Is Obama Misusing Sanctions in Venezuela?

President Obama imposed sanctions on a number of Venezuelans yesterday. From the White House fact sheet: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

President Obama today issued a new Executive Order (E.O.) declaring a national emergency with respect to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela. The targeted sanctions in the E.O. implement the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014, which the President signed on December 18, 2014.

Unfamiliar with the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014 (the Act)? It was passed in both Houses by a voice vote, so we have no record of anyone opposing the Bill. The same day in which the US said that they were going to normalize relations with Cuba, they also confirmed that the Act would open Venezuela to sanctions. So, while we are trying to normalize relations with Cuba, we move against Venezuela, Cuba’s closest ally. It looks like Venezuela will replace Cuba as a foreign policy toy for the US political right.

So, what is going on here? Venezuela’s president Maduro thinks the US is out to get him, claiming that we have attempted 16 coups in the past two years. OK, probably an exaggeration, since we were able to bat 1.000% in our one try at a coup in Ukraine. OTOH, Maduro showed some evidence of a possible coup launched by exiles living in the US. There was apparently, a “100-day Plan for Transition”, designed by the coup plotters. It stipulated a series of measures which included the privatization of all public services.

In response, the US has been saying Maduro is making the coup thing up, accusing him of fabricating some of the intelligence he was using to make his case. OK, maybe Maduro is making shit up, but our response is to declare a National Emergency under the National Emergencies Act?

Then, we impose economic sanctions. Obama’s EO defines sanction targets as those who undermine democratic processes, engage in violence or human rights abuses, those that limit freedom of expression, and those involved in public corruption

BTW, how many National Emergencies does the US have today? Venezuela is #31.

The WH fact sheet referenced above argues that Venezuela is among the most corrupt countries in the world. Fine, but it has the same score as Yemen, while it beats Libya, Iraq, and Afghanistan, as well Uzbekistan (another US ally). And all of them are worse on human rights than Venezuela.

From Emptywheel: (emphasis and brackets by the Wrongologist)

In other words, the Administration is claiming that Venezuela’s corruption and human rights abuses present a much bigger threat to the US than a string of countries we’ve already destabilized that are worse in terms of corruption and human rights, [including]…Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s more severe human rights abuses.

Reuters was quick to point out that the sanctions did not threaten Venezuela’s energy sector or broader economy, for good reason: We are Venezuela’s top trading partner, and they were the fourth-largest supplier of crude to the US in 2014. And how exactly is Venezuela, a nation of 29 million, with a small military, a threat to the US?

In 2002, there was a brief, military coup attempt in Venezuela, which arrested then President Hugo Chavez. During the period he was detained, George W. Bush promised quick recognition of the coup plotters. But before Washington could formally recognize the coup government, a mass uprising by Venezuelans and parts of country’s military led to Chavez’s release from captivity.

The Venezuelan economy is in terrible shape, and Maduro’s polling badly. You’d think the administration would be smart enough to do nothing, and not create an America-centric rallying point for Maduro, who now gets to say that our sanctions foreshadow another 2002-style coup.

Threat to US national security? Of course Venezuela is a threat. Obviously it was behind 9/11, and is close to acquiring WMD, and something about yellow cake…?

It’s not about oil. It’s never about oil.

We have used sanctions to impose our will successfully on Iraq and Iran. The jury is out on whether sanctions will work with Russia. Targeting Venezuela, as we did Cuba, where most of the rest of the world didn’t cooperate with our plan, is an overreach by Mr. Obama.


Terence McKenna

Not sure I think this is a big deal. Agree it might be better to do nothing, but either way. This is not quite full sanctions. And if Obama does not respond, doesn’t he risk being accused of being a weakling and a faggot by the rigth wing press?

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