By Andreína Chávez Alava
Guayaquil, Ecuador, (venezuelanalysis.com) – US Democratic representative and chair of the House Rules Committee, Jim McGovern, urged President Joe Biden to end economic sanctions against Venezuela.
In a letter sent to the White House on Monday, McGovern asked Biden to “lift all secondary and sectoral sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the Trump Administration,” calling them “misguided and immoral.”
The representative from Massachusetts recalled that the US unilaterally imposed broader sanctions in 2017 against Venezuela’s “oil economy, the Maduro government and entities supporting the government,” in order to force “regime change.”
McGovern stressed that Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign has only created “economic pain” to Venezuelans for “failing to comply with conditions the US imposes.”
“Sanctions should never be used to punish whole populations for the actions of their leaders or to bludgeon an adversary into submission,” the congressman stated.
McGovern laid blame on US economic sanctions for Venezuela’s worsening crisis. “The clearest recent example is that fuel shortages exacerbated by the end of US-licensed oil-for-diesel- swaps in the fall of 2020 have contributed to the food crisis and made humanitarian aid delivery even more challenging,” he wrote, adding that the Covid-19 pandemic has further strained the South American country’s healthcare system.
The high-ranking House Democrat went on to stress that it was time “for a course correction on US policy toward Venezuela” and “stop using the well-being of the Venezuelan people as a bargaining chip” for foreign policy goals.
Washington’s sanctions against Venezuela have been widely condemned by a number of multilateral organizations and international experts for amounting to “collective punishment.” During a virtual conference on June 9, UN Special Rapporteur Alena Douhan and UN independent human rights expert Alfred de Zayas denounced the human rights violations caused by US extraterritorial coercive measures.
The sanctions levied against the Caribbean nation have targeted key sectors of the Venezuelan economy, including mining, banking, food imports and especially the oil industry, the country’s main source of foreign currency. Following financial sanctions against state oil company PDVSA in August 2017, the US Treasury Department imposed an oil embargo in January 2019.
Washington has also enforced secondary sanctions against third parties, shipping companies and other intermediaries trading with Caracas and blocked, frozen or seized a host of Venezuelan assets abroad.
Additionally, the South American country started to face acute fuel shortages after Washington banned diluent and fuel imports in June 2019 and put an end to crude-for-diesel swaps in October 2020. Diesel is the main fuel used in the country for transporting food and medicine, electricity generation and agricultural activity.
Representative McGovern follows a number of Democrats in calling for sanctions relief. Ilhan Omar, Jesús García, Elizabeth Warren and Chris Murphy penned letters earlier this year asking the Biden administration to revise its sanctions policy amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.
McGovern’s letter was welcomed by a number of international actors, including the Washington DC-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). “There is no longer any way to hide the fact, which every economist knows, that the terrible suffering and death that Venezuela has experienced in recent years is overwhelmingly a result of economic collapse and deprivation caused by US sanctions,” said Mark Weisbrot, the think tank’s co-director.
In a press release, CEPR recalled that economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela caused at least 40,000 deaths in their first year (2017-18), a figure acknowledged in a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report. The organization added that “tens of thousands” more deaths will have likely occurred since then.
Weisbrot noted that the Massachusetts congressman’s letter signals a “big change from Congressional leadership” and called for more Democrats to demand “that President Biden end this suffering and death caused by the Trump sanctions.”
Likewise, a reaction came from Venezuelan Vice-minister of Anti-Blockade Policy, William Castillo, who said that the US representative’s request was “sensible and logical,” given the failed regime-change efforts.
In February 2020, Venezuela filed a lawsuit at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to have sanctions classed as “crimes against humanity.”