Venezuela combats sanctions with solidarity

By Sara Flounders
April 8, 2019

In its latest act of international piracy against the people of Venezuela, the U.S. government has targeted the shipment of oil between the Bolivarian Republic and socialist Cuba.

These new sanctions have been imposed on the 34 ships operated by Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela S.A., as well as on two international companies that handle oil shipments between the two countries.

The most recent sanctions on oil transport are intended to punish Cuba for its solidarity and support of Venezuela. Highlighting just how much the effort to bring down the government is a class issue that resonates globally, it was U.S. Vice President Mike Pence who announced the latest sanctions in a speech to wealthy Venezuelan business leaders now living in Houston.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, in response to the attack, declared that despite Washington’s efforts to disable Venezuela’s economy, “No act of imperialism will stop the cooperation between free and independent countries.”

Arreaza made his comments during a meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria itself has survived 16 years of draconian U.S. sanctions and eight years of attempts to violently overturn the government by tens of thousands of mercenaries paid and equipped by Washington. The U.S. Air Force has been bombing Syria since 2014. But the criminal efforts to overturn the elected Syrian government and establish a U.S.-appointed puppet government have failed.

Syria’s organized resistance, plus material aid and international solidarity, have enabled the government to survive. It is this kind of international solidarity and assistance from other targeted countries that Washington is trying to break down with its new round of sanctions on Venezuela.

U.S. tries to starve Venezuela

The new sanctions are yet another act of war, following an international freeze on Venezuela’s assets, ongoing earlier sanctions, an embargo imposed in late January on all Venezuela’s oil sales and sanctions against Minerven, the nationalized mining sector.

In addition to oil, Venezuela has bauxite, coal, iron and the world’s largest gold reserves. U.S. sanctions have totally cut off Venezuela’s sales of oil, gold and other minerals on the world market.

Venezuela has depended on its oil revenue to cover essential imports, including medicine and medical equipment, food and other basic necessities.

By recognizing a parallel government instead of the real one in Caracas, Washington and its political allies automatically created a trade embargo on Venezuela in most of the markets for its oil. At the same time, Venezuela has been cut off from most financial systems based on the dollar and/or European currencies, further constricting its ability to pay for imports that it can afford.

Economic sanctions were first imposed in March 2015 by the Obama administration. Obama declared a “national emergency” and claimed Venezuela was an “extraordinary threat” to the United States.

In August 2017 Donald Trump extended Obama’s “national emergency” to intensify the sanctions. The economic strangulation has grown worse since then.

Most recently, on March 22, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions against three major Venezuelan public banks. BANDES is a bank created to support development projects; Bank of Venezuela and Bicentenario are two major state-owned banks through which the government pays public pensions and benefits.

The U.S. move came in response to the March 21 arrest of Roberto Marrero, chief of staff to self-proclaimed “interim president” Juan Guaidó and a high-ranking figure in Guaidó’s right-wing Popular Will party.

Venezuelan Interior Minister Nestor Reverol announced at a press conference that Marrero had led a “terrorist cell” that was planning attacks against public institutions using foreign mercenaries.

“Marrero was the person responsible for organizing these criminal groups,” Reverol told reporters, adding that a number of weapons as well as foreign currency had been seized.

Attack on free medical care

The sanctions are a crime against humanity. They intentionally create a maximum of hardship on the civilian population, especially on the most vulnerable sectors.

Over the past year, Venezuela has graduated 6,381 community doctors. These doctors differ from traditional physicians in their holistic and preventive approach to medicine, similar to the Cuban medical system.

The targeted sanctions have cruelly cut by 80 percent the supply of essential medicines that Venezuela was able to purchase on the world market to provide free medical care for all.

President Nicolas Maduro on March 21 denounced Washington’s withholding of $5 billion intended for the purchase of medicines and raw materials used in production of medicines. U.S. authorities, he said, “have kidnapped U.S. $5 billion [in] one of the most criminal, brutal, fascist economic measures seen in the economic history of the world.”

Speaking from the Jipana automated medical supply warehouse in the state of Miranda, the president urged the Venezuelan pharmaceutical industry to work toward replacing imports with nationally produced goods. Venezuela’s medical industry has been heavily dependent on imports, especially of raw materials and active ingredients used in the production of medicines.

The public sector pharmaceutical industry is being revamped to overcome severe shortages. Jipana is the largest of five warehouses built with Chinese assistance that help supply the Barrio Adentro health program of public hospitals, dental clinics and pharmacies to provide comprehensive, publicly funded health care.

Maduro highlighted international support and trade deals to supply Venezuelan hospitals and pharmacies, particularly involving Cuba, China, Russia, Iran, Turkey and Belarus, as well as the World Health Organization and the Pan-American Health Organization.

In February over 900 tons of medicine from Cuba, China and Russia arrived at Venezuelan ports.

An additional 65 tons of medicine and medical supplies from China, including antibiotics, analgesics and key surgical provisions, arrived on April 1.

On March 29, the president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, announced that the federation will start distributing vital food and medicine to 650,000 people, in coordination with Venezuelan authorities.

In February, the Red Cross, together with the United Nations, refused to participate in U.S. government efforts to send trucks across the Venezuelan-Colombian border, stating that the operation could not be labeled “humanitarian” given its political motives. In particular, the Red Cross protested the use of its own insignia on so-called “aid” trucks operated by the Venezuelan opposition.

Maduro has ridiculed the U.S. “aid,” supposedly worth $20 million, which pales in comparison with the estimated $30 million per day that the U.S. oil embargo will cost Venezuela this year.

“If Washington wants to help, then lift the sanctions,” Maduro has repeatedly urged.

Sabotage of electric grid

President Maduro has charged that Venezuela is experiencing the first cyberwar in the world — it’s directed against its electrical system to destabilize the country and impose regime change

“Venezuela is living the first war of unconventional dimensions, with attacks on public services to impose a regime change by the U.S.,” he said, referring to cyber sabotage at the Guri Dam’s Simon Bolivar hydroelectric power plant, the country’s main electricity generator, and to electromagnetic pulse attacks against transmission lines.

He ordered a 30-day recovery period, with implementation of a national plan to ration electricity as rolling blackouts entered their sixth day.

Chief Economist Francisco Rodriguez of U.S.-based Torino Capital has connected the vulnerabilities in Venezuela’s electrical grid to the role of previous and new U.S. sanctions.

A priority for Venezuela is safeguarding its water-pumping systems. An electric generator is being installed at the Tuy pumping system, which supplies water to Caracas and nearby states.

Something as essential to life as drinking water has become both a technical challenge and a political struggle. Water pumping systems in Caracas and throughout the country impose a significant demand on the electric grid. As an emergency measure, tanker trucks are transporting water to communities that have had none for extended periods.

On March 30 a large anti-imperialist Chavista demonstration in western Caracas rallied to preserve peace and express solidarity with electricity workers at state-owned CORPOELEC.

After masked anti-government troublemakers barricaded Fuerzas Armadas Avenue in Caracas on March 31 and attacked residents getting water from a truck, a pro-government motorbike collective moved in to disperse them.

The Bolivarian Revolution is establishing new goals and moving forward with all available supplies to improve living conditions, despite the sanctions. Expanding social programs have set new targets, including building 5 million new homes — an increase from the 3 million low-income homes built since 2016. Other goals include the consolidation of 8,000 communes and extension of the pension system to the entire elder population.

Flounders was part of a solidarity delegation that visited Venezuela in March. She thanks TeleSUR and Venezuela Analysis for information in this article.