Collective Punishment, New US Strategy: Killing the Social Base of Chavismo with Hunger

Álvaro Verzi Rangel new strategy of the United States in its desperate pressure for a change of government in Venezuela, that includes threats of invasion, is the collective punishment of the civilian population, so that the social unrest intensified by the increase in economic difficulties produces the fall of the constitutional president Nicolás Maduro.

For phase 2 of the US Southern Command’s Operation Venezuelan Freedom, Chavismo’s social base is the greatest obstacle to accessing Venezuela’s oil, and both human and natural wealth, and that is why Washington is accelerating the use of collective punishment against the poorest and most vulnerable population in its series of provocations.

The provocations are no longer only against Venezuela and accusations have been launched against Moscow. The spokeswoman of the Russian Foreign Ministry, María Zajárova, pointed out that “the statements about the alleged Russian responsibility for the situation in Venezuela are absurd”.

The US government, in its plan to asphyxiate the Venezuelan economy, has now proposed to attack the Local Food and Production Committee, and prepares sanctions against Venezuelan government officials related to food boxes. The CLAP system has proven effective in combating resale, speculation, hoarding and smuggling of basic items.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee considered the food and distribution program of the CLAP boxes with which the Venezuelan government guarantees food for the population as an unusual threat to the internal security of the US, so Senators Marco Rubio and Bob Meléndez proposed a law that sanctions the distribution of CLAP boxes and prevents companies anywhere in the world from selling, distributing by air or sea, and banks from processing payments for food.

This week Washington also pressured major brokerages to suspend trade in jet fuel from Venezuela under the threat of sanctions, increasing pressure on President Nicolas Maduro to step down. They also demanded that commercial flights must stop in Venezuela.

Several investment funds have called for the lifting of some sanctions against Venezuela, since they believe that those issued that limit transactions cause damage to firms and customers. Meanwhile, the ban on buying Venezuelan oil has been detrimental to US industry, since it has caused an increase in the price of heavy crude oil, and they have had to resort to other markets to obtain supplies, such as Russia, where the cost of freight is higher.

In addition to the sanctions, embargoes and piracy of Venezuelan funds and resources, other unilateral coercive measures of direct attack on the Venezuelan population have been added, demonstrating their indiscriminate and inhumane nature, such as medicines, medical and technological equipment of all kinds, automotive spare parts, trade transactions, international reserves, which affect the entire population without distinction of political preference, creed, race or social condition.

The opposition (led by Guaidó) announced the hiring of veteran lawyer Lee Buchheit to help restructure the debt and guarantee payment to the transnational bank. The opposition’s financing is dependent on that.

Dialogue in Norway

Negotiations in Norway last week with government and opposition representatives sought to establish a peaceful agenda as an international initiative to support a solution to the crisis, and generated positive expectations both within Venezuela and in the world’s major capitals, even though the US government had not officially responded.

While all negotiations between the government and the opposition are based on the need for a call for elections, President Nicolás Maduro proposed ” We will hold elections, we will legitimize the only institution that has not been legitimized in the last five years,” referring to the National Assembly, in contempt, directed by the opposition and presided over by Juan Guaidó.

The initial response from the opposition has been to reject the proposal for advance elections (only) of the National Assembly. And they propose the exit of Maduro from the presidency, before holding presidential elections, something that is difficult to negotiate. Meanwhile, Diosdado Cabello, president of the Constituent Assembly, said that the Assembly decided to continue in office “at least” until December 31, 2020.

Discussions will continue next week, this time involving four government representatives and four opposition representatives and possibly three observers from the US and Russia. Washington’s demand – repeated by the opposition delegates – is that Maduro must leave, while the official delegates demand that the conditions for peace be created so that the presidency can be fulfilled.

The truth is that there is no unanimity in the opposition, as while the VP sector (Leopoldo López and Guaidó) demand general elections, starting with the presidential elections, the Democratic Action parties, UNT and Primero Justicia do not support the proposal, and AP, Copei, MAS, Cambiemos and Soluciones have abstained from expressing their opinion.

The dialogue proposed by Norway is necessary to arrive at an agreement of political recognition that will allow to return to tranquility. It cannot be a dialogue between two groups that only think of their own interests, but rather one that seeks a solution to the political conflict, with the necessary international accompaniment, but without other countries deciding the fate of Venezuela as a Nation.

The situation

The situation indicates that in the face of Washington’s successive failures in its search for accomplices to an invasion of Venezuela (where it lost the support of the Lima Group and the European Union), the US Southern Command withdrew in its threats, while Washington decided to give priority to economic sanctions and creditors – mostly vulture funds – moving to pay the debt.

In the last week, Carlos Vecchio (representative of Juan Guaidó) met with Elliott Abrams and Sergio de la Peña, Undersecretary of Defense for the US Western Hemisphere, who served as US military attaché in Venezuela and has developed low-intensity conflict simulation projects.

However, Vecchio’s much-publicized meeting with Vice Admiral Craig Faller, head of the Southern Command, to request an urgent invasion of Venezuela on behalf of the self-proclaimed Guaidó, was cancelled. The international agencies changed their script and now point out that Washington prefers to exert continuous economic and diplomatic pressure to expel Maduro, postponing – at least – the use of military force, although not threats.

Meanwhile, in Washington, Venezuela’s diplomatic headquarters was taken over by US police forces, in contravention of the Vienna Convention. The words of Reverend Jesse Jackson before this aggression are worth noting: “People must protest because if they can violate this international law, they can violate others”.

The confrontation continues because of the financial embargo that is still in force which limits banking transactions for imports. To circumvent the sanctions, Venezuela is trying to “use the Russian ruble in mutual trade agreements and abandon dollar transactions,” according to Jorge Valero, Venezuela’s representative to the UN in Geneva.

It should be remembered that these proposals and decisions are taking place within the framework of the first steps of negotiations, which began to develop through the mediation of the Norwegian government.

Sanctions reduced the population’s caloric intake, increased disease and mortality (for both adults and children), and displaced millions of Venezuelans who left the country as a result of worsening economic depression and hyperinflation. They deepened the economic crisis and made it almost impossible to stabilize the economy.

More severe and destructive than the broad economic sanctions of August 2017 were the sanctions imposed by an executive order (by Donald Trump) of January 28, 2019 and later this year; along with the recognition of a parallel government that created a new set of sanctions that are more suffocating than the executive orders themselves, says Mexican analyst John Saxe-Fernandez.

The sanctions have caused very serious damage to human life and health, including more than 40,000 deaths between 2017 and 2018, which includes these sanctions in the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population, as described in the international conventions of Geneva and The Hague, to which the US is a signatory. These sanctions are also illegal under international law and under treaties that the US has signed. But this is of little concern to Trump, his allies and accomplices, and to the radical Venezuelan opposition.

The resignation letter from Isaiah Rodríguez, Venezuelan ambassador to Italy, exposed other repercussions of the economic blockade. Beset by problems and a debt of nine million euros, it was impossible to maintain the diplomatic mission. “I renounce, president, my doses of insomnia, stress, affliction and the triangular-headed vipers that have long been accompanying me,” he said in the letter, without identifying the vipers.

Rodríguez, who is also a member of the current National Constituent Assembly, is a leader much loved by the citizens for his courage, loyalty and humility. He was constituent in 1999, Executive Vice President and Attorney General of the Republic.

Álvaro Verzi Rangel: Venezuelan sociologist, Co-director of the Observatory on Communication and Democracy and of the Latin American Center for Strategic Analysis (CLAE,

Translation by Internationalist 360°