“The US is doing the same thing as it did with the economic blockade on Cuba, to try and suffocate the Venezuelan economy” explained William Camacaro, a long-time Venezuelan grassroots activist based in New York.
Speaking to Green Left Weekly in Caracas, Camacaro said “The sanctions will cause a lot of difficulties for Venezuela”, but “the reality is that a lot of time has passed since [the blockade was first imposed on Cuba]. Many things have changed.”
The Donald Trump administration placed a range of sanctions on August 25, that according to a White House statement seek to block "a critical source of funding" for the Venezuelan government.
However, Camacaro said: “The US cannot isolate Venezuela as it did with Cuba for so many years. The politics of the continent has changed.
“The US has lost the balance of power in the Organization of America States (OAS) because of Caricom [the Caribbean Community bloc].
“Out of a total of 32 countries, Venezuela has 15 votes from the Caribbean plus the votes of Nicaragua, Ecuador, El Salvador, Bolivia and Uruguay, which all voted with Venezuela.
“No one wants intervention. Venezuela is not Cuba and even the Cubans say this,” said Camacaro.
“Importantly, Venezuela is different to the Chile of [former socialist president] Salvador Allende” which was overthrown by a US-backed military coup, said Camacaro. “Venezuela has an army that for more than 18 has demonstrated its support for the revolution and Latin American independence.”
Camacaro noted that there are divisions within the US ruling class over Venezuela, as some of the sanctions could potentially damage the interests of certain big US corporations.
US petroleum company Horizontal, for example, has US$1.3 billion dollars invested in the Orinoco heavy oil belt, while JP Morgan has already complained to Trump because of the large investments they have in Venezuela.
On the other hand, Camacaro noted that Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has said the present situation could create opportunities for Venezuela.
Under former President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela began moving away from its dependency on the US market and diversifying its trading partners.
Today, Venezuela assembles cars and buses supplied by China. Venezuela also has an agreement with China regarding satellite technology, which is critical for communication and surveillance. China was the only country prepared to sell the patents and transfer technology to Venezuela.
At the same time, Venezuela is building an oil refinery in China, where the final product belongs to Venezuela.
The current situation is likely to push the Venezuelan government to trade more with other countries, particularly China and Russia, as they are forced to import machinery and parts from countries other than the US.
Camacaro speculated that the recent hurricane in Houston, Texas, which has caused many oil refineries in the area to close, could result in a rise in the price of oil, Venezuela’s main export and key source of fiscal income.
Venezuela has the largest proven reserves of oil. It is also rich in other resources such as rare metals, gold, industrial diamonds, and freshwater – all resources that many countries are in need of, including China, India and South Africa.
Turning to the domestic situation, Camacaro said that to overcome critical food shortages, the Maduro government has restarted the “Casa de Alimentacion” (Food Houses) social mission, which is dedicated to supplying cooked meals for vulnerable families and individuals.
These were closed down a few years ago as the country had reached a point where everyone had access to food from other sources.
To restart the mission, local community councils, which are grassroots bodies for peoples’ participation in local decision-making, will carry out surveys in their areas and identify those who are at risk of missing out on meals.
The government will seek out people who want to cook for the community and build a kitchen with all the necessary conditions to cook three meals a day for those in need in their community. All the food will be supplied by the government on a fortnightly basis and the cook will be paid and trained by a nutritionist. The meals are totally free.
About 600 kitchens have already been opened and more are set to open up across the country in the coming weeks.
Another critical problem has been the huge queues at ATMs across the country. Banks are unable to give customers cash in the form of Bolivar (Bs) notes, the local currency.
The origin of the problem lies in the fact that paper money has been stolen by the private banks. Camacaro said that 25 tons of paper money was recently found in Asuncion, Paraguay, while some 40 million Bs100 notes were found in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Lilian Tintori, the wife of far-right opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez - currently being held under house arrest for his role in the violent protests of 2014 that left about 40 dead – was found with Bs200 million in her car boot. The cash had been illegally supplied to her by a private bank.
For Camacaro, this is just another example of how the opposition is trying to destroy the economy, in this case by removing paper money from circulation, knowing that if more money is printed to replace the stolen notes, inflation will rise further in a context where the country is facing a triple-digit inflation rate.