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Sanctioning Venezuela to Death

Earlier this month, Francisco Rodriguez and Jeffrey Sachs called for a compromise solution in Venezuela, and they warned about what U.S. sanctions could do to the country:

By commandeering Venezuela’s only lifeline to food supplies and oil field equipment, the United States has lit the fuse. By the Trump administration’s own estimates, sanctions will cost Venezuela’s economy $11 billion in lost oil revenue in the next year, which is equal to 94 percent of what the country spent last year in goods imports. The result is likely to be an economic and humanitarian catastrophe of a dimension never seen in our hemisphere [bold mine-DL].

The people of Venezuela have already suffered from years of their government’s mismanagement, corruption, and abuse, and the imposition of sanctions sharply increases the burden they are forced to bear. This will not only inflict punishment on all of them in the near term, but it will also damage the country’s economic prospects in the future. The U.S. is not only interfering in Venezuela’s internal political dispute by declaring for one side, but our government is also taking extremely destructive action to achieve its goal. The Venezuelan people are the ones being made to pay the price for their government’s wrongdoing, and our government’s meddling is practically guaranteed to intensify their suffering and worsen their plight.

Rodriguez repeated his concerns in a recent interview with Democracy Now!:

What if this strategy doesn’t work in getting Maduro out of power? Then you have a country that’s already in a very fragile humanitarian situation, and you’re imposing crippling economic sanctions, and this risks creating a famine [bold mine-DL].

Modern famines are caused by political decisions, and if there is a famine in Venezuela it will be in large part because our government decided to exacerbate a severe humanitarian crisis for political reasons. That can’t be justified, and it makes a mockery of the administration’s claims to be on the side of the people.

Francisco Toro spells out how much the sanctions are expected to cost Venezuela every month that they are in effect:

Optimistic predictions of the impact of recent US oil sanctions alone suggest the country’s food imports will drop $120 million per month [bold mine-DL], and that is from inadequate levels that already saw three in four Venezuelans lose body weight due to hunger last year. And that’s just food, not to mention medicine, other supplies, fuel, etc.

There isn’t nearly enough humanitarian aid to make up for the shortfall created by the sanctions, and the dangerous decision to politicize aid deliveries makes it even less likely that the people will receive the aid they need. Toro concludes:

The basic message here is that aid-as-politics turns out to be incompatible with aid-as-aid in the Venezuelan context. If Guaidó’s strategy pans out and delivers a knockout blow to the Maduro regime in the near future, paving the way for large-scale relief efforts under a new government, it will be hailed as a masterstroke. But if it fails and the Maduro clique manages to entrench itself in power, it could be remembered as the prelude to a catastrophe on a scale that the western hemisphere hasn’t seen in decades [bold mine-DL].

What is clear is that the Venezuelan opposition – alongside powerful allies in the United States, Colombia, Brazil, and Europe – has chosen an exceptionally risky approach without a credible Plan B. For Venezuelans’ sake, we can only hope it works.

If it doesn’t work, the Venezuelan people will have been made to suffer even more for no good reason. The U.S. should have no part in making things worse for the civilian population there or anywhere else, and for that reason the administration should immediately lift the sanctions it has imposed.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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