Senators Menendez and Rubio introduced a bipartisan bill to the Senate to intensify US and international pressure on the government of Venezuela. Mark Weisbrot says this is largely possible because members of Congress are unaware of the suffering the sanctions are causing in Venezuela.
Published on TRNN, Apr 10, 2019
Operation Florida 2020 (Pt 1/2)
A bipartisan bill proposed by two Cold Warrior senators could turn Trump’s interventionist foreign policy into law.
“The Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance and Development Act” (S1025) introduced by two cold warrior Senators, Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, Republican from Florida, puts President Trump’s sanctions into law, officially recognizes opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, offers incentives to Nicolás Maduro government defectors, and provides $400 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela.
The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert spoke to economist Mark Weisbrot about the most recent congressional developments regarding Venezuela.
Senators Menendez and Rubio both oppose the Cuban and Venezuela governments, and Weisbrot noted that their support for these sanctions is partly based in Florida politics. “If it were a military operation, which they’ve talked about, it would be called Operation Florida 2020,” he said. But most political scientists agree that sanctions generally do not achieve their aim of regime change, Wilpert observed. Weisbrot explained that these sanctions will cause more suffering in Venezuela—and that seems to be the point.
“…They really are trying to strangle the economy and starve people into submission, and make their lives so miserable, and kill a lot of people, actually, too. You know, the NGO Codevida has estimated that there’s 300,000 people at risk because they can’t get medicines or medical treatment. The Pharmaceutical Association said that in 2018 there was 85 percent shortage of essential medicine. You have 80,000 people with HIV who haven’t gotten treatment since 2017. You’ve got 4 million people who have diabetes, hypertension. Can’t get the medicines they need, the insulin. So a lot of these people are going to die as a result of these sanctions because they’re making it worse and worse and worse.”
Given that nearly all of the 54 Republicans would support this bill and only a handful of Democrats would have to vote for the bill to pass, it’s likely to move forward. There is, however, other legislation on the table that would prevent regime change in Venezuela. The War Powers resolution, which passed the Senate and the House, ordered the end of U.S. involvement in Yemen; and Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a member of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced a resolution cosponsored by Bernie Sanders.
“That’s a bill to prohibit military intervention. And you have the same bill in the House, the [inaudible] Representative Cicilline, that has 62 cosponsors now,” Weisbrot said. “These are just, you know, kind of no-brainer bills that say you can’t have military intervention in Venezuela without the authorization of Congress.”
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
Senators Robert Menendez, Democrat of New Jersey, and Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, introduced a bipartisan bill to the Senate last week which would put Trump sanctions against Venezuela into law. The bill, S1025, is being called the Venezuela Emergency Relief Democracy Assistance and Development Act. In addition to putting the sanctions into law, it would also officially recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president. It would try to destabilize the Maduro government by offering incentives to defectors, it would provide $400 million in humanitarian aid to Venezuela and neighboring countries, and finally, it would urge U.S. allies to impose sanctions on Venezuela, as well. Here’s how Senator Menendez sees the situation in Venezuela.
ROBERT MENENDEZ: Today Democrats and Republicans are united as one on behalf of the people of Venezuela on recognizing interim president Juan Guaido as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela in our pursuit of democracy and human rights for the Venezuelan people. Venezuela is at a crossroads, one in which a dictator clings to power amidst the ruins of a failed state, and one in which democratic actors seek a peaceful transition in the reconstruction of their country and their society.
GREG WILPERT: Joining me now to discuss the latest congressional developments with regard to Venezuela is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is a codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. and the author of the book Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. Thanks for joining us again, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for inviting me.
GREG WILPERT: So, Senators Menendez and Rubio are both longtime Cold Warriors who have a history of opposing governments in Cuba and in Venezuela with everything that they can. Now, given it’s been fairly well established among political scientists that sanctions generally do not achieve their aims at regime change, what do you think Menendez and Rubio are after with this bill SB1025, and what do you think they hope to achieve for the U.S. and Venezuela?
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah. Well, some of it is just Florida politics. I mean, if it were a military operation, which they’ve talked about, it would be called Operation Florida 2020. So that’s a lot of what they’re doing. But it’s also they really are trying to strangle the economy and starve people into submission, and make their lives so miserable, and kill a lot of people, actually, too. You know, the NGO Codevida has estimated that there’s 300,000 people at risk because they can’t get medicines or medical treatment. The Pharmaceutical Association said that in 2018 there was 85 percent shortage of essential medicine. You have 80,000 people with HIV who haven’t gotten treatment since 2017. You’ve got 4 million people who have diabetes, hypertension. Can’t get the medicines they need, the insulin.
So a lot of these people are going to die as a result of these sanctions because they’re making it worse and worse and worse. And that’s what this bill is trying to do, to make it all a lot worse by cutting off and tightening the financial embargo by reducing drastically the amount of dollars that are available for essential imports, or spare parts, or things that you need for electricity, for water systems, increasing disease.
