By Dan Kovalik
The other day, I heard a fairly lengthy report on NPR about the struggles of Venezuela in fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Incredibly, the word “sanctions” was not mentioned once in this broadcast. I say “incredibly” because US sanctions against Venezuela have been hampering that country’s fight against disease and preventable death for years. Yet, the compliant US media seems to take great pains to conceal this reality.
According to a report put out by the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and co-authored by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, more than 40,000 Venezuelans were killed by US sanctions in one year alone, 2017-2018, and they estimated that an even larger number of Venezuelans would die as the result of a new and harsher round of sanctions imposed at the beginning of 2019. Weisbrot and Sachs based these numbers upon the estimate of Venezuelans needing certain life-saving drugs (e.g., HIV medications, insulin, chemotherapy drugs) which Venezuela has been denied by US sanctions. If anything, their estimates were quite conservative. For his part, former UN Special Rapporteur, Dr. Alfred de Zayas, estimates that around 100,000 Venezuelans have died due to US sanctions.
And now, of course, the sanctions have become even more deadly as the Covid-19 pandemic spreads throughout Latin America. As a good article on Common Dreams by Leonardo Flores explains, “[r]egarding coronavirus specifically, the sanctions raise the costs of testing kits and medical supplies, and ban Venezuela’s government from purchasing medical equipment from the U.S. (and from many European countries).”
This is why the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has called for an end to sanctions on countries like Venezuela in order to allow them the ability to fight the pandemic. As Ms. Bachelet reasonably asserts, “at this crucial time, both for global public health reasons, and to support the rights and lives of millions of people in these countries, sectoral sanctions should be eased or suspended. In a context of global pandemic, impeding medical efforts in one country heightens the risk for all of us.”
But, of course, the US has not heeded such calls and, in fact, has only upped the aggression against Venezuela, recently sending warships to waters near Venezuelan shores on the pretext of fighting drugs. However, as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) explains, the US government’s own data belie its claims that Venezuela and President Maduro are trafficking in drugs. Moreover, “former Vice Secretary of the United Nations and Former Executive Director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime Pino Arlacchi reminded . . . that Venezuela has always been outside the main cocaine trafficking circuits between the world’s main producer and consumer; Colombia and the United States.” And, of course, the fact that Colombia supplies the US with nearly all of its cocaine has not disqualified Colombia from remaining the US’s closest ally in the region.
And so, the US’s naval maneuvers near Venezuela can only be seen for what they truly are – old fashioned, imperialist “gunship diplomacy” aimed at regime change. That this is being carried out during a deadly pandemic only makes it even more truly reprehensible.
Meanwhile, it should be noted that, despite US sanctions, threats and provocations, the Venezuelan government is doing an exemplary job with what it has to fight the current pandemic. Indeed, it is doing much better than its neighbors, and better than the US. Venezuela has had only 345 Covid-19 infections with only 10 deaths, as of May 2. And this is because the Maduro government, unlike the Trump Administration, acted quickly and decisively to handle the Covid-19 outbreak, declaring a health emergency, prohibiting crowds from gathering and canceling various international flights even before the first case was reported. Then, after the first case was confirmed, the government then moved quickly to close non-essential businesses and to impose a national quarantine which ninety percent of the country has honored, thus saving thousands of lives.
In other words, Venezuela does not need “saving” by the US, as so many government officials and media pundits would have us believe. Rather, Venezuela simply needs the US to stop its economic and military assault upon it, and to allow it to work through its own problems as any sovereign nation has the right to do.
Daniel Kovalik is the author of The Plot to Overthrow Venezuela (2019) and the just-released No More War: How The West Violates International Law by Using “Humanitarian” Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests.
NewPeople Newspaper VOL. 50 No. 4. May/June, 2020. All rights reserved.