Celebrate the Facts!
The United States took a page out of a very old playbook in attempting regime change in Venezuela. The United States government has endorsed a pro-United States opposition leader, attempted to delegitimize the leader of a sovereign government, and have trotted out a series of economic sanctions to choke Venezuela into submission. But the real victims of the sanctions are the people of Venezuela, and the United States is staying on the sidelines during a humanitarian crisis it helped create.
Venezuela’s economy has collapsed. Hyperinflation, severe shortages of food and medicine, gasoline shortages, COVID, and strengthened United States sanctions have contributed to a dire humanitarian crisis Venezuela’s economic situation continues to worsen with a year-over-year inflation rate of 3,500%. The President of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, blames United States sanctions for the economic crisis, but many bystanders blame fiscal mismanagement and governmental corruption. The United Nations estimated over five million Venezuelans had fled the country as of August 2020.
The Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela lies along South America’s Caribbean Coast and it is slightly more than twice the size of the state of California. Brazil, Colombia, and Guyana border Venezuela. Venezuela’s oil revenues account for about 99% of export earnings. Apart from petroleum, the country’s natural resources include natural gas, iron ore, gold, bauxite, diamonds, and other minerals.
Conventional examinations of the crisis in Venezuela tend toward context involving governmental leaders and while this is interesting those polemics detract from the human cost of economic sanctions.
The United States Venezuela-related sanctions program includes executive orders issued by the President and laws passed by Congress. The United States started imposing sanctions on Venezuela in 2006 but the Trump Administration ramped up economic sanctions as part of a general anti-socialist agenda in Latin America, including sanctions against Nicaragua as discussed in a previous investigation.
Sanctions choking Venezuela include:
Gross domestic product (GDP) in Venezuela continues to contract at astonishing rates. In 2019 Venezuela had a GDP growth of -35% with -25% in 2020.
Dry economic statistics are one thing but other public health measurements show the impact of the crisis on humanity. After years of decline infant mortality took a tick up in 2016 and continues to rise, illustrating the human costs of the crisis.
Similarly maternal mortality rates, a key metric of public health, have soared during the crisis.
Venezuela’s economy is highly dependent on oil revenue, and the sanctions have choked off the industry in many ways including provision of foreign investment, credit, contractors, supplies, and the like. Consequently, Venezuela's exports of crude and refined products fell about 37.5% in 2020 to about 620,000 barrels-per-day, the lowest in 77 years.
The future of Venezuela is tied to petroleum and the success of its oil sector. Recent prices of oil in the plus $60 per barrel range represent increasing demand during recovery and such demand could place international pressure on the United States to reduce sanctions.
Regardless of demand, reports suggest the condition of production, transportation, and refining have eroded, largely due to sanctions. Recent historically low oil prices allowed the United States to continue strengthening Venezuela sanctions with limited risk of an oil price increase. Market circumstances could change should there be a return to pre-COVID demand, at which point Venezuelan crude oil production would help reduce per barrel oil costs. Any decision to ease sanctions on Venezuela’s oil sector would conflict with United States foreign policy objectives. Only immense investment will return production to presanction levels.
The Venezuelan immigrant population in the United States has more than tripled in size since 2000, and much of this growth has occurred in just a few years, as Venezuela’s economic destabilization led to a mass exodus across the Americas and beyond. The population of Venezuelan immigrants in the United States has risen 54 percent from 2015 to 2018, this population at 394,000, making it the fifth-largest South American immigrant population in the United States.
The degree sanctions have increased the emigration of Venezuelans is open to debate but they have increased hardship and encouraged outmigration. White nationalists decrying brown people coming to the United States are the same cohort who encourage sanctions and this hypocrisy is akin to an alcoholic complaining of liver disease.
As predicted in previous investigations the Biden Administration will continue in traditional Neo-Liberal governance in most respects with little change in policy expected in Latin America. The Biden Administration has indicated it will continue to recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president. The United States encouraged its client countries to endorse Guaido’s claim following Maduro’s re-election in 2018, though cracks recently have appeared in Guaido’s international support. Biden Administration officials have claimed existing sanctions allow sufficient humanitarian support which appears to be spurious given the magnitude of the crisis.
It is difficult to understand the rationale of using sanctions to achieve regime change. Sanctions intend to create such distress among the population of a country they remove the sanctioned government from power, or the sanctioned government, out of a sense of concern for the welfare of the citizenry, willingly negotiates to lift the sanctions. There seems to be no precedent for this occurring – take, for instance, Russia, Iran, and North Korea, all of which have been heavily sanctioned by the United States with no change in government and seemingly little behavior change.
What does occur with sanctions is terrible hardship on the citizenry of the sanctioned country. To endorse such an endeavor is to participate in a crime against our fellow people.
Should one nation attempt to determine the governance of another? The United States has not had success at nation-building with perhaps South Korea being the only successful example. In Venezuela however, the United States appears more inclined to nation demolition with the victims being the Venezuelan people.
The United States Congress published a summary of relations at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R44841.pdf. The United States government publishes a comprehensive list of sanctions against Venezuela at https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/financial-sanctions/sanctions-programs-and-country-information/venezuela-related-sanctions. The United States Congress published a great summary of Venezuelan sanctions at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/IF10715.pdf. Reuters provided an assessment of the Biden Administration’s plans on sanctions at https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-usa-exclusive/exclusive-biden-in-no-rush-to-lift-venezuela-sanctions-seeks-serious-steps-by-maduro-idUSKCN2AS0FB.
Michael Donnelly investigates societal concerns with an untribal approach - to limit the discussion to the facts derived from primary sources so the reader can make more informed decisions.