Thursday, July 27, 2017

U.S. Sanctions Venezuela: A Triumph in Doublespeak

On the topic of sanctions (see Peter Baker's "Trump Administration Slaps Sanctions on Venezuela and Warns of More") let's not forget about the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela is of course on the list of official enemies, and the new sanctions, announced by Hollywood-producer-turned-U.S.-Treasury-Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are meant to "restore democracy" allegedly imperiled because of the convening of a constitutionally legitimate National Constituent Assembly:
“As President Trump has made clear, the United States will not ignore the Maduro regime’s ongoing efforts to undermine democracy, freedom and the rule of law,” Mr. Mnuchin said in a statement. “As our sanctions demonstrate, the United States is standing by the Venezuelan people in their quest to restore their country to a full and prosperous democracy.”
In a conference call with reporters, administration officials urged Mr. Maduro to cancel the Sunday assembly or face tougher actions. Among the possible options could be measures targeting oil sales. “Anyone elected to the National Constituent Assembly should know that their role in undermining democratic processes and institutions in Venezuela could expose them to potential U.S. sanctions,” Mr. Mnuchin added in his statement.
Orwellian doublespeak is not something alien to U.S. diplomacy, but criticizing elections to a constitutional convention as undermining democracy really takes chutzpah.

For a more fleshed out bit of propaganda, there is WaPo's "Venezuela’s vote for a constitutional assembly could destroy democracy, critics warn," by Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier:
Maduro — the anointed successor of firebrand leader Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013 — strongly defends the new assembly, saying it will fortify what he hails as “the communal state.” While it’s unclear exactly what he is seeking in a new constitution, it would likely give more power to “communal councils” in poor neighborhoods. Leaders of those councils, critics say, are government loyalists who in practice would sideline elected politicians and win direct pipelines to government funds.
On the surface, the assembly vote, along with the government’s pseudo-Soviet speak, hark back to old-school Marxist regimes. But many here see something perhaps more sinister emerging — a 21st-century thugocracy that rules by coercion, extortion and violence.
Once the richest country per capita in South America due to its vast oil reserves, Venezuela was also cursed with vast disparities that kept an elite in luxury while the poor languished in slums. The result was Chávez, who used the petroleum wealth to launch massive social programs, even as he concentrated power. He remains much beloved by millions of Venezuelans, although many others — especially in the middle and upper classes — loathe him.
Maduro’s approval rating, on the other hand, is hovering around 20 percent, with opponents calling this weekend’s vote the only way for him to remain in the presidential palace.
He has promised Venezuelans that the assembly will herald a new era of security and stability. 
“July 30 will be the birth of a historic trigger of the homeland for a new phase of peace and advancement,” Maduro told a campaign rally this week.
Notice the "What's the big deal?" dismissal of using Venezuela's powerful oil economy to benefit the poor. This is pro forma in the prestige press, along with the blanket elision of the U.S.-backed 2002 coup that temporarily ousted Chavez from office.

It was the allegiance of the poor that saved Chavez's bacon, and Greg Grandin writes in "Down from the Mountain," it is the poor who are going to prevent Maduro's government from collapsing:
Marches and countermarches are usually a signal that history is on the move, that change, of some kind, is coming. But Venezuela is in stasis. Negotiations between the government and its opponents are announced, and then called off. The Vatican says it will mediate and the Organisation of American states says it will intervene, but nothing happens. Both sides, it seems, are waiting, tremulously, for the barrios populares,filled with working-class people, to render their verdict. Anti-government forces have called on them to join their protests, and have even encouraged them to loot and riot. These calls, for the most part, have gone unanswered. As the historian Alejandro Velasco has pointed out, Chávez acknowledged these people on a primal level, recognising them as citizens with legitimate demands and fundamental rights. In exchange, they turned out again and again on the streets and at the polls to defend the Bolivarian revolution. In contrast, anti-government forces want them as shock troops to break the deadlock. Maduro may have lost their goodwill, but social gains won in the heyday of Chavismo – schools, food distribution centres, health clinics, daycare – are still functioning, however stressed, in these neighbourhoods, and while their residents may not be actively supporting the government, they aren’t yet ready to overthrow it. Meanwhile Chávez, in death as in life, continues to transcend the polarisation. According to a recent poll, 79 per cent picked him as the best president the country has ever had. A slightly smaller but still large majority say he was Venezuela’s most democratic and efficient leader.
Clifford Krauss makes a lukewarm case today in "Wider U.S. Sanctions on Venezuela Risk Biting Both Countries" that the Maduro government can survive even if Trump targets the oil economy:
Venezuela now sells more than 700,000 barrels of oil a day to the United States, out of a total production of roughly two million barrels a day, or just over 2 percent of world production. Energy experts say Venezuela could eventually replace the American market, by exporting more heavy oil to China and India, though at a discount. And the 100,000 barrels a day of light oil it imports from the United States could be replaced by imports from Nigeria and Algeria.
Venezuela would have to move quickly. It faces big bond payments later this year, and its foreign reserves are dwindling.
“They have shown that they can get along, so I’m not sure suspending the purchasing of 700,000 barrels will crack the government,” said Luis E. Giusti, a former Pdvsa chief executive. “How much more things will deteriorate compared to what is happening now is a big question that doesn’t have a straightforward answer.”
The larger question, and a question that confronts me every day that I read The New York Times, is, "How many official enemies can the U.S. maintain?"

Right now -- in no particular order -- U.S. official enemies as identified in The New York Times include Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, China, the Duterte government of the Philippines, Erdogan's Turkey, and Lebanon's Hezbollah. I'll stop there. But if we were to include majorities currently not in office, we would have to mention the Taliban in Afghanistan and Corbyn's Labour in the U.K.

At least since the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011 it has been clear that U.S. foreign policy seeks the creation of failed states in lieu of detente or allegiance. That's why there is currently more displaced people than at any time since World War Two.

We'll see if the U.S. is truly done with the Salafis in Syria, or if a new war for Kurdistan can be avoided. But even if peace returns to the Levant, there is always Ukraine or the South China Sea or the Korean Peninsula or Venezuela. It's the "Rosy Future of War."

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