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      Escalating U.S. War and Sanctions on Venezuela During the Covid-19 Pandemic

      By Alison Bodine

      On April 1, 2020, U.S. President Trump dedicated time during the Covid-19 daily update press conference to announce an escalation in U.S. military threats against Venezuela. In the midst of a pandemic threatening to kill hundreds of thousands of people in the United States, under cover of a so-called counter-narcotics operation, Trump called for one of the largest deployments of the U.S. military into the Caribbean since the U.S. invasion and occupation of Panama in 1989.

      "Today, the United States is launching enhanced counter-narcotics operations in the Western hemisphere to protect the American people from the deadly scourge of illegal narcotics…We are deploying additional Navy destroyers, combat ships, aircraft and helicopters, Coast Guard cutters, and Air Force surveillance aircraft, doubling our capabilities in the region." – U.S. President Trump

      President Trump further justified this dangerous and provocative military escalation with the statement that, "As governments and nations focus on the coronavirus, there is a growing threat that cartels, criminals, terrorists and other malign actors will try to exploit the situation for their own gain.” In fact, it is the United States government that is attempting to exploit the Covid-19 pandemic for its own “regime change” agenda in Venezuela. This outrageous announcement was the pinnacle of a week of growing attempts by the United States government to sew fear and chaos within Venezuelan society, a component of their campaign to overthrow the democratically elected government of President Nicolás Maduro. Within seven days, the U.S. government:

      - Indicted President Maduro and other government officials for “narco-trafficking” and announced a bounty on President Maduro’s head – a $15 million award for his arrest, and lesser amounts for the arrest of other members of the government;

      - Announced a the “Democratic Transition Framework for Venezuela,” which outlines measures defined by the government of the United States, clearly meant to coerce the people of Venezuela to into overthrowing the democratically elected government of President Maduro, including that the U.S. government is offering to lift certain sanctions against Venezuela if the “transition plan” is followed; and

      - Announced that they would be deploying U.S. Navy warships, surveillance aircraft, and special forces to the waters surrounding Venezuela, doubling their military presence in the Caribbean.

      As U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrogantly said on March 31, 2020, "Nicolás Maduro must go" – and the United States and their imperialist allies are not about to let the health and well-being, or even the lives of people in Venezuela get in their way.

      U.S. Escalates Blockade & Sanctions Against Venezuela

      The callousness of the U.S. government in the face of COVID-19 can be seen not only in its intentionally negligent refusal to protect people in the United States from the virus, but also in their continuing murderous sanctions against countries such as Iran, Cuba, and Venezuela. Not only have sanctions remained firmly in place, but they have been increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

      As Jeffrey Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, explained in a March 18, 2020 press release from the Center for Economic Policy Research, “The Trump administration is using sanctions against Iran and Venezuela to pressure those governments by inducing widespread suffering. This policy is unconscionable and flagrantly against international law. Yet worse, it is now feeding the coronavirus epidemic.”

      Since 2014, the United States has imposed 47 rounds of sanctions against Venezuela. Although the most recent escalation in sanctions has come through President Trump's executive orders, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are supported by both the Democrat and Republican parties. These sanctions have been turned into law through the U.S. Congress, which uses the same rhetoric against the independent and sovereign government of President Nicolás Maduro as the Trump administration.

      The “unilateral coercive measures,” as they are referred to in international law, which constitute the blockade, have been reinforced by further sanctions on Venezuela by Canada, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Panama, and Switzerland. These criminal measures mean that the government of Venezuela is effectively cut-off from international trade and banking.

      According to estimates by the government of Venezuela, sanctions have cost the economy of Venezuela at least $116 billion in the last five years. On top of this, the government of Venezuela has had nearly $6 billion frozen in U.S. and European banks – 12% of which was frozen during transactions for the purchase of vaccines from the Pan American Health Organization in 2019.

