Swiss private banks reject transactions and close Venezuelan accounts for fear of reprisals from the United States (Photo: Reuters)
Another Instance of Extraterritorial and Illegal Application of White House Measures
Commercial and financial punitive measures are depriving Venezuelan representations of their diplomatic powers in Bern and Geneva.
This was revealed by the Swiss portal swissinfo.ch, where the financial obstacles faced by Venezuelan officials in the European country are recounted.
“We are in a situation of financial defenselessness in our diplomatic tasks,” said the Venezuelan ambassador to Bern, César Méndez, to describe the impact that the alignment of Swiss private banks is having with the package of financial and trade sanctions that the U.S. government implements against Venezuela. “The Swiss banks are afraid of the fines that the United States might apply to them. In fact, they are stricter in the application of sanctions than banks in other European countries,” the Venezuelan diplomat added.
According to Méndez, the bank accounts of the officials at the Credit Suisse bank, a financial platform that provided services to the Venezuelan diplomatic headquarters, were unilaterally closed. He adds that the decision is influenced by the banks’ fear of being hit by U.S. sanctions against Venezuela.
This action interferes with access to the resources granted to the embassy from Venezuela, preventing fundamental administrative operations such as payroll payments to employees.
None of the other banks established in Switzerland, not even the state-controlled PostFinance, have been willing to replace Credit Suisse and assume the embassy’s financial transactions. Interviewed by swissinfo.ch, Méndez added that he has approached the Swiss authorities to explain the case and they have responded by saying that “they cannot interfere because it is a private relationship between a bank and its clients”.
The Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ignazio Cassis, replied that Swiss institutions do not regulate the decisions taken by private banks even when the claims come from a diplomatic representative, since “the commercial relationship between a Swiss bank and its customers is governed by private law (…) In Switzerland applies the freedom of contract, regulated by the Swiss Code of Obligations”.
This is the second time that financial difficulties have been reported for embassies on the European continent.
In April, former Ambassador Isaías Rodríguez Díaz warned of the blockade of the embassy’s bank accounts in Italy by Commerzbank and Citibank, an action that made it impossible to pay rent to the real estate company that owns the embassy headquarters, as well as to pay workers.
The blockade, on that occasion, put at risk the lives of bone marrow patients who paid for their treatment and living expenses with the health agreement established between PDVSA and the Italian government through the Association for Bone Marrow Transplantation (ATMO).
An Overview of Relations between Venezuela and Switzerland
Switzerland’s treatment of the Venezuelan government, following the institutional conflict brought about by Juan Guaidó’s illegitimate self-proclamation in January, contrasts with the stance of U.S. officials, who have taken control and financing of this international escalation in search of denying them diplomatic spaces in countries and multilateral organizations.
Both the European Union and Switzerland have issued coercive measures against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, following the example of Donald Trump’s administration but with a less bellicose tone than that of its Atlantic partner.
The Swiss government adopted measures against Venezuela in March of this year, imitating the European Union (EU) ordinance issued in 2017, the first sanction it directed the country, declaring an “embargo on arms and equipment destined for internal repression”, just when the country was recomposing itself from the violent cycle driven by anti-Chávezism, convening the National Constituent Assembly.
This measure was extended in 2018 and modified with prohibitions for public officials of the Venezuelan State.
The Swiss measure, in particular, is a sanction that adds to the EU sanctions, executing “an embargo on military equipment and goods that could be used for police purposes” and also on computer and communication systems. In the financial field, the sanction allows the “freezing of assets and a ban on entry and transit through Switzerland” to individuals and companies determined by the country.
It is necessary to point out that although Europe is affiliated to the pressure campaign led by the United States and in consideration of the threats it has posed to its own economic interests, the countries of this geopolitical bloc are closely observing the efforts of Nicolás Maduro’s government to achieve consensus among the sectors involved in the current political situation.
Hoping that its European allies would emulate it, Washington set a precedent with the Venezuelan embassy that was besieged for months after Venezuelan representatives withdrew because of the cessation of diplomatic relations with the Trump government. Finally, the building was handed over to representatives of Guaidó’s fake government.
This year Switzerland renewed the credentials of its ambassador Didier Chassot in Caracas, thus recognizing the authority of Nicolás Maduro as constitutional president of Venezuela.
Within the framework of our peace diplomacy, Didier Chassot handed me the Letters of Credence that accredit him as designated Ambassador of the Swiss Confederation in Venezuela. We are making progress in building relationships of respect with the peoples of the world. pic.twitter.com/ha1AIFEWFR
– Nicolás Maduro (@NicolasMaduro) May 14, 2019
This ratification also meant that Switzerland was considered a candidate to guard the Venezuelan diplomatic headquarters in Washington, before anti-Chavista demonstrators led by Guaidó’s team stormed the site in violation of international law.
On the contrary, Venezuelan institutions did respect international procedure and allowed Switzerland to act as a watchdog for U.S. interests in Caracas and to act as a provisional representative.
Economic Embargo Aggravates Diplomacy
At the time of launching the August 5 Executive Order, the Treasury Department substantially expanded economic asphyxiation to Venezuela. The use of this instrument is supposed to affect Venezuelan trade with any foreign actor (individual or company) that has any economic link with the United States.
The strength of these sanctions lies precisely in the control of the international financial system and the hegemony of the dollar as the only official currency of transactions in the world.
The effects on the national economy are identified throughout these years of economic aggressions, long before the officialization of the embargo. Fundamentally the oil industry, which has been decreasing the export of crude oil due to difficulties in making commercial transactions with clients without being pressured by the Treasury Department. As a result, the revenues of the country’s main economic activity are destroyed.
To these evident effects, the diplomatic factor must then be added, with the dangerous possibility that the performance of the Swiss banks will be normalized in the rest of the nations where the Venezuelan government has diplomatic representation.
The White House has sought to paralyze diplomatic, commercial and financial relations of the Venezuelan state since they launched the parallel government operation with the figure of Guaidó at the forefront. However, there are few cases where the emissaries of this illegitimate platform have achieved recognition.
However, an aggravation of the material conditions of the Venezuelan embassies could contribute to the forced substitution proposed by the U.S. government in favour of the false ambassadors of Guaidó, thus increasing the risk of freezing state assets abroad.
Translation by Internationalist 360°