“The British government should follow Portugal’s example. It should abandon its adherence to the US’s regime change agenda and engage constructively in dialogue with the Venezuelan government.”
By Tim Young, Venezuela Solidarity Campaign
The geopolitical balance in Latin America has shifted positively for the Left over the last year. The electoral victories of Lula da Silva in Brazil and Gustav Petro in Colombia for presidential office represented major achievements in defeating hard-line right-wing opponents allied to the United States. But the right-wing legislative coup in Peru which removed President Castillo from office in December 2022 is a stark reminder of how success at the polls is neither a guarantee of a full term in office, nor the ability to enact a campaign manifesto.
Lula’s and Petro’s successes have removed the threat previously posed to Venezuela on its eastern and western borders. Over the past year or so, Venezuela’s economy has also made strong progress.
Despite the continuing impact of the US’s illegal sanctions, which have robbed the Venezuelan economy of $232 billion in oil revenues, hyperinflation has been stopped; the output of essential goods has increased substantially; 94% of the subsidised food that goes into the food programme for the poor is now produced domestically; and general shortages of all goods have been dramatically reduced.
Politically, this recovery has weakened the right-wing opposition. At the end of 2022 the self-proclaimed ‘interim president’ Juan Guaidό was voted out by a combination of right-wing opposition groups, with no figurehead replacement installed instead. Thirteen opposition candidates are currently seeking to be the sole challenger to President Maduro’s third run in the presidential election scheduled under the constitution for 2024.
Some of those candidates have a history of supporting US sanctions and its regime change agenda. The effects of those sanctions, a key tool in its ‘regime change’ agenda, on the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelan citizens have been deep and lasting. A Center for Economic and Policy Research report in 2019 stated that sanctions had inflicted very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017–2018.
And in 2021 UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan reported that Venezuela was experiencing 85% shortages of medicine, while high-cost procedures such as heart surgery, dialysis, and cancer treatment were especially out of reach because of the sanctions.
US sanctions also block the purchase of equipment from other countries, lest doing business with Venezuela opens them up to being punished with the same sanctions as a result.
Some movement in the US’s position appeared to be on the cards as the impact of the war in Ukraine began to filter through. The resultant energy crisis meant that in March 2022 President Maduro had welcomed a cap-in-hand US delegation seemingly somewhat desperate for a resumption of supplies of Venezuela’s oil.
But while Maduro has repeatedly expressed a willingness to negotiate an end to US-led sanctions on the country, no agreement has been reached with the US on its demands, including an early presidential election and a larger participation by foreign private capital in Venezuela’s oil industry in exchange for a temporary return for Venezuela to the SWIFT financial transaction system.
For Venezuela, these continuing US demands do nothing to meet its requirements for broader sanctions relief and the return of impounded Venezuelan assets such as its oil subsidiary CITGO.
Britain is complicit in impounding Venezuela’s assets too, with the Bank of England withholding £1.3bn Venezuelan gold reserves in its vaults. A court action to recover the gold is ongoing. But the case for returning it to its rightful owners is strengthened by news in August 2023 that the Portuguese courts have ordered the Novo Bank in Portugal to return the $1.5 billion to the Venezuelan government that it had similarly retained.
The British government should follow Portugal’s example. It should abandon its adherence to the US’s regime change agenda and engage constructively in dialogue with the Venezuelan government. For all progressive organisations, it is essential to step up international solidarity with Venezuela and support its struggle against illegal sanctions and the withholding of assets.
- Tim Young is an activist for the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and for Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.
- You can follow the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign on Facebook and Twitter.