Human Rights Hypocrisy: the Sanctions Against Venezuela

This past December, in conjunction with Pope Francis’s private initiative, President Obama took steps toward normalizing relations with Cuba. The next day, December 18th, he signed into law the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act,” another round of sanctions on a country already struggling economically—and a firm ally of Cuba. This economic offensive was condemned by the member states of ALBA and MERCOSUR, the 134 developing nations making up the G77, as well as China. In the Americas, the U.S. stands alone in its support for sanctions.

The measures are supposed to be punishment for the Bolivarian socialist government’s alleged “human rights violations” in the course of its “crackdown” on violent protestors unwilling to accept the December 2013 re-election of socialist president Nicolas Maduro. The protests themselves recall events in the Ukraine, where a legally, fairly, and democratically-elected president, Viktor Yanukovich, opted to pursue policies out of line with the interests of NATO, Western Europe and the United States, and so became the victim of CIA and State Department-organized protests speared headed by neo-fascist and ultra-nationalist groups.[1] Just prior to the chaos that has unfolded in the region, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland spoke of the $5 billion that has been funneled into the country via instruments of American foreign policy such as USAID,[2] the fruits of which we have been witnessing.

Since the failed 2002 U.S.-backed coup against Chavez, Washington has also channeled, through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy, about $100 million to the Venezuelan opposition, made up of sections of the middle and upper classes, backed of course by Big Business.[3] After having suffered a nearly perfect series of electoral defeats since Chavez was first elected in 1998, the opposition thought their time had come following Chavez’s untimely death in March 2013 and Maduro’s narrow victory the next month. The December municipal elections of 2013 were billed as a referendum on Chavez’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela—but the socialists took a whopping 70 percent of the municipalities, giving Maduro and Bolivarian Revolution a clear popular mandate to continue the work of building Chavez’s “21st-century socialism.” Foreshadowing the unfolding of events in the Ukraine, the opposition showed utter contempt for democracy as it set out to violently overthrow the government.[4]  What followed was protests in rich and middle class neighborhoods that resulted in the deaths of about 40 people, some protesters, some supporters of government, including police, as well as passersby.[5]

Tragic, no doubt, for all sides; but it hardly rises to the level of U.S. human rights abuses as detailed in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, released between the Senate and House’s passage of the sanctions bill, that describes a worldwide torture operation, including bizarre forms of sexual torture, targeting people who were often kidnapped and held without being charged. Then there are the thousands of victims of the Obama Administration’s drone murder program which has killed U.S. citizens without due process. Or the illegal NSA spying program…and on and on. The American government has absolutely zero moral authority to say anything about human rights violations. 

And if it were serious about human rights, it would sanction Mexico for its failure to hold the government accountable for the murder of the 43 students. But Mexico has gone along with the neoliberal program, despite massive harms to the wellbeing of its citizenry. Venezuela, on the other hand, has refused, and so it is a target. The socialists have cut poverty in half—extreme poverty by two thirds—and done away with illiteracy, all the while preserving and strengthening democracy. But that’s not what counts for the American ruling elite and their servants in Congress, the White House, the news media, and the foreign policy establishment.

Doran Hunter