In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign against Venezuela continues to intensify.
Washington is planning to impose sanctions on "bad actors" that do business with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government, singling out countries such as Russia, China, Cuba and Iran.
James Story, the top US diplomat accredited for Venezuela, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "Certainly by the actions we have taken, we've increased cost for bad actors, malign actors in Venezuela. We have to continue to consider other ways to do that”.
In addition to the possible sanctioning of countries supporting Maduro, the Trump administration has tapped into more than US$300 million in frozen Venezuelan government funds in an effort to strengthen its regime change operations against Maduro’s government; contemplated an October deadline for ending exemptions to Venezuelan sanctions that allow some companies and refiners to still receive the South American producer’s oil.
The US also seized four tankers in August, carrying 1.1 million barrels of fuel (valued at US$50 million) from the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC). These foreign-flagged ships were identified as Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna and were brought to Houston, Texas.
Majid Takht Ravanchi – the spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations – has deemed the seizure of ships as an act of “piracy” that is “a direct threat to international peace and security and contravenes international law, including the United Nations Charter”.
Increasing imperialist aggressions on the part of the US is an indication of a deeper failure of US foreign policy toward Venezuela, which has struggled to achieve domestic support among Venezuelans.
On August 2, Venezuela’s opposition decided to boycott the legislative elections scheduled for December 6, citing Maduro’s “oppressive dictatorship” as the reason. This decision has been lent support by Lima Group members and the US.
The opposition’s growing alienation from the masses has forced it to steer clear of the parliamentary elections. Coromoto Godoy Calderon, ambassador of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the Republic of India, told me that 83% of Venezuelans reject opposition leader Juan Guaidó and said: “it is typical US disinformation to present Guaidó as an ‘interim president’.
“This only hides the fact that the US regime-change policy and their Venezuelan puppets are increasingly losing support”.
The opposition’s fragmentation of legitimacy in the eyes of Venezuelans is closely correlated to US imperialist ambitions. To analyse the current situation of the anti-Chavista camp, it is necessary to look at the dynamics of American aims in Venezuela.
Oil and ideology
In a 2017 Oval Office meeting, US President Donald Trump said that Venezuela is “the country we should be going to war with”.
“They have all that oil and they're right on our back door.”
In a similarly blunt and belligerent manner, John Bolton, at that time the National Security Advisor, told Fox News in January last year: “It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela.”
From these statements, it is evident that US foreign policy toward Venezuela is motivated by two objectives.
Firstly, the US wants to establish complete control over a country which the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) defined in 1961 as “extraordinarily wealthy” in terms of its natural resources. Venezuela has rich resources of gold, nickel, iron ore, steel, diamond, alumina, coal, bauxite, asphalt, natural gas and petroleum. Of these resources, petroleum is the most important for Venezuela, accounting for 99% of the country’s export earnings.
The US has constantly targeted Venezuela’s large, lucrative oil reserves and the current war of economic sabotage, media propaganda and military coup against the country is a manifestation of US “petro-imperialism”.
Through US sanctions against Venezuela, the country’s oil production capacities have been undermined, with production reaching approximately 388,000 barrels a day in July, or 60% below the average oil production rate of July last year; the US has blacklisted vessel owners, shipping operators and threatened to sanction any tanker facilitating Venezuela’s oil exports.
Due to these measures, shipping firms are avoiding Venezuela, making it difficult to hire tankers to load and export crude. Venezuela’s state-owned company Petroleum of Venezuela (PDVSA) is unable to use its own tankers, because sanctions have left them lacking the certification needed to navigate international waters.
By crippling Venezuela’s oil production, the US hopes to succeed in raising global oil prices, opening up demand for its own producers and maintaining the boom in US oil production.
Secondly, by toppling the socialist administration of Maduro, the US would gain the ability to abruptly halt the construction of an independent foreign policy, restore US dominance; prevent the diversification of trading partners and privatise firms that have been partly or wholly nationalised. In a nutshell, USA will be able to eliminate the powerful force of socialist ideology and re-align Venezuela to the principles of capitalism if it succeeds in overthrowing Maduro’s government.
