As millions of Venezuelans starve, the US must take its share of the blame for the humanitarian and economic crisis
With the United Nations reporting that more than nine million Venezuelans lack food, America’s role in causing this disaster via crippling sanctions cannot go unacknowledged.
The economy of Venezuela is on the brink. To most people, that really isn’t news. While the Latin American nation has long been struggling to keep its head above water, 2020 has been a game changer in many respects.
The United States has continued to tighten the noose with sanctions in pursuit of regime change, oil prices have tumbled and Covid-19 has decimated the global economy, with the latest reports suggesting the country is suffering an unprecedented crisis.
A recent United Nations study states that Venezuela is now suffering from one of the world’s worst food shortages, with an estimated third of its population (9.3 million people) lacking sufficient nutrition and 13 percent of children under the age of five suffering from stunted growth.
With the country being 85 percent reliant on food imports, and the production of oil (its primary source of income) decimated, the outlook appears to be very bleak. But who is precisely to blame? And what ought to be done?
Critics of the Venezuelan government frequently point out that the country’s economic crisis was not so much brought about by American sanctions, as it was by sheer incompetence. Their observations are not completely unfounded. Caracas for many years followed what was a ‘socialist rentier’ model economy.
In Venezuela’s case, this meant a highly centralized state seeking to maintain its political survival by monopolizing the production and export of oil. Around 95 percent of the country’s exports were comprised of oil, and the benefits were subsequently redistributed in order to win political support.
For many years, this model earned a lot of praise, but it was fragile, due to its total dependency on oil prices, and structural mismanagement. A slump in oil prices in 2016 exposed its vulnerabilities and sent Venezuela’s economy into a tailspin, resulting in a currency collapse, hyperinflation, food shortages, and a refugee crisis.
Yet this would only be the tip of the iceberg. The arrival of the Trump administration and a White House obsessed with reaffirming America’s hegemony meant Venezuela’s economic demise was seen as an opportunity, and the US mounted a significant effort for regime change.
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This effort might be known as a ‘Neo-Monroe doctrine’ – a historically rooted foreign policy trend of the US to maintain indisputable dominance across the Western hemisphere, and to subsequently bring an end to any regime not in harmony with Washington’s own strategic preferences.
As a socialist, anti-American, Bolivarian state, Venezuela has long been on the hitlist. Foreign policy makers in Washington incorrectly assumed that owing to its crisis, a short, sustained period of pressure designed to exacerbate the crisis would see the government of Nicolás Maduro crumble in a coup and thus bring in the pro-US Juan Guaidó.
However, that was nearly two years ago. Nothing has changed and the policy is widely considered a failure. Yet this hasn’t quashed the White House’s aspirations to tighten the noose against Venezuela. Washington has weaponized the power of the US dollar to isolate the country from global energy markets and seize its foreign assets (or had others do so), rendering other nations unable or unwilling to purchase oil from it.
Despite all of this, however, the US could perhaps be forgiven in that there has been another set of circumstances that has dealt a killer blow to Venezuela – the Covid-19 crisis.
The onslaught of the virus and worldwide lockdowns and travel restrictions have been disastrous for global energy industries. There are fewer flights in the skies, and fewer cars and buses on the road. This sent oil prices to a record low of little more than $20 earlier this year.
The recovery has hardly been more substantial. The impact of the virus and Washington’s onslaught against Venezuela have had the cumulative effect of pretty much killing off its oil industry altogether, with nearly all of its rigs closing down by September. And so, the country’s crisis has deepened ever further.
While there is a credible argument that the US is not wholly culpable for Venezuela’s crisis, it has undeniably relished deliberately exacerbating it for its own political gain. As Geoff Ramsey of the Washington Office on Latin America told the Wall Street Journal: “While the food crisis didn’t begin with US sanctions, there is certainly no way you can say that the sanctions are not aggravating things.”
A more fitting question might be what has the US done to address or ease the situation? The answer is virtually nothing.
Whilst USAID has offered some funds for Covid-19 relief to the country, this isn’t stopping the people going hungry; it gives with one hand and effectively takes away with the other. And despite the worsening conditions, compromises on sanctions remain contingent upon political change in the country; the US remains unwilling to admit that the policy of inducing a coup by force has simply been a failure.
As ever, geopolitical ambitions are being played out via the destruction of a country that is already struggling on its own terms and the US is happy to exploit further, in the pursuit of flogging a dead horse.
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