US Sanctions Deny the Right of Venezuelans to Food – Another Crime Against Humanity


“Venezuela is under siege now, not just a blockade, as the US persecutes anyone who wants to help by setting up a pathway to provide food.”

An international solidarity meeting entitled “US Sanctions Deny the Right of Venezuelans to Food – Another Crime Against Humanity” was hosted by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) and supported by the Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America – Tim Young, VSC, reports back.

The Venezuela Solidarity Campaign’s (VSC) General Secretary, Francisco Dominguez, opened the event which took place on Venezuela’s Independence Day. He sketched the background to how US sanctions deny Venezuela access to food, which is being widely recognised as a crime against humanity.

The US’s sanctions – better known as illegal coercive measures – began in 2015 and besides blocking financial and commercial trade involve confiscation of Venezuela’s overseas assets and unlawful retention of its resources, now totally between $40 and $60 billion. For the UK’s part, the Bank of England is withholding Venezuelan gold bars deposited in its vaults worth nearly $1billion, control of which is yet to be decided by the UK Supreme Court.

The US has also supported paramilitary aggression against the Venezuelan government to foment instability and unrest and is now targeting the supply of food to Venezuelans. The impact of its actions have been catalogued by Alena Douhan, a Special Rapporteur on human rights for the United Nations (UN), who visited Venezuela to investigate first-hand the negative impact of the unilateral coercive measures imposed on the country and the consequent violation of human rights. She submitted her preliminary report in February 2021, published on the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The key findings in her report were shown in a short video.

Christine Blower, a former trade union and sitting Labour Peer in the House of Lords sent a message of solidarity to the meeting. She also serves as Vice-Chair of the Brazil Solidarity Initiative and is a long-time supporter of Venezuela.

She noted the extent to which Venezuela was under pressure from the United States and allies such as Britain, and also how Brazilian people were suffering enormous strain as a result of Bolsonaro’s complete mishandling of the pandemic.

Maria Rodriguez joined the meeting from Venezuela, speaking as a representative from the Committees for Supply & Production (CLAP).

Maria explained how CLAPs had been set up in 2016, based on a pilot study first suggested by Chavez, addressing the need for Venezuelans to able to provide food for their families as the impact of US sanctions began to strike home, impacting not only on food supplies but also leaving Venezuelan women less time for political participation.

Drawing on women’s ability to cooperate, Maria outlined how CLAPs organised transport, purchasing and other logistics, with the goal of not just providing food but food that was balanced nutritionally. CLAPs have grown in size and spread, involving more volunteers, and improved their operation over the last five years, but not without difficulties – securing sufficient animal protein has been difficult.    

CLAPs, Maria explained, have provided spaces of love and a vehicle for people to come together to resist, with the rebel spirit of the Caribbean. It has been a struggle because they are unsocial forces at work, such as gangs engaging in violence against women, but CLAPs are standing firm.

Speaking next, Sue Grey, VSC’s Vice-chair, explained how campaign work in defence of Venezuela’s national sovereignty had been carried out since the early days of Chavez’s presidency, noting how the US has consistently wanted to replace the government with a compliant client administration in order to get access to its vast oil reserves and other natural resources.

The campaign has focused on countering the wealth of misinformation surrounding Venezuela that is part of the US’s drive to demonise and isolate both Chavez’ and Maduro’s presidencies, while undermining Venezuela’s achievements. The mainstream British media has been complicit in this, so the work of VSC affiliates, local groups and members countering misinformation has been extremely valuable. 

There has been much to counter, since we have seen to decades’ worth of destabilising activity in Venezuela, with USAID dollars funding hostile groups, campaigns of street violence, hoarding of goods, contrabanding and targeted attacks on state facilities.

VSC has hosted a number of Venezuelan visitors to speak about the situations they face, while also sending delegations to Venezuela to see at first hand and report back. This has included sending electoral observers to key elections.

Since 2015 VSC has campaigned against US – and UK – sanctions whose extraterritorial reach and application have caused immense damage to the economy, especially since the start of the pandemic.

Hosting meetings, promoting articles and running information campaigns, the VSC has focused on condemning the illegal, coercive sanctions,and exposing the Bank of England’s role in withholding Venezuela’s gold resources, which are desperately needed to help combat the pandemic.