The potent threat of socialist ideology and the Bolivarian Revolution is known to various US security experts. In 2005, Max G Manwaring, retired Professor of Military Strategy at the Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, acknowledged that the Bolivarian Revolution is “developing the conceptual and physical capability to challenge the status quo in Latin America, and to generate a ‘Super Insurgency’ intended to bring about fundamental political and economic change in the region”.
Echoing the same view, free market economists Rafael Acevedo and Luis Cirocco wrote: “Since Chávez’s death in 2013, the attacks against private property continued, and Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, keeps promising more of the same.”
In terms of foreign policy, Venezuela has adopted an anti-imperialist policy since the Bolivarian Revolution initiated in 1999 and has sought to pursue an independent foreign policy. Even in the contemporary period, the country is collaborating with China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and now, Turkey to find alternatives to US imperialism.
Between March 19 and July 26, China shipped 46 tons of medical supplies to Venezuela, including more than one million rapid Coronavirus tests, 150,000 molecular diagnostic kits, eight million face masks, two million disposable gloves, up to 135,000 protective suits, more than 23,000 infrared thermometers and 14,000 lens protectors.
Chinese aid to Venezuela is part of a long-term diplomatic relationship between the countries. Between 1999 and 2011, for example, 430 bilateral agreements were signed, of which 171 were projects involving cooperation in the areas of energy and mining, agriculture, science, infrastructure, industry and aerospace.
Russia, similarly, provides aid to Venezuela and Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: "For its part, Russia will continue to aid Venezuela, namely on stabilising the sanitary-epidemiological situation”.
Venezuela’s relationship with Russia is also long-standing. Last year, Russia’s United Grain Company shipped 600,000 tons of grain to Venezuela to be used to distribute subsidised wheat flour to bakeries serving the poor. In the same year, the Saint-Petersburg-based Gerofarm Company sent 200,000 doses of insulin to Venezuela.
Iran is also helping Venezuela, having successfully shipped US$46 million worth of petrol, petroleum products and diluents to the South American country in May. According to Godoy, “the arrival of Iranian fuel and supplies to reactivate the oil and fuel industry for the population has made it possible to break the naval and energy blockade against the country, despite threats from the United States.”
Recently, Turkey has started helping Venezuela by processing gold and facilitating the construction of new hospitals in different regions. Turkey has donated medical supplies, including 25 ventilators, 100,000 surgical masks, 50,000 N-95 type masks, 35,000 protective coveralls, 200,000 gloves and 40,000 test kits. It has also lifted tariffs on Venezuelan seeds and cheese, allowing the crisis-torn country to export a total of 16,600 tons of agricultural products free of customs duties.
Furthermore, Turkey has tripled its exports to Venezuela — which rose from US$37.4 million in 2017 to US$120.8 million in 2018 — and established a gold-for-food mechanism, wherein it has become a key supplier for the Maduro government’s main food subsidy program, known as the Local Supply and Production Committees (CLAPs).
Finally, Cuba has assisted Venezuela in its COVID-19 campaign by sending its medical brigades to the country. On March 15, Cuba sent several members of the Henry Reeve International Contingent of Doctors specialised in Disasters and Serious Epidemics to facilitate Venezuela’s Coronavirus health infrastructure.
More recently, on August 17, Cuba sent an additional 212 health professionals to the Latin American country so that the pandemic could be effectively combatted. These medical brigades have greatly supported the exhaustive campaign to carry out tests, isolate cases and prevent infections.
Sanctions and militarism
Being a political group funded and propped up almost entirely by the US, the Venezuelan opposition has invariably reiterated the exploitative ambitions of US imperialism and has, therefore, lost the support of the masses.
During a speech in the US in 2013, the far-right politician and coup plotter Leopoldo Lopez said: “We have to hurry the exit of the government.