All of this is, you know, the UN just came out with a report that documents all of this, all of what’s happening to Venezuela. And the sanctions are doing it all. And the little bit of humanitarian aid, it’s a tiny fraction, and it’s totally politicized, but it’s just a tiny fraction of the billions of dollars that they’re cutting off from the country. And they’re not even–you know, besides that, they’re also using the international financial system and their threats to banks all over the world to make it difficult or impossible for Venezuela to actually use the cash that it still has to import essential items like medicines, and medical equipment, and food. So this is really what they’re doing. It’s quite criminal.
GREG WILPERT: Now, only a handful of Democrats would have to vote for this bill for it to pass, given that almost all 54 Republicans would probably support it. How do you see the chances of this bill moving forward in the Senate, and can it be stopped?
MARK WEISBROT: It’s really hard to say. I mean, I think they’re getting away with it because people really don’t know what they’re doing. I think a lot of, actually, you know, to be generous, I think some of them don’t know what they’re doing. You know, most of these members of Congress, for example, that have supported the recognition of Guaido, they don’t realize what that does, how that actually by itself imposes a financial and trade embargo, because it says that any revenue that the government could get, which is all the foreign exchange of the economy, everything that they need for these essential imports, it no longer can come into Venezuela because it then belongs to Guaido. And therefore, for example, oil, you know, the United States was the biggest oil market for Venezuela. And now a few weeks ago oil exports from Venezuela to the United States dropped to zero.
And so this is–I think they’re doing this because they can get away with it. And it really depends on how much publicity it gets. You do have a bill in the Senate. It’s from Senator Merkley from Oregon, and It’s cosponsored by Bernie Sanders. And that’s a bill to prohibit military intervention. And you have the same bill in the House, the [inaudible] Representative Cicilline, that has 62 cosponsors now. Now, these are just, you know, kind of no-brainer bills that say you can’t have military intervention in Venezuela without the authorization of Congress. I think that’s a first step, at least, to then going after the sanctions. And so people can, you know, of course, call their representative or their senator and get them to cosponsor these bills. I think that’s something they can do right away. And there is momentum for these, by the way, because of the recent, as you know, the passage of the War Powers resolutions in both the Senate and the House ordering the President to cease U.S. military involvement in Yemen.
GREG WILPERT: Well, I want to continue this discussion, actually, but this concludes our first segment with Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Pompeo: Sanctions Increase “Pain and Suffering” in Venezuela (Pt 2/2)
Recently, Sec. of State Mike Pompeo openly admitted that the sanctions are causing pain and suffering and that this would accelerate the process of toppling the Maduro government. Mark Weisbrot discusses these chilling words, the approach being used and what Democrats and progressives could do to stop this…
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
Joining me to continue our discussion of U.S. policy towards Venezuela, and what is happening in Congress in this regard, is Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Thanks for joining us again, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks, Greg.
GREG WILPERT: So in our first segment, we talked about Senators Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio’s latest efforts to bring about regime or government change in Venezuela. Other hawks who are pursuing the same are National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Here’s what Mike Pompeo had to say about Venezuela, quite revealingly, last month.
MATTHEW LEE: Are you satisfied with the pace of the momentum behind Guaido and his leadership?
MIKE POMPEO: Well, we wish things could go faster, but I’m very confident that the tide is moving in the direction of the Venezuelan people and will continue to do so. It doesn’t take much for you to see what’s really going on there. The circle is tightening, the humanitarian crisis is increasing by the hour. I talked with our senior person on the ground there in Venezuela last night, at 7:00 or 8:00 last night. You can see the increasing pain and suffering that the Venezuelan people are suffering from.
GREG WILPERT: “The humanitarian crisis is increasing by the hour.” He doesn’t link this glee about the situation to the sanctions directly, but it seems to be implied. Now, shouldn’t the Trump administration, or Trump administration officials such as Pompeo, be held accountable for intentionally pursuing a policy that causes increasing pain and suffering among the general population of a country such as Venezuela?
MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, it’s pretty outrageous. It’s amazing that nobody noticed that, because it’s very clear that’s what he’s saying. That was Matt Lee from the Associated Press that asked that question. He’s one of the reporters that has most gone after the administration in these kinds of press briefings and asked those kinds of questions. And you can see, he’s basically admitting that this is what we’re doing, we’re going to make people suffer until we get rid of this government. We’re going to make it intolerable, we’re going to kill a lot of people. And so, this is really, really what they’re doing. And I think it’s something that everybody should know by now.
And of course, the idea of just providing some little bit of humanitarian aid, which is completely politicized–which they admitted before it was completely politicized and they politicized it even more in this latest bill in the Senate–that doesn’t do anything for the billions of dollars that they’re cutting off. Let’s just look at oil revenue. Oil revenue for 2019 is projected to fall about 67 percent from its current level. That means just cutting off the vast majority of the remaining imports that they have. That means food, that means medicine, that means medical equipment, that means everything you need to keep hospitals running. So that’s really what they’re doing. And that’s what he’s saying. When the humanitarian crisis is getting worse, they’re saying we’re going to make it worse.