The next international guest speaker was Joao Pedro Stedile, the National Coordinator of Brazil’s Landless Movement (MST), one of the largest social movement in Latin America.

Joao started by expressing deep admiration of the revolutionary struggles that have taken place Latin America, and those that are still needed today for those populations under the boot of repressive governments. In this context, international solidarity is not charity but a principle for life, to challenge capitalism. Solidarity activists dream of a new system based on equality throughout the world.

He noted that Venezuela was a victim of foreign governments, especially the USA. For over 60 years in Latin America there have been what he called ‘hybrid’ wars and Venezuela has been subject to one virtually since Chávez took office, continuing into Maduro’s presidency – with even assassination attempts on Maduro. The US has not gone for a military invasion, thinking perhaps that Colombia would lead on this for it, but the US sanctions preventing the Venezuelan government from using its oil dollars to buy food and medicines have been criminal.

In his view Venezuela, which has shown wonderful resistance since the advent of the Bolivarian Revolution, is leading a 70s-type struggle for its own sovereignty, and CLAP is one way to ensure that Venezuela has food sovereignty. There are sufficient resources in Venezuela to produce enough food for its people but the problem is that the US blockade, and the UK, are stealing Venezuela’s resources.

He ended by expressing optimism that Venezuela would win, against the same enemies that most of Latin America face. 

Francisco introduced the next section by noting that what the US is doing is nothing to do with democracy or human rights but everything to do with the US’s geopolitical interests. Targeting food, to try to make Venezuelans despair and explode, thus justifying an intervention, is a sinister strategy.

He highlighted the case of Alex Saab as part of a larger US effort to use “lawfare” to impose its illegal sanctions. Venezuelan government envoy Alex Saab was arrested in June 2020 during a stopover in Cabo Verde.

The Colombo-Venezuelan business magnate was reportedly flying to Iran to secure food and fuel imports and was detained on orders from Washington, with US authorities demanding his extradition on what it called ‘money laundering’ charges.

The extradition request has been approved by the African nation’s lower courts and later the Supreme Court, with Saab’s defence team appealing at every juncture. The last appeal has been filed before Cabo Verde’s Constitutional Court.

The Court of the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) to which Cape Verde is a member of, ruled earlier this year that Alex Saab could not be extradited to the US, that his arrest had been arbitrary and illegal, and that Cape Verde should release him.  

Saab’s detention is effectively kidnapping. His human rights have been violated as the US seeks to impose obstacles to and criminalise Venezuela’s efforts to feed its people. An international campaign is trying to stop Saab being extradited to the US, with the extradition not only threatening Saab but international law itself.

The final speaker was Carlos Ron, President of the Simon Bolivar Institute in Venezuela. Carlos explained that the goal of the Institute is to coordinate global solidarity with Venezuela and the Venezuelan people, and the solidarity of the South American nation toward struggles for social and economic justice of peoples throughout the world.

Carlos highlighted that the hybrid war against Venezuela had focused on attacking the achievements made since Chávez became president, especially the overcoming of extreme poverty in the country, which had been as high as 80% of the population. The US’s unilateral sanctions, which aim to topple the Venezuelan government, are illegal. Although the US State Departments says it is using targeted measures to attack certain individuals and the government, in reality the measures are attacking the whole Venezuelan people and have caused huge problems, including deaths.

Venezuela is under siege now, not just a blockade, as the US persecutes anyone who wants to help by setting up a pathway to provide food. During the Iraq conflict, Saddam Hussein was allowed to sell oil for food and medicines but by contrast Venezuela is not allowed to do the same. There are supposed to be exceptions to the sanctions to allow these types of imports, but they don’t work.

Given that 80% of Venezuela’s food is imported and the blockade also affects materials needed for agricultural production, the result is a ferocious attack on the lives and morale of Venezuelans.

But through its commitment to participatory democracy and popular organisation, the government is fighting back to protect the people. These efforts, though, have had to contend with attacks by the US government, by private media and Guaidό and his far-right faction (although today he is virtually insignificant) on the CLAP programme, despite their lack of any objective evidence. These smears on CLAP are put out to justify the continued imposition of sanctions. While the effect of these sanctions have gone on to make a number of companies bankrupt.

Despite this, Venezuela still has a strong determination to defend its sovereign rights.

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