US Reimposes Illegal and Inhumane Oil Sanctions on Venezuela

The New York Times Runs Cover

A minute after midnight on April 18, the US reimposed coercive economic measures designed to cripple Venezuela’s oil industry. Later that day, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a new sanctions bill on Nicaragua. Meanwhile, Cuba protested the US’s six-decade blockade as talks resumed between the two countries on migration.

At a time of challenged US dollar hegemony and questioning of the neoliberal order, the three countries striving to build socialist societies in the Americas pose a “threat of a good example.”

Also on April 18,  Biden announced new sanctions on Iran. Globally, Washington has imposed sanctions on some forty countries. Because these unilateral coercive measures are a form of collective punishment, they are considered illegal under international law.

Even the US Congressional Research Service recognizes sanctions have “failed” to achieve their regime-change goals. Yet the empire’s perverse response is to do more of the same rather than reverse course. “Once they are imposed, they become politically impossible to lift without getting something in return,” observed The New York Times.

 Times runs cover for US sanctions on Venezuela

The empire’s “newspaper of record” bewailed that Uncle Sam had “no choice” but to reign more misery on the people of Venezuela even though sanctions do not achieve their purported purpose.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, according to the Times, had “promised to take steps toward holding free elections… with the lifting of some American sanctions as an incentive. But the ink was hardly dry before his government upheld a ban on running for office that had been placed on María Corina Machado.”

In fact, the Barbados agreement, negotiated last October, said nothing about Ms. Machado, who had been proscribed from holding public office for fifteen years back in 2015 for financial and treasonous misconduct. There was little chance that the notorious politico would have her conviction reversed by Venezuela’s supreme court which, as in the US, is an independent branch of government not under the dictates of the president.

The US knew this when the agreement was signed, but has subsequently used it as an excuse to delegitimize the upcoming Venezuelan presidential election. Why? One reason may be that the US Intelligence Community’s Annal Threat Assessment anticipates that Maduro will win the contest on July 28.

The article correctly reports that Machado was the “overwhelming victor” of a primary, but omits that her incredulous 93% margin in a crowded and highly contested field raised doubts about its credibility. Another leading opposition figure in the primary accused the process of being a fraud.

The primary was held privately, not by the official election authority as other primaries were. Machado’s own NGO, one that had received funds from the CIA front group, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), had administered the primary. And after Machado was declared the winner, the ballots were destroyed. This news, apparently, was not “fit to print” in the Times.

 Times laments the downsides of US sanctions…to the US

The article raises a concern dear to the Times, which is that the “immigration crisis,” precipitated by the US sanctions, pose “a major political problem for Mr. Biden during an election year.” In addition, the Times noted, the sanctions “pushed Venezuela further into the arms of Russia and China.”

The article, concluding with a hackneyed observation that “dictators do dictatorship,” gripes that “US sanctions can do great harm but rarely delivers the political results that American officials seek.”

However, the US didn’t completely close the door on Venezuelan oil industry for select corporations in the US and abroad. The new policy, while revoking the general license, will allow companies to seek individual licenses. The change, the Wall Street Journal noted, “is likely to benefit large oil companies with lobbying power in Washington.”

More distortions

A second Times editorial on Venezuela appeared the next day, this time masquerading as a news story. “One opposition party was allowed to officially register” in the presidential race, the article reads, inferring that there is only one opposition candidate on the ballot, when Reuters reports there are eleven others.

“Many Venezuelans living abroad,” carps the Times, “have been unable to register to vote because of expensive and cumbersome requirements.” Unreported is the biggest barrier for Venezuelans living in the US to vote remotely in their country’s election. Washington does not recognize the legitimate Venezuelan government, which means no functioning consular services and, therefore, no way to vote.

The Times reporter also complained that deportation of Venezuelan migrants were suspended “without explanation.” While the newspaper’s articles are protected behind a paywall, one would think that staff would have access to a February Times report that Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodríguez warned that the flights would be discontinued in response to the US’s reimposition of sanctions on Venezuelan gold sales.

Times acknowledges the purpose of US sanctions

 The Times at least no longer blames the “economic free fall” of the Venezuelan economy on the socialist government but fully admits the economic sanctions have “crippled the country’s crucial oil industry.” Further, the Times acknowledges that the Biden administration’s action, “could carry significant consequences for the future of Venezuela’s democracy, for its economy, and for migration in the region.”

In short, the Times reported that US sanctions, “intensified…the single largest peacetime collapse of any country in at least 45 years.”

Finally, the Times implicitly acknowledged that the sanctions were never to promote democracy, but were “meant to force the Maduro government from power.” An earlier 2019 Times opinion piece included the suggestion that while sanctions “may make the humanitarian crisis worse” they are still desirable as a “source of leverage to remove Maduro.”

Venezuela’s response

The week before the oil sanctions were reimposed, Venezuelans celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of the 2002 unsuccessful 48-hour US-backed coup. Neither the tactics – the continuing coup attempts – nor the US policy of regime-change have changed.  The Venezuelan president’s response: “We are going to keep moving forward with a license or without a license…we are not your colony.”

Roger D. Harris is with the human rights group Task Force on the Americas and the anti-war group US Peace Council. Read other articles by Roger D..