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Regime Change Via Sanctions? U.S. Uses International Finance System to Strangle Venezuelan Economy

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Venezuelan officials say power will be largely restored in the country today after a week-long blackout across much of the country. The cause of the blackout remains in dispute. The United States blamed it on years of neglect of the Venezuelan energy system, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the U.S. military of launching a “cyberattack against the electrical, telecommunication and internet systems.” The blackout comes amid a growing political crisis in Venezuela as U.S.-backed opposition groups attempt to topple Maduro’s government. On Monday, the United States announced it was withdrawing remaining diplomatic staff from its embassy in Caracas. We speak with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. His latest piece for The New Republic is headlined “The Reality Behind Trump’s Coalition for Regime Change in Venezuela.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Venezuelan officials are saying power will largely be restored by today, after a week-long blackout across much of the country. The cause of the blackout remains in dispute. The United States blamed it on years of neglect of the Venezuelan energy system, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused the U.S. military of launching a, quote, “cyberattack against the electrical, telecommunication and internet systems.” The blackout comes amid a growing political crisis in Venezuela as U.S.-backed opposition groups attempt to topple Maduro’s government. It’s been nearly two months since opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself to be president with the backing of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the United States announced it’s withdrawing remaining diplomatic staff from its embassy in Caracas. In a statement, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said diplomatic staff at the embassy has become, quote, “a constraint on U.S. policy.” Pompeo’s comment raised questions about whether the U.S. is coming closer to military intervention in Venezuela.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has announced new sanctions on Venezuela despite a growing humanitarian crisis in the country. The U.S. is also intensifying pressure on India and other nations to stop buying Venezuelan oil.

We’re joined now by Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. His latest piece for The New Republic, “The Reality Behind Trump’s Coalition for Regime Change in Venezuela.”

Why don’t you talk about that reality, Mark?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, you know, there’s this narrative from our government and also in the media that this is some kind of clash of civilizations. You have, on one side, these democratic—so-called democratic governments in Latin America and Europe, and then, on the other side, they always bring up China or Russia or Turkey, saying, you know, authoritarian governments are supporting the government of Venezuela. But when you look at this, you see that it really is just like the coalition of the willing that George W. Bush had, 48 countries. In this case, there’s about 50. In his case, there were 48 countries that supported his invasion of Iraq. And that’s really what you have going on here.

And in Latin America, it’s kind of ironic, because you have countries that the United States actually is responsible for putting the government there. So, in Honduras, you know, there was a military coup in 2009 that brought the current political party to power. And then, in 2017, the president stole the election, and not like, you know, any other election that you could say is unfair, but in this case that he literally stole it. That was the conclusion of observers across the political spectrum. And even the head of the OAS, who is fanatically attached to the Trump regime change effort in Venezuela—even he said that they needed a new election. But they just—you know, the Trump administration went along with it.

But then you have Brazil, the strongest ally that the U.S. has in this whole effort. And as you know, this is a really far-right government that has its own problems of legitimacy with regard to how it got to power, through an impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, which was not even based on a crime, and then the jailing of the most popular politician in the country, who probably could have won the presidency, Lula da Silva, and unconstitutionally preventing him, of throwing—of jailing him before the election, and even preventing him from talking to the media.

So, this is the kind of people you have. You have, you know, Colombia also, which is a government—the president, Iván Duque, you know, he was basically picked by Álvaro Uribe, who has long ties to death squads and also to narcotrafficking. So, again, you have these governments. This is the coalition of the willing. You know, Argentina just got a $50 billion loan from the IMF. They owe something. They owe a lot. And, of course, they’re very close to the Trump administration anyway, ideologically and politically.

And then the European governments, of course, they go along with the U.S. on Latin America, in general. They haven’t had really—only occasionally an independent foreign policy from the United States since the end of World War II.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Mark Weisbrot, could you elaborate on what you think the Trump administration wants to happen in Venezuela? They’ve said explicitly they want Maduro out, but what do they want in his place? And why are they so averse to any kind of a negotiated agreement?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, that’s very important, because there has to be a negotiated agreement of some kind. It’s a polarized country. You’re either going to have a negotiated agreement, or you’re going to have a civil war, and then you’ll have a negotiated agreement. And they’re pushing towards some kind of extralegal and probably violent regime change.

And why are they doing this? It’s because they want their people in power. It’s not enough that—to them, that you just get a new government or you have an election. They really want their own people. And that’s why they picked—if you look who they chose to lead this, Juan Guaidó, he’s with a party, Voluntad Popular, which has only 14 out of 167 seats in the National Assembly. And there are other leaders who would be more favorable towards negotiations, but they picked him because he’s the most—his party is the most hard-line and doesn’t want to negotiate. And they’ve said that publicly. And, of course, even after the pope offered to mediate, and Uruguay and Mexico, who have governments that are neutral, and they offered to negotiate, Guaidó and also the Trump administration said immediately, “No, the time for negotiation is over,” and they’re not interested in it. So, again, it’s so they can get the actual people that they want. And, of course, both Trump and Bolton have made, actually, public comments about how they want the oil.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Cuba of being “the true imperialist power in Venezuela.”

SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: No nation has done more to sustain the death and daily misery of ordinary Venezuelans, including Venezuela’s military and their families, than the communists in Havana. Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela. The Cuban government of Miguel Díaz-Canel provides political cover for Maduro and his henchmen, so that they may stay in power.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Mark Weisbrot, can you respond to that? And also, the U.S. pulling out the last diplomatic representatives from Venezuela, does this sound like preparation for military intervention? But start with Cuba.

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, well, that’s—it’s kind of ridiculous. I mean, who is strangling the country economically? I think that’s the most important thing that people don’t understand and even members of Congress don’t understand. For example, recognizing Guaidó is actually declaring a trade embargo, because it means that the government cannot sell the oil to three-quarters of its export markets and get the foreign exchange that the country needs.

And all this talk about their targeting the government, it’s targeting the civilian population. That’s what these sanctions do. And not just the sanctions that they just imposed in January, but the sanctions that they’ve had since August of 2017, that have really destroyed the economy and created shortages of food and medicine, worsened everything and prevented the government from doing anything that they could do to recover from both the hyperinflation and the depression. And I want to emphasize that, because, you know, people say, “Oh, well, the economy was already a wreck before even these sanctions.” But, you know, if you have—if somebody has pneumonia and you blockade their house so they can’t get medical treatment and they die, you know, you would be held criminally responsible for that. And it wouldn’t be much of a defense to say, “Well, I think they would have died anyway.” And that’s basically what you have in the narrative in the media. They almost ignore that, you know, for more than a year and a half, and even before that, because there were sanctions before that, but the worst sanctions, the financial embargo, started in August of 2017. And the media mostly ignores that. And that’s what’s being used to basically deprive people of food and medicine, to destroy the economy.

And so, that’s the imperial power, using a power that only the United States has, because of its control over the dollar-based international financial system. And they’re doing that. And, you know, whatever the Cubans are doing there is mostly, you know, trying to help them.

AMY GOODMAN: And military intervention?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, the military intervention, I think the Trump administration wants to convince, obviously, everyone that they—that option is on the table and everything. And I don’t think that’s their first choice; I think they’d rather have Venezuelans killing each other than have the U.S. involved in the war itself. But, yes, if they had the right pretext, I think they would go in.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Mark, can you talk about what kind of resistance there has been in Congress to the Trump administration’s policies on Venezuela—in particular, Florida Democrats?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, that’s another really important thing. And I’m glad you asked that, because, you know, there really is a way of stopping this. And it’s the grassroots pressure that—for example, you know, you mentioned the Yemen vote in the Senate yesterday, and that was another historic vote, where the Congress uses the War Powers Resolution—you know, it’s the first time in 45 years that the Senate has been using this—to demand, legally, that the U.S. pull out of its military involvement in this genocidal war. And so, there’s a similar bill in the House right now from Representative Cicilline. And people are fighting to get that to the floor, because the leadership is not in favor of it, and Nancy Pelosi, for example, has to be pressured, and people are pressuring. There was just a big petition signed by national advocacy groups that went to Pelosi, I think yesterday, that said,
“We want this to get to the floor of the Congress.” It says there will be no U.S. military intervention, military force in Venezuela without congressional authorization. And, of course, that’s the law.

But the Florida delegation doesn’t want that. They’re pro-regime change, pro-war, and—a number of them. And, in fact, they have two bills. One from Debbie Wasserman Schultz, right now, in the Foreign Affairs Committee, is going to be voted on today. And so, what the petition is asking, and what the grassroots advocacy groups are demanding, is that, you know, we don’t want those two bills, which are bills that basically move more towards war and away from a negotiated solution. For example, the Wasserman Schultz bill says that the Trump administration has to issue a report about Venezuela’s ties to Russia and the security threat supposedly posed by that. So, this is the kind of stuff you have pushing back from the Florida delegation.

And I want to emphasize that. You know, if people either have a House member on the Foreign Affairs Committee or any representative—you have a representative, unlike, you know, we don’t have a voting representative in D.C., but anybody in the country—this is the time to tell them you want this bill against military intervention to pass. That’s how that bill passed the Senate and the House, and now it’s going back to the House, on Yemen. It was grassroots pressure. It never would have happened without that.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Weisbrot, we just have 20 seconds. The issue of the power shortage that’s just beginning to end in Venezuela, the complete blackout, Maduro has accused Guaidó and the United States being behind this blackout.

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah. Well, I think the most important thing that we do know for sure about it is that the backup generators, that could have provided power for a lot of the country, The New York Times reported that the—they didn’t have fuel and other things because of the U.S. sanctions. So, they definitely had—sanctions definitely had an impact in the result of that blackout.

AMY GOODMAN: Mark Weisbrot, thanks so much for joining us, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. We’ll link to your piece in The New Republic, “The Reality Behind Trump’s Coalition for Regime Change in Venezuela.” And to see all of our coverage of Venezuela, you can go to We’ll be back on the issue of impeachment in a minute.


AMY GOODMAN: “Helps Me Helps You” by Midnight Oil. And a shout-out to today’s students from American Sign Language and English High School, who are here watching today’s broadcast.

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