      In February 2020, Alfred de Zayas, a former U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights, spoke at an international United Nations forum in Geneva, Switzerland, for economists and human rights experts. As he reported, "It can be said that to date more than 100,000 Venezuelans have died as a result of unilateral coercive measures, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have died due to not having access to medicines."

      Even before the Covid-19 pandemic began, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela had already put a deadly strain on Venezuela’s free and universal healthcare system. Doctors Tanya L Zakrison and Carles Muntaner summarized some of these impacts in a "Correspondence" article published in the Lancet Medical Journal in June 2019, "The impact of the U.S. sanctions on the Venezuelan population cannot be overstated. More than 300 000 Venezuelans are at risk due to a lack of lifesaving medications and treatment. An estimated 80 000 HIV positive patients have had no antiretroviral therapy since 2017. Access to medication such as insulin has been curtailed because U.S. banks refuse to handle Venezuelan payments for this. Thousands to millions of people have been without access to dialysis, cancer treatment, or therapy for hypertension and diabetes. Particular to children has been the delay of vaccination campaigns or lack of access to antirejection medications after solid organ transplants in Argentina. Children with leukemia awaiting bone marrow transplants abroad are now dying. Funds for such health assistance programs come from the PDVSA state oil company. Those funds are now frozen.” In the time of Covid-19, this blockade has the potential to be devastating for the health of the people of Venezuela.

      Despite this, since the pandemic began, the United States government, supported by its allies, including the government of Canada, has directed new sanctions against the people of Venezuela. This cruelty demonstrates just how far imperialist countries are prepared to go in order to try to bring about the overthrow of the democratically elected President of Venezuela Nicolás Maduro and reverse the gains of the Bolivarian revolutionary process.

      The U.S. Congress passed legislation that codified many U.S. sanctions imposed through executive orders in December 2019. The new laws included, “those prohibiting the Maduro government's ability to trade gold, finance debt, or use cryptocurrencies to avoid U.S. sanctions,” as summarized by the Congressional Research Service.

      In February 2020, the U.S. government implemented sanctions against Conviasa, Venezuela’s national airline. This is the airline that the government of Venezuela uses to carry out critical social programs, including “Mission Milagro,” or Miracle Mission in English. This mission provides free eye surgeries for people with cataracts throughout Venezuela and neighbouring countries. Most recently, it is Conviasa airplanes that are transporting Cuban doctors to fight COVID-19 in countries throughout the Caribbean.

      Then in March, in fact, one day before the first coronavirus case was declared in Venezuela, the United States further tightened its grip on Venezuela's oil sales, the primary source of income for the country. Through an executive order, the U.S. government sanctioned the Switzerland based Russian company Rosneft, which has been exporting 70% of Venezuelan oil.

      This is yet another escalation of attacks on Venezuela's oil sector, which first had imposed sanctions against it in August 2019. Among other measures calculated to strangle Venezuela's economy, the PDVSA, Venezuela’s nationalized oil company, is currently unable to export oil to the United States or receive payments for exports. On top of this, the U.S. government is continuously imposing new measures that prevent or discourage non-U.S. based companies and foreign governments from trade with Venezuela, especially in the oil sector.

      The brutal U.S. sanctions regime is one component of the war against Venezuela – one which the people of Venezuela are resisting every day.

      Imperialism Continues to Fail in Venezuela

      “Brothers and sisters of the world, you can be absolutely sure that Venezuela will stand firm in its fight for peace and that, under any circumstances, it will prevail. No imperialist aggression, however ferocious it may be, will divert us from the sovereign and independent path that we have forged for 200 years, nor will it distance us from the sacred obligation to preserve the life and health of our people in the face of the frightening global pandemic of COVID-19.” – Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela, March 29, 2020

      Over one year ago, the United States was attempting to install a puppet government in Venezuela in the form of Juan Guaidó – who declared himself “interim President of Venezuela,” at the end of January 2019. However, even with the support of the United States government, the government of Canada, and other Latin American right-wing allies, Guaidó has completely failed in his coup attempt.

