The US government has announced that it is lifting a small number of sanctions on Venezuela. A major left-wing newspaper in Turkey, BirGün, interviewed Multipolarista editor Benjamin Norton about the situation. His comments follow below:
1) What do you think about the reports in the US media which say that the USA will ease a few sanctions on Venezuela? Do you think it is possible?
The US government is not lifting the vast majority of its unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela, which are illegal under international law, and have led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths.
Instead, the Joe Biden administration offered to ease a few specific sanctions, especially related to the oil sector, largely because the White House has banned Russian energy and wants to make up for the crude it had been importing from Russia, to try to stabilize spiking energy prices.
But Washington is only doing this under the condition that, one, Venezuela make political concessions to the right-wing opposition, and two, that Caracas partially liberalize its economy, implementing reforms that allow US corporations to invest 5% to 10% in state-owned companies, for instance.
This is a form of economic blackmail by the US government. Venezuela has essentially been forced at gunpoint to implement economic reforms, because, as the UN special rapporteur on sanctions reported, the Venezuelan state lost 99% of its revenue due to the illegal US blockade and other Western coercive measures.
The structural problems with the Venezuelan economy long predate the rise of the leftist Chavista movement. Caracas has relied on oil for the vast majority of its revenue for roughly a century. The Venezuelan state was heavily dependent on hydrocarbons for many decades before Hugo Chávez became president in 1999.
2) What is the belief in Venezuela? What are the discussions regarding the relationship with the USA and the latest news?
The illegal US sanctions are very unpopular in Venezuela, even among some right-wing opposition parties. The US economic warfare has essentially divided the opposition between those who support Washington’s sanctions and coup attempt, and those who are against the sanctions.
As for average Venezuelans, polling has consistently shown that the vast majority of Venezuelan civilians are strongly against the US sanctions on their country.
Even an explicitly partisan polling firm run by a wealthy anti-Chavista right-wing opposition figure, called Datanálisis, was forced to concede in August 2021 that 76.4% of Venezuelans reject the sanctions on the oil sector. The actual figure is likely even higher, as less biased polling firms have shown even more widespread opposition to sanctions.
Given the brutal economic attacks that Washington has unleashed on the Venezuelan people in the past several years, many people are welcoming the news that the blockade may be softened, even if only slightly.
3) What is your take on the USA’s Venezuela policy? Do you think it has failed?
The illegal US blockade on Venezuela did fail to bring about regime change, which was Washington’s number-one goal, but it devastated the Venezuelan economy and successfully forced the leftist Chavista government to implement reforms to partially liberalize it. This was Washington’s number-two goal.
The US imperial strategy is to use hybrid warfare to force Venezuela, Nicaragua, Cuba, and other countries where socialist parties are in power to make economic concessions to US capital.
This strategy goes back decades. When socialist Salvador Allende was democratically elected president of Chile in 1970, US President Richard Nixon infamously called to “make the economy scream.”
Washington uses sanctions and hybrid warfare to destroy economies in countries run by socialist parties, then blames socialism for the economic chaos that it intentionally caused.
The difference is that the United States succeeded in overthrowing Allende in a violent coup, where it has repeatedly failed to overthrow Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in its numerous violent coup attempts.
4) How important is the rising price of oil in the USA’s decisions on Venezuela? Can the US oil giants (especially Chevron) turn back to Venezuela?
One of the main reasons the Biden administration decided to soften (but not end) its attacks on Venezuela is because the United States is cutting oil imports from Russia and needs to find a replacement, especially if it wants to lower the skyrocketing energy prices that have fueled the highest rates of inflation in the US in 40 years.
Washington tried to force Saudi Arabia to increase oil production to make up the difference, but Riyadh refused. Other significant oil and gas producers had similar responses. OPEC members are sticking with their production plans, and say they don’t even have the capacity anyway to make up for lost Russian exports.
The Biden administration has also refused to undo aggressive anti-Iran policies imposed by Donald Trump, such as listing the Iranian military branch the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a supposed “terrorist” organization. This means that Washington is effectively killing any hopes of returning to the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Trump unilaterally sabotaged in 2018. Therefore the US can’t rely on Iranian oil to make up for the Russian crude.
Given this situation, the Biden administration apparently made the calculation that, at this moment, its hybrid war on Venezuela is not as important as its proxy war on Russia. So the United States is slightly easing its war on Venezuela while doubling down on its war on Russia.
But the Venezuelan leadership is very clear-eyed and can see that Washington’s strategy is a cynical act of divide-and-conquer. Russia remains one of Venezuela’s most important allies, and Caracas is not for a second going to abandon it.
Venezuela was simply forced to make temporary compromises to try to reactivate its besieged economy, allowing a little room for US companies like Chevon to operate. But Caracas is by no means going to let those foreign firms control its oil sector or other state-owned companies, which will still remain firmly under government control. Allowing investors 5% to 10% stakes is a far cry from full privatization.
5) What is going on in the domestic politics of Venezuela? What has happened with Juan Guaidó?
The ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has maintained a solid and consistent base of support among working-class and poor Venezuelans. PSUV won the November 21, 2021 regional elections, which were monitored by the European Union, in a landslide, with more votes in 20 of 23 states and the capital Caracas.
Meanwhile, Venezuela’s political opposition is completely divided and discredited. Juan Guaidó has lost the backing even of many right-wing opposition figures, who see him as weak and incompetent. Opposition parties are unable to win elections because they are driven by individual personalities who are notoriously unable to unite, and lack popular support because they are widely seen as corrupt and beholden to a foreign power (the United States).
Internationally, the US coup strategy of recognizing Guaidó – who never received a single vote in a presidential election – as supposed “interim president” has totally collapsed. Fewer than 15 countries still recognize Guaidó, as even his own former ally admitted.
Although Washington still maintains the illusion that Guaidó is something more than a political cosplayer, the Biden administration tacitly acknowledged the reality that Nicolás Maduro is the real, elected president when it sent a delegation to Caracas to negotiate with him.