“Nicolas Maduro must go out sooner than later from the Venezuelan government. Nicolas Maduro and all his supporters…from my point of view, the method is secondary, what is important is the determination to reach our goals at any cost.”
Here, the right-wing politician epitomises the US-funded opposition camp in Venezuela whose only objective is to appeal for international sanctions to isolate, destabilise, and overthrow the government of Maduro and reach imperialist goals “at any cost”.
Support for sanctions has consigned the right-wing opposition to political oblivion since US sanctions have resulted in a severe health crisis, contributing to 40,000 deaths in 2017–18 alone.
More than 300 000 Venezuelans are at risk due to a lack of lifesaving medications; 80, 000 HIV-positive patients have had no antiretroviral therapy since 2017; insulin is unavailable because US banks have refused to handle Venezuelan payments for this; millions of people have been without access to dialysis, cancer treatment and therapy for hypertension; children have been affected due to delays in vaccination campaigns and children with leukaemia awaiting bone marrow transplants abroad are now dying.
Venezuela's Vice President for Planning Ricardo Menendez has said the country has lost US$38 billion over three years because of US sanctions. In total, the country has lost US$169 billion as a result of the sanctions regime.
With that $169 billion, Venezuela could have paid its $110 billion debt, instituted redistributive measures or imported food and medicines for 45 years. Instead, Venezuela’s opposition has decided to clamour for US sanctions and further the objectives of imperialism.
The right-wing opposition in Venezuela has even tried military means to oust Maduro.
When asked whether he would like Trump and the US military to intervene, Guaidó said he would “evaluate all options” to oust Maduro.
In a similar fashion, Trump, too, declined to rule out military intervention in Venezuela as he met Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro in March lasy year. On May 3, a failed military incursion called “Operation Gideon”, was carried out by Silvercorp, a private US security company hired by Guaidó.
The Venezuelan opposition is, therefore, ideologically inclined towards militarism and this has further dissociated it from the people. Last year, a poll indicated that 86% of Venezuelans reject a military intervention.
Nevertheless, military intervention is still on the cards and according to a “Threat Model” developed by a researcher at the American Military University, “The inability of the US to achieve its goals by current policies will likely embolden hawks to push for stronger measures.”
Moreover, Aruba and Curaçao each house a US military Forward Operating Location (FOL) that could be used to militarily invade Venezuela.
In June, four US Air Force aircraft and crew were deployed to Hato Airport on Curaçao by the US Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM) to “help US and international law enforcement authorities disrupt and defeat transnational criminal organisations trafficking illegal narcotics in the region”.
This was a highly belligerent act against Venezuela insofar as the Western media, the US Department of Justice and the International Narcotics Control Board falsely framed Maudro’s administration as a “narco-state”.
In a likewise manner, the US carried out Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOps) and Psychological Operations (PSYOps) on July 15. The objective of these operations was “to progressively degrade an adversary’s decision-making process, undermining command and control. Carried out on a regular basis, they put the adversary under a false state of alert or, worse, monotony”.
As the right-wing opposition in Venezuela subverts socialism and democracy with the support of the US, the Chavista support-base is slowly consolidating.
A war-mongering article published in Military Review acknowledged that Maduro’s “supporters have an ideology — anti-imperialist socialism — that serves to unify their efforts in coordinated responses to security challenges, and explains Maduro’s political resilience to outside pressures.”
“If US forces launch an operation into the heavily built-up areas in Caracas, or some of its other outlying areas, aside from having to deal with Venezuela’s conventional forces, they will likely face stiff, armed resistance from irregular forces and opposition in multiple forms from crowds sympathetic to Maduro and his political ideology, including armed uprisings as well as passive popular resistance.”
Washington and their political puppets know full well that while they can sanction and militarise Venezuela, they cannot gain legitimacy among Venezuelans.
[Yanis Iqbal is a student and freelance writer based in India.]