florida and others in the US interested in "regime change" in Venezuela. Although Capriles has maintained its distance this year from the radical faction around López and Machado.

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