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Venezuela is experiencing the deepest and most prolonged crisis of its history, due both the actions of the Maduro government and the aggressive interventionist policies of the United States. Alongside the political crisis, a protracted recession for the last seven years has caused dramatic humanitarian impacts, including alarming levels of child malnutrition and the collapse of public services, especially in health and education. For a large proportion of the population, the minimum salary is not enough even to pay for the transportation to reach their place of work. Life expectancy has dropped significantly. A generalized feeling of hopelessness for the future has led over five million Venezuelans to emigrate. In the last year, the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened this multidimensional crisis.
There is no doubt that the government of Nicolás Maduro holds a large share of the responsibility for what has happened in the country in recent years. The government is increasingly authoritarian and repressive. Corruption is systematic, with a total lack of transparency in the management of public resources. Public contracts and economic indicators are treated like state secrets. Improvisation has become the preferred means of governing, whether in social or economic policy. Party, group, and individual loyalty has taken precedent in the administration of the country’s common resources. This has been especially clear in the wide range of institutions and public companies that have been handed over to the control of military officers.
Economic sanctions and the interventionist policies of successive U.S. governments are an equally central determinant of this deep, multidimensional crisis, especially during the Trump administration. In the economic sphere, the operations of the oil industry have been blocked, as well as access to external finance. Venezuelan state assets have been confiscated and the country’s international trade has been severely limited through a broad program of sanctions. The impact of these coercive, unilateral measures on human rights in Venezuela have recently been documented in a preliminary report presented by the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The United States government has politically and financially supported the most extreme right-wing segments of the opposition. They have threatened military intervention and actively sabotaging all of the attempts at negotiating a peaceful, constitutional solution to the crisis through electoral processes.
Today in Venezuela, the pre-existing political polarization has blurred, and most of the Venezuelan public rejects both the Maduro government and the opposition led by Juan Guaidó. They also oppose economic sanctions and any violent resolution to the crisis. This majority recognizes that without a political agreement there is no way to exit the humanitarian crisis that is causing so much suffering among the population.
Nonetheless, this option is impossible as long as the government of the United States insists on its interventionist position, economic sanctions, constant threats, and using its enormous power to pressure right-wing parties in Venezuela to reject all possibility of a negotiation resolution to the current situation. In other words, as long as the United States does not recognize the right of Venezuelans to determine their own destiny.
With the end of the Trump administration and the arrival of a new Democratic administration, has the moment come to change these policies that continue causing so much harm?
The Citizens Platform in Defense of the Constitution is a leftist collective that has worked for years to recover the 1999 Constitution, mired by both the government and the principle right-wing parties. The Platform has directed an open letter to leftist and progressive organizations and movements in the United States, urging that, in solidarity with the people of Venezuela, they exert pressure on the new U.S. administration to achieve these changes in Venezuela policy.
The open letter appears below.
- Edgardo Lander
Caracas, February 2021
To: Friends in the U.S. Left and Progressive Movements
From: Citizens’ Platform in Defense of the Constitution (Venezuela)
Subject: U.S. government policy towards Venezuela
The policy of the government of the United States towards the Bolivarian process that began with the election of Hugo Chávez Frías as president in 1998, from its most democratic and participatory moments to the authoritarian and repressive drifts of recent years, has been one of direct and indirect intervention, politically and financially backing the extreme right-wing opposition and threatening the country economically and militarily. During these last two decades, this has been a bi-partisan policy, although with greater levels of aggressiveness during Republican administrations. The government of George W. Bush openly supported the failed coup d’état of 2002 and the oil strike of 2003. With the arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States, the offensive against Venezuela was notably intensified, expressed in the policy of regime change by undemocratic means, threats of military intervention, the progressive imposition of severe economic sanctions, and increased support for sectors of the extreme right in Venezuela.
Today, the Democratic Party controls the Presidency and both houses of Congress. With the political divide within that party, leading to a newly empowered progressive wing, and the extraordinary rise of progressive popular movements such as the Movement for Black Lives, and powerful movements for immigrant rights, environmental justice, women’s and Indigenous rights and more, there is every reason for cautious optimism about the possibilities for change in U.S. government policy. That certainly includes the possibility of change in the longstanding bipartisan U.S. policies that have inflicted and continue to inflict so much harm upon the Venezuelan population.
Appealing to internationalism, which has historically constituted a central axis of struggles of the Left and progressive forces throughout the world, we urge you to raise the most critical issues for which we require your solidarity.
1. Stop the economic sanctions imposed progressively since 2017. Although these sanctions are not the only cause of the severe economic and humanitarian crisis that the country is experiencing, they have played a major role in creating and deepening this crisis.
These sanctions have contributed to the practical paralysis of the oil industry, which for a century had been the main source of income for the country and on which the Venezuelan economy is highly dependent. Access to international credit, and the possibilities of renegotiations of the foreign debt, has been blocked. Severe obstacles limit the import of basic food and medicine, as well as equipment and spare parts necessary for the deteriorated productive apparatus and the maintenance of essential services of the country.
