While the US government has always denied that sanctions against Venezuela could affect the population, and claimed they only penalized senior Chavista officials and companies linked to them, there could be no clearer refutation of this claim than the one that just came from the UN.
The preliminary results from a visit to the country by Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures and Human Rights, from February 1 to February 12, show unequivocally how “devastating” the consequences of the embargo are “the whole population of Venezuela, especially but not only those in extreme poverty, women, children, medical workers, people with disabilities or life-threatening or chronic diseases, and the indigenous populations.”
The preliminary report, which is the result of meetings with the government, the opposition, the Catholic Church and NGOs, does not go easy on the Chavista administration, acknowledging, for example, that the economic crisis had already begun in 2014 with the fall in oil prices, in the context of an economy largely dependent on crude oil exports.
It was a crisis favored by domestic production that was insufficient to meet the population’s consumption needs, resulting in the need to import most products, from machinery and spare parts to food and medicine.
However, the extent to which the sanctions—first introduced in 2005 and severely tightened since 2015 to a total economic embargo in August 2019—have made the problems more serious (and, one might add, prevented the government from taking action to resolve the crisis) remains clear. According to the preliminary conclusions of the report that will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September, this explains the 99% reduction in state revenues, the erosion of working conditions, the fall in wages from $150-$500 in 2015 to $1-$10 in 2020, the collapse of public services, including the provision of water and electricity, the shortage of medicines and the growth in food insecurity.
Against this dramatic backdrop, Alena Douhan’s call for the US, EU and other countries to withdraw their unilateral coercive measures against Venezuela could not have been more forceful, as well as for the UK, Portugal and the US to unfreeze the funds of the Venezuelan Central Bank—amounting to $6 billion, now under the control of Juan Guaidó—to allow the purchase of medicines, vaccines, food, spare parts and other goods needed to guarantee the humanitarian needs of the Venezuelan people and the recovery of public services under the supervision of UN bodies.
Some things seem to be starting to move in this direction. A first sign of a possible softening of sanctions by the US came on February 2, with the US Treasury Department’s decision to authorize routine operations at Venezuelan ports and airports, which had been banned by an executive order issued in 2019 by the Trump administration, although the ban on transactions or activities related to the export of compounds “to produce gasoline directly or indirectly” remains in effect.
On the health front as well, after Guaidó’s rejection of the government’s proposal to allocate $120 million being illegally held in England to pay for anti-COVID vaccines, representatives of the Maduro government and those of the opposition leader met to discuss the purchase of vaccines through the Covax Global Access Fund, aimed at guaranteeing the vaccination campaign to poor countries as well.