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Lift the Blockade on Venezuela & Cuba: Colombian President Petro Warns U.S. Sanctions Are Driving Migration

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In Part 3 of our interview with leftist Colombian President Gustavo Petro, he describes how hard-line U.S. policies are preventing the Americas from addressing issues like migration, calling on the Biden administration to “open up a plural dialogue” to bring the region closer together. He notes many people moving through Latin America to seek asylum in the United States are from Venezuela, a country that has been devastated by U.S. sanctions. He calls for an end to punitive economic sanctions against both Venezuela and Cuba, both to slow migration and to address historic injustice. “The scars of history — the invasions from before, the old imperialism, the old domination — continue to weigh against humanity.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: President Petro, I want to talk to you about migration, which directly links to climate. You’ve talked about that, to climate violence, conflict. You’ve called it “the exodus of humanity.” Tens of thousands of asylum seekers make their way through the deadly Darién Gap, the Darién jungle between the border of Colombia and Panama. What should be done to ensure the safety of asylum seekers, and especially when they get to the United States? Your views on the U.S. seeking to persuade other countries, like your own, Colombia, like Mexico, Guatemala, to enforce U.S. border policies and prevent asylum seekers from going north?

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] Three years ago, nobody was going through the Darién Gap. This year, it might end up being as many as half a million. And given the flow, which is 3,000 persons a day, next year could be a total of 1 million people going through the Darién Gap. After going through the Darién Gap, the figure is doubled, going through Central America and Mexico. And then, about 2 million people reach the United States each year trying to get in.

It’s an exodus. It’s an exodus that Colombia was not familiar with before. And it goes through the most inhospitable jungle worldwide. Not even the old guerrilla forces in Colombia had used that region as part of their geography, because it is just so inhospitable. Recall the difficulties that engineering faced when it came to building the Panama Canal, so many workers who died at that time. Well, here it’s even worse, because this is a jungle which is very biodiverse but at the same time is very inhospitable for human beings, and so no one would go through there. And now we’re approaching a million people, most of them children, older people, women.

And as Pope Francis said, and quite rightly so, at a conference when I was mayor of Bogotá a few years ago — he taught me, because I had not seen that concept — he tied the concept of exodus to the concept of new forms of slavery. Well, in effect, I am seeing this with my very own eyes. That human exodus, that began moving from Venezuela to Colombia, expanded throughout South America, and now much more with other countries, they’re going across the Darién Gap — that exodus is a victim of a series of forms of new slavery — mafias, armed organizations, that are taking women to prostitution in the United States. They’re using child labor to transport drugs. They are raping women along the way. The children die of dehydration.

That is to say, there’s a human catastrophe which happens. Why? Well, and this is where we have the discussion with the United States, 62%, according to Panamanian figures, and we find that 75% of the population that has been crossing through the Darién Gap is Venezuelan. That is the population which, after the blockade and before COVID, were already going en masse into Colombia, and from Colombia dispersed throughout South America. That population now wants to go to the United States. That is to say, the blockade against Venezuela has had a boomerang-type response, now hitting the very United States, which are the ones who decided to impose the blockade. So, knocking at their door are the population that they drove into poverty.

Venezuela is a rich country. They have an endless amount of oil and gas, and Venezuela’s population was relatively stable, whatever the regime, whether it was under Chávez or what they call el Punto Fijo. But with the blockade, the standard of living of these persons collapsed. They basically totally threw off the equilibrium that the majority of Venezuelans were accustomed to. Many of them have left, and now what they want is to make it to the United States. How can one partially reduce the exodus? Well, lift the blockade against Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you discussed with President Biden lifting the embargo against Venezuela, and also — you were just in Cuba for the G77 meeting — lifting the embargo there, the effects that these embargoes have?

PRESIDENT GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] The Cuban case is even more strident, we could say, because Cuba is on two lists: one, the blockade, or embargo, which dates back so many decades, and the other, which was it was added to a list of countries that sponsor terrorism. And the second list imposes even more radical measures, such as, for example, that they’re not able to buy medicine abroad, medicines which are necessary for health inside the country. It’s a real crime. It kills people who are ill.

That list, which was put together by the United States — or, in the face of that list, the president of Colombia, who was an enemy of peace in Colombia, used it, insisting that the Trump administration should put Cuba back on that list, succeeded in doing so. And the excuse was that Cuba was the scenario of peace talks between the ELN guerrillas and the Colombian government. It was the Colombian government under President Santos that asked Cuba to provide its territory, and Cuba did so in good faith. And then, when Duque came in as president, and he was not happy with that peace process and shut it down, he asked Cuba to turn over as prisoners the ELN, National Liberation Army, peace negotiators. So this was a real betrayal. The two states had already signed an agreement saying that couldn’t happen, because that was to guarantee peace talks. And given Cuba’s unwillingness to turn over these persons, who today are negotiating peace with me and who are about to reach a situation where that war would be put to an end, taking advantage of that, Duque asked Trump to put Cuba on the terrorist list.

And I’m surprised that Biden has continued with that. I discussed that topic with him. I discussed the Venezuelan question with him, seeking for there to be a progressive unblocking or removal of the blockade, at the same time as certain credible guarantees would be given for free and fair elections in Venezuela. It’s a very long process. It’s very slow. What one finds is increasing poverty in Venezuela. And I’ve spoken with Cuba and with the United States about the need to at least remove Cuba from the list of countries that help terrorism, because Cuba is helping us to make peace. It’s just the opposite of what that list is all about. Nonetheless, we have also seen in the U.S. government a great sluggishness. And at the end of the day, it makes the Biden administration look like the Trump administration.

And it is leaving certain scars with Latin America that I think we need to have heal. We need to overcome them, because at the end of the day, both those in the North, the English speakers in the North, and the Latinos in the South and the Afro-descendant peoples throughout the Americas and the Indigenous peoples throughout the Americas, we all need to understand one another, because we have common problems.

One of those that I proposed to Biden is that as the United States is the largest emitter of CO2, well, we have the greatest sponge for soaking up CO2 in the South — the Amazon jungle — and we need to come to an agreement. Having in South America great potential for generating clean energy — great potential — and we cannot capture it all because of the lack of funds, and as the United States has a great need, which is also a need of all of humankind, to transition to a clean energy matrix, how can we come together? All we need, electrical cable and investment in South America. The money is here, $600 billion, for that objective. But in the United States, it’s much more expensive, because it doesn’t have the same potential as what we have in South America, which is where the sun is, where the wind is, where the waters are, the waters that come down from the Andes. That complementarity, which would be useful for the United States, which would be useful for South America, because those investments would generate economic prosperity, and which would be useful for all of humanity, isn’t happening. And all we need is to sit down, engage in dialogue and take action.

The scars of history, the invasions from before, the old imperialism, the old domination continue to weigh against humanity. That is why a government such as the Biden administration should take the step, close the heals, let the scars heal. They’re not going to go away, but let them heal. End blockades and open up a plural dialogue, which I think would benefit all of us, both in North America and in South America.

AMY GOODMAN: Colombian President Gustavo Petro. Coming up, we’ll talk with him about the U.S.-backed 1973 coup in Chile and Petro’s own story, from M-19 guerrilla to president of Colombia. Back in 30 seconds.

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Colombian President Gustavo Petro Denounces U.S. Intervention in Americas, from Chilean Coup to Drug War

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