As a result of these sanctions and the inefficiency and corruption of the Venezuelan government, the country's economy has been in sustained decline for seven years. Today the gross domestic product is approximately 30 percent of what it was seven years ago. There is a severe food crisis in Venezuela today, and child malnutrition has taken on dramatic dimensions. Health and education services, as well as most public services, are in a state of collapse. The Indigenous peoples of Venezuela and the environment have suffered severely from both national policies, particularly extractivist policies best illustrated by the Orinoco Mining Arch, as well as from the U.S. sanctions. Given these conditions, and in the absence of prospects for change, more than five million people have emigrated from the country in recent years.
These economic sanctions constitute an open violation of international law, human rights, and the Geneva Conventions. They are not an alternative to war, but a form of war. The objective of blockades and economic sanctions is to produce the greatest possible harm and suffering of the population of the country subjected to such policies. In this, the sanctions have been extremely successful. Recognizing these impacts, opinion polls consistently record that a large majority of the population rejects sanctions. While a significant proportion of the population agrees with personal sanctions against government officials, only 5 percent express support for sanctions against the country's economy.
As international experience has shown time and again, economic sanctions are very ineffective instruments in terms of the supposed objectives of political change. However, they allow, among other things, governments subject to sanctions to avoid responsibility for their failures by attributing all the problems faced by the population to these sanctions.
2. Withdraw recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela since he lacks both institutional legitimacy and popular support. The term of office of the National Assembly of which he was president ended in January 2020. At present, he does not exercise any elected position. He is an ex-congressman. According to the last survey by Datanálisis, 67.4 percent of the population has a negative opinion of Guaidó's contribution to the country's wellbeing.
3. Release the billions of dollars and assets belonging to the Venezuelan State that have been confiscated or blocked by the United States government. Mechanisms can be created so that, at least initially, these funds are managed jointly with the United Nations to be dedicated to responding to the humanitarian crisis. In the context of this severe crisis, which has been deepened by Covid-19, the withholding of these resources constitutes an openly criminal act.
4. Remove the blockade on access to funds in international organizations such as the IMF and other multilateral organizations, funds to which the Venezuelan State has a legitimate right.
5. Abandon the policy of regime change. It is not up to the government of the United States to decide who should govern Venezuela. This is a sovereign decision that only belongs to Venezuelans. Beyond the speeches, the history of U.S. policy towards Latin America has been characterized by everything but democratic aims. Time and again, democratic governments with popular orientations like that of Jacobo Árbenz in Guatemala or Salvador Allende in Chile were overthrown with the direct intervention of the United States, while authoritarian and genocidal governments like that of Pinochet in Chile and the Argentine military junta (taking into account only recent history) had their full support. The policy of regime change is not guided by democratic motivations, but by the objective of crushing, both in the Venezuelan population and in the whole of Latin America, any idea of possible changes that would go against the interests of hegemonic groups in the United States. The idea of regime change seeks not only the substitution of a president but the defeat of every imaginary of possible transformation.
6. Stop using U.S. government policies towards Latin America as instruments of internal political convenience, such as campaigning for support of Cuban and Venezuelan immigrant communities in Florida.
7. Recognize that the Venezuelan population has the right to sovereignly decide its destiny. In 2020 the U.S. government systematically intervened, pressuring the radical rightwing opposition to reject any negotiated solution. That led to the opposition refusal to participate in elections, hoping to precipitate the fall of the government. The refusal systematically blocked any possibility of negotiation. Today the majority of the Venezuelan population wants a change of government. 92 percent of the population has a negative perception of the situation in the country, and 82 percent have a negative evaluation of Nicolas Maduro as president. As was mentioned above, more than two thirds of the population also have a negative opinion of Juan Guaidó. The population wants change, but not any change, not change by any means. Violent alternatives to the present situation are amply rejected, be it a coup d'état, a civil war, or an external military intervention. The experiences of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan are painfully present. All opinion polls indicate that the majority of the Venezuelan population aspires to reach a political agreement, a democratic, constitutional, electoral solution to the current Venezuelan crisis. Every time this possibility has appeared on the horizon, as was the case in the negotiations sponsored by the government of Norway, it has been blocked by the government of the United States.
We believe that solidarity from the U.S. left is fundamental to the achievement of these goals.
For the Citizen's Platform in Defense of the Constitution:
Oly Millán, Héctor Navarro, Esteban Emilio Mosonyi, Gustavo Márquez Marín, Ana Elisa Osorio, Juan García Viloria, Santiago Arconada Rodríguez, Roberto López Sánchez, and Edgardo Lander
Caracas, February 2021
The Citizen's Platform in Defense of the Constitution is a leftist political collective that during the last five years has been working towards the recovery of the 1999 Constitution that has been ignored and systematically violated, both by the government of Nicolás Maduro and by sectors of the right-wing opposition, with the support of the United States government.