On Aug. 5, President Donald Trump authorized the seizure of Venezuelan government properties in the United States. He also sanctioned foreign companies and foreign banks doing business with Venezuela. These measures will aggravate suffering already worsened by U.S. economic sanctions.

The death rate in Venezuela was 31 percent higher in 2018 than in 2017, according to analysts at the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In early July, I delivered the same letter to each Maine senator and representative. Expressing the view that Congress ought to reassess its authorization for sanctions, I detailed their dangerous effects and denounced U.S. violations of ethical and moral norms.

Maine people added their names to the letter:  98 constituents of Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins and, among these, constituents of Reps. Chellie Pingree or Jared Golden. As of late August, three of the recipients haven’t replied. Rep. Golden, who backs U.S. policies on Venezuela, did so. He didn’t mention human suffering.

The letter I sent begins: “We, the undersigned, residents of Maine, view with alarm the role of U.S. economic sanctions in causing suffering and dying in Venezuela.  U.S. sanctions lead to shortages of food, medicines and hospital supplies. … U.S. government action that harms innocent people is morally unacceptable.  … According to experts, U.S. sanctions against Venezuela violate international law.

“We assume that Congress has broad authority to investigate U.S. foreign policy. We recognize also that Congress, on Dec. 18, 2014, passed into law Public Law 113–278, which authorized sanctions against Venezuela. We presume that your congressional responsibilities include oversight of and corrections to … Public Law 113–278.”

Sanctions “target Venezuela’s assets abroad; access to imported goods and credit; and capability to secure, reschedule, or repay loans. They target oil-production capabilities and income generated from oil exports.

“Oil exports provide the government with 95 percent of its income, which pays for social support. Oil production, two million barrels per day in 2017, fell to 431,000 by March, 2019. U.S. sanctions blocked the imports of diluents, other additives and repair materials — all essential for producing oil.

“No longer do oil sales enable the purchase of food and medicine. Oil income for 2019 will be 67 percent less than in 2018. Sanctions prevent U.S. refineries and those of other countries from importing Venezuelan oil … Through sanctions, Venezuela’s government lost access to income and dividends generated by CITGO, the U.S. affiliate of PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company. Those losses approach $11 billion.

As the result of sanctions, foreign banks froze Venezuelan assets that might have permitted purchases of food and medicines … From 2016 on, foreign banks (and U.S. banks) have refused to handle Venezuelan transactions … Third country (and U.S.) financial institutions no longer provide the credit Venezuela requires for purchasing foods and medicines …

“Venezuela must import two thirds of the food it needs. Oil sales are crucial to the purchase abroad of food. Food imports in 2018 amounted to $2.46 billion — down from 2013 by $11.2 billion.”

The Maine senators and representatives so far are silent about suffering at U.S. hands.  Maybe they assume Venezuelans engineered their own distress. Indeed, long-term addiction to an oil-export economy isn’t healthy for people’s social needs.

U.S. sanctions, of course, aren’t the sole cause of distress in Venezuela. The economy and people’s well-being took hits from falling oil prices and from Venezuela’s own schemers who manipulated currency and the distribution of consumer goods. 

But the moral imperative remains.  It is wrong to abuse people in their homes, in the countryside, in hospitals to accomplish your goals. Whether U.S. responsibility is a lot or a little doesn’t matter. Silence is not an option.

William (Tom) Whitney, a political journalist living in South Paris, writes on Latin American affairs. His material has appeared on news outlets that include counterpunch.org, venezuelanalysis.com and letcubalive.org.


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