GREG WILPERT: Now, we discussed in the first segment, actually, other bills that are currently in the works that are focused mainly on preventing military intervention. Now, just summarize again for us what these are and what are their chances of passing, which are being sponsored basically by Democrats? But given the constellation of forces, what do you think the chances are that these might actually pass?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think the House bill, the Cicilline bill that’s from Representative Cicilline of Rhode Island, which basically just states what the Constitution and the 1973 War Powers Resolution says, which there can be no military action without the consent of Congress, I think that has a chance. It’s got 62 cosponsors right now, and I think that definitely has a chance. When it will pass, we don’t really know. But you have to remember, when the war powers resolution in the Congress was first proposed, I think it was like a year and a half ago, couldn’t get it through the house and you didn’t have the votes in the Senate. There were various procedural moves that were used to prevent it, an then they didn’t pass.
And I think the problem here is a lot of it is just the lack of awareness of what the United States is doing to people in Venezuela. There’s another 1.9 million refugees are predicted to leave Venezuela this year because of the worsening crisis and because of what they’re doing. So I think that a lot of it just depends on what people do. I mean, the War Powers Resolution passed both Houses because you had thousands of people all over the country who pressured their members of Congress and their senators to vote for it. You get enough people to do that, I think these could pass as well. But it’s still only the first step, because the military option, as you noted, is not all that likely. It’s really the sanctions that are strangling the country and killing people on a daily basis. And so, that has to be the next step.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah. I wanted to get into that possibility of a military intervention a little bit more. I mean, Vice President Mike Pence just visited Brazil on Monday and met with President Bolsonaro’s Foreign Minister, General Hamilton Mourao. And after the meeting, Mourao stated that there will be no military intervention in Venezuela on the part of Brazil. I thought that was quite remarkable that he said this right after the meeting. Now, given that there seems to be a growing regional consensus, at least, on this issue of no military intervention, I’m wondering if people shouldn’t be more concerned, especially among Democrats in Congress, about the effects of sanctions on the people of Venezuela. And I’m wondering to what extent is it really ignorance or indifference?
And that is, the U.S. has a history of imposing sanctions on countries that have been very devastating. I’m thinking particularly the sanctions against Iraq before the Iraq war that are said to have killed 500,000 children. And then, of course, the sanctions against Iran are also causing great harm and suffering in that country, and they were just intensified with the declaration of the Revolutionary Guard being considered a terrorist organization, which means that it’s almost forcing Europeans to participate in those sanctions. Now, I’m wondering, again, to what extent do you think is it really ignorance or is it indifference, and shouldn’t this be really the next step in terms of making sure that the people of Venezuela don’t suffer from the foreign policy of the Trump administration?
MARK WEISBROT: Yes. I think it’s a combination of ignorance and indifference, and of course, the Florida politics as well. So you have different motivations in different cases. But I’m quite sure that people don’t realize how this works, again, when they recognize Guaido, or what they’re actually doing. So for example, if you look at what they’re doing with the international financial system–and this is how sanctions are such a powerful weapon and become, I think, a more powerful and in a lot of ways more deadly weapon than the military for the United States right now in international relations. What they actually do–first of all, in the case of Venezuela, you’re starting with an economy that was already quite vulnerable. It had a deep recession for three years before the August 2017 sanctions, which created a financial embargo, and they were on the brink of hyperinflation and then it pushed them into hyperinflation.
So that is really damaging, and it also prevents them from taking any measures that they would need to get out of the recession and hyperinflation. So that’s part of what they’re doing. But then, what they can do, because they have so much power in the international financial system–which most of it is dollar based and depends on a system of what is called correspondent banks. So in other words, for any country or any financial institution of any country in world, they don’t have branches everywhere, so they have to use other banks in order to make payments. So what the U.S. has done is cut off Venezuela from various correspondent banks around the world, and then pressure even those outside the financial system of the United States or its allies here–that is European allies–it’s used pressure to force other countries.
So for example, Gazprom in Russia, even though it’s majority owned by the Russian government, actually cut off the accounts of the state oil company in Venezuela under pressure from the United States. Because they can sanction that institution, and then that institution is basically incapable of doing most of what it would normally do in terms of business. And that’s what they’re doing around the world. And this bill from Menendez basically is trying to get the State Department to get more of this cooperation from Latin America and Europe to–again, you have to remember, this actually prevents Venezuela from even using the revenue that they have to buy medicine and food. There was a shipment from the United Nations that was going to go to Venezuela, and they couldn’t pay for it, because of this being prevented from using the international payment system.
So yeah, these sanctions are really deadly, and they can destroy any economy. And of course, they were much more effective here in Venezuela because of the already weakened state of the economy and because they can perpetuate this and worsen it by the day.
GREG WILPERT: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I just want to note though, and you’ve said this yourself many times Mark, that the sanctions, of course, are totally illegal under international law and the OAS charter, and one could even say that they’re illegal under U.S. law. But we don’t have time to get into that, maybe next time. I was speaking to Mark Weisbrot, codirector of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.