US sanctions – stepping up its campaign against Venezuela

Maduro proposes peace conference to resolve opposition protests - February 2014

The following article by Matt Willgress, on the US decision to impose sanctions against Venezuela, was originally published by the Morning Star.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has led a chorus of the Global South in angrily rejecting new sanctions against his nation signed into law by US President Barack Obama in December.

The Venezuela Defence of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, earlier agreed by the US Congress and Senate, authorises sanctions against Venezuelan officials.

It is portrayed as a response to alleged human rights violations committed by them during the La Salida (the ousting) violent protests in Venezuela of 2014, which many argued sought to prompt a coup to oust the elected, constitutional president.

In reality, the La Salida campaign was initiated by extreme, anti-democratic elements of Venezuela’s right-wing opposition. Forty-three died during the protests.

The violent tactics used by extremists were widely condemned in Latin America but elsewhere the propaganda that the violence was prompted by government actions dominates the discourse.

Responding to the sanctions, Nicolas Maduro said: “President Obama has taken a false step against our country by signing the sanctions, despite the national and continental rejection of them. On the one hand, he recognises the failure of the aggression against and blockade of Cuba … which with dignity, has resisted and won, and on the other hand he has started a stage of increased aggressions against (Venezuela). These are the contradictions of an empire that tries to impose its domination in whatever way it sees fit, underestimating the strength and awareness of our homeland,” he added.

In a pertinent analysis, published in the New York Times, Venezuela National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello argued that: “In Cuba, a decades-long trade embargo caused great hardship but failed to realise the US objective of ending the Cuban revolution. The UN’s many votes to lift the embargo exposed how isolated Washington had been in its policy. It would be regrettable if sanctions against Venezuela, first opposed by the White House, now became a way for the Obama administration to appease those in Congress who oppose the historic restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.”

Cabello also highlighted another aspect of the hypocrisy of the US position, pointing out that “It seemed an unfortunate coincidence that just as scores of people demonstrating against police brutality were being arrested (in the US), the US Congress passed a Bill to bring sanctions against members of my country’s government for alleged human rights abuses during protests,” adding that “while Congress accused Venezuela’s government of cracking down on dissent, African-American communities across the US expressed outrage over police killings of unarmed black men,” and further commenting that, “as legislators on Capitol Hill criticised Venezuelan officials for purported violations of democratic norms, a Senate report revealed the extent of torture by the CIA.”

The double standards of the US were put in a regional context by analyst Lauren Carasik for Al Jazeera, who noted: “Washington’s focus on human rights abuses in Venezuela is in stark contrast to its aid to Honduras, Mexico and Colombia, which face grave human rights situations,” with the US continuing “to extend tens of millions of dollars in security aid.”

Whatever the reasoning behind Obama’s timing, Washington’s antipathy toward Venezuela is not new.

Since Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, the US government has routinely sought to undermine Venezuela. It is well know that Washington supported a failed coup attempt in 2002 but US efforts did not end there. It continues to spend millions on supporting the opposition. 
Investigative journalist Eva Golinger has documented how over 12 years US government agencies have provided well over $100 million to opposition groups.

The new Act now calls for a US government strategy to increase funding for and availability of anti-government media in Venezuela, including utilising the Voice of America for this end.

The Bill states that US foreign policy should aim to “continue to support the development of democratic political processes and independent civil society in Venezuela.”
As well as creating diplomatic barriers, the sanctions themselves could actually prompt violence, according to Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez, who says the US move sends a message to violent right-wing groups that they can continue with actions of anti-democratic destabilisation.

It is important though to recognise that Venezuela does not stand alone in response to this latest aggression, particularly in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a statement, the countries of the Alba regional bloc expressed “their absolute support to and solidarity with the people and government of Venezuela,” arguing that the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 is a smokescreen that paves the way to destabilisation … opening the gates to an unconstitutional move against the legal and legitimately elected government,” adding that “they will not allow the use of old practices already implemented in countries of the region, aimed at promoting a change of political regime just as was the case in north Africa and in countries of the Middle East.”

Additionally, the member states of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) stated that “the application of the unilateral sanctions included in this Bill infringes the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and do not contribute to stability, social peace and democracy in Venezuela.”

Highlighting the hypocrisy of the US, president of Nicaragua Daniel Ortega announced that in response to their role in pioneering the sanctions US Senator Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros–Lehtinen had been banned from Nicaraguan territory. 
Ortega said: “Just like they (US officials) have their lists, we can make our own lists in Latin America of those who shouldn’t enter our country.”
Globally, the G77+China group expressed their rejection, with President Evo Morales of Bolivia stating that “The Group of 77+China reiterates the urgent need to repeal the legislative measure taken against Venezuela which undermines the UN Charter and international law, especially the principles of non-intervention in internal affairs and equal rights and self-determination of peoples.”

In Britain, over 80 prominent politicians have added their names to a statement opposing the sanctions and supporting Venezuela’s national sovereignty. We need to do all we can to amplify such voices in the months ahead.
Matt Willgress is national co-ordinator of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign.

You can get more information and lobby your MP to speak out against US sanctions on Venezuela at George Galloway MP and Venezuelan speaker Marcos Garcia will be amongst the speakers at an Emergency Meeting against US Sanctions on Venezuela at 6.30pm on February 4 at the Marx Memorial Library, 37A Clerkenwell Green, EC1R 0DU (nearest Tube: Farringdon) organised by north London VSC. You can register here or by emailing


This article originally appeared here in the Morning Star.