      Far from becoming “interim President” of Venezuela, Guaidó has spent much of the new year roaming through Europe and North America meeting up with his imperialist masters such as U.S. President Trump and the Prime Minister of Canada Trudeau. When he finally returned to Venezuela, he wasn't greeted with open arms, but instead faced ridicule and insults at the airport from people in Venezuela he claims to represent.

      During the Covid-19 crisis, Guaidó has continued to carry out the orders of his friends in the White House and call for increasing U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Continuing to pretend that he has any political power or control in Venezuela, Guaidó presented a “plan” for responding to the pandemic, which included establishing a "National Emergency Government." This is an extraordinarily cynical and pointless maneuver. The democratically elected government of President Maduro responded quickly and effectively to the pandemic threat – including immediately establishing a government commission to respond to the pandemic. The so-called plan of Guaidó is nothing but an echo of the “democratic transition” plan presented by the U.S. government.

      Despite sanctions, war, and continuous meddling in Venezuela by the U.S. government and their allies, including Canada, the people of Venezuela continue to defend their democratically elected government and the Bolivarian revolutionary process. The leader of the Bolivarian revolution and President of Venezuela from 1999-2013, Hugo Chavez, began this process over 20 years ago. The people of Venezuela have not lost their conviction to struggle with escalating U.S. war and continuous U.S.-backed counter-revolutionary violence and sabotage during the Covid-19 pandemic.

      The People of Venezuela Fight Back!

      As of May, 2020, 1370 people in Venezuela have confirmed cases of Covid-19, and 14 people have died from the virus. Like so many other countries around the world, these numbers are expected to rise. However, the revolutionary government of Venezuela quickly implemented essential measures to protect the health and the well-being of poor, working, and oppressed people. Despite the public health challenges caused by the U.S. blockade and Covid-19, the Bolivarian revolution has continued to march forward during these difficult times.

      A Presidential Commission for the prevention of Covid-19, led by the Vice-President of Venezuela Delcy Rodriguez, was launched to coordinate Venezuela's response to the pandemic. This commission has organized for the shipment of Covid-19 related medical supplies and tests, which have come from China, Russia, the World Health Organization, and the Red Cross. The commission also plans the government response to the pandemic, which has followed the mass-testing method that China used to defeat the pandemic successfully.

      There has also been an increase in the number of Cuban doctors in the country, which has enforced the “Barrio Adentro,” free neighbourhood medical clinics, and provided additional support in public hospitals. In addition, medicines developed in Cuba, such as interferon Aplha2b, are also being used in the country as part of treating Covid-19. The Bolivarian revolutionary process brought free and universal healthcare to people in Venezuela. This is no different during Covid-19 – where testing and treatment are provided for free.

      Build Solidarity with Venezuela!

      For over 20 years, the Bolivarian revolution has come under constant attack by the U.S. government and its allies. The people of Venezuela are prepared to continue fighting. They stand defiant in the face of crippling U.S.-led sanctions and a cruel blockade that prevents Venezuela from importing essential goods such as food and medicine. This will of the Venezuelan people to not bow to imperialist pressure continues to make them the target of the U.S. war, threats, and hostilities.

      As people in the United States and Canada, is it our responsibility to stand with the people of Venezuela, in defense of their sovereignty and self-determination. During the time of Covid-19, we must continue our fight to lift the sanctions on Venezuela. Not only to provide much-needed relief during the time of the pandemic, but to put an end to the cruel U.S.-led blockade once and for all.

      The pandemic has intensified the sharp contrast between the inhuman policies of the U.S. government and their allies, and the pro-human and internationalist actions of revolutionary governments such as Venezuela and Cuba. There is a great opportunity that we have as peace-loving people to appeal to the humanity of poor, working and oppressed people from all walks of life throughout the U.S. and Canada, and ask them to join with us to end the U.S.-led war on Venezuela.

      Follow Alison on Twitter: @alisoncolette

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