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"What the Hell Happened to Venezuela?" Part II: Sanctions & Starvation
How the U.S. crippled and killed Venezuela through economic warfare.
In Part I of this series, we started examining the Right’s favorite Socialist boogeyman of Venezuela to learn how a once-promising Socialist state became embroiled in economic collapse and social upheaval. If you haven’t read Part I yet, I suggest you start there to learn the pertinent background information about Venezuela’s relationship with the International Monetary Fund, the rise of Hugo Chavez, and the 2014 oil crash that set off the country’s economic troubles.
Following the 2014 - 2016 crash in global oil prices, it appeared Venezuela was on a path to recovery. Oil prices were rising, and similar countries that derived their state revenue from oil exports were beginning to exit the recession. To the observers of 2016, Venezuela was to be one of many countries that suffered from the oil crash, but soon recovered and returned to stability. As I said in Part I, had the United States not intervened, Venezuela’s story would be very different from the one we have today.
But as we know, the United States did intervene through its favorite method of collective punishment: sanctions.
By 2017, global oil production and prices were rising. Oil exporting nations were on the path back from their temporary hardship, and things were looking up.
But to the amazement of everyone (even himself), Donald Trump won the 2016 election. After taking office in 2017, Trump enjoyed the brief grace period given to all new Presidents, then immediately began to show why he was unfit for office. With rapidly falling approval numbers and little proof he was anything but an indictment of the absurdity of America’s electoral system, Trump started doing what he does best: he went on the offensive.
Playing off a message that the “woke/antifa/Socialist/Marxist” Democrats would ruin the country faster than he was, Trump picked the financially troubled but openly Socialist Venezuela as one of his many targets. This was certainly not the first time Venezuela had come under Washington’s guns, but it was the most severe.
In August 2017, Trump’s administration imposed financial sanctions on the country, preventing Venezuelan bonds from being traded in U.S. markets. This meant that the still-struggling Venezuelan state was unable to borrow money through U.S. financial markets, shutting it out of the global trading center and further devastating the economy. It should also be noted that this prevented Venezuela from borrowing outside the U.S. as well, as many international financial entities are intertwined in the U.S. markets in one way or another. This sanctions package also prevented CITGO, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, from sending its revenue back home.
But Venezuela endured, prompting another sanctions package in January 2019, this time targeting the oil directly. These sanctions prohibited the U.S. from purchasing Venezuelan oil. This was a crippling blow, as the States had been Venezuela’s largest buyer, purchasing 35.6% of exports in 2018. And though it was not a formal punishment, the U.S. pressured other nations (namely India) to stop buying Venezuelan oil as well.
The result of these two sanctions packages was devastating to the Venezuelan people. Unable to conduct business with the American companies that provided electrical equipment, the country was subjected to long blackouts from 2019 onward. Food imports decreased by roughly $9 billion, and starvation was rampant. According to the National Survey on Living Conditions, a yearly survey conducted by Venezuelan Universities, the sanctions led to an additional 40,000 Venezuelan deaths.
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The Blame Game
Like every other instance of the U.S. venturing abroad to the detriment of non-Americans, the Washington Foreign Policy Establishment, a.k.a. The Blob, insists that its actions are not to blame for Venezuela’s financial ruin. In their eyes, they see Maduro as a Putin-esque dictator, crushing dissents and preventing
This is an absurd claim, one easily put to rest by a glance at this chart of Venezuelan oil production contextualized against the imposition of American sanctions.
Clearly, Venezuela’s troubles began with the falling oil prices of 2014- 2016 but were massively exacerbated by American economic imperialism.
Recall from Part I that oil exports comprise 96% of Venezuela’s national income. Sanctions on the industry that is for all intents and purposes, the entirety of the country’s income, aren’t a “deterrent” — they’re a death sentence.
To be clear, Donald Trump is not the only one to blame for killing Venezuela. Foreign policy has long been the area of greatest consensus between Republicans and Democrats, as they both have enacted and supported coups, sanctions, drone strikes, and interventions on any government or nation deemed a threat to the omnipotence of international Capitalism.
Decades of neoliberal dominance, intervention-first foreign policy, and the legacy of Cold War anti-Communism primed politicians of both parties to champion the sanctions on Venezuela that were quite literally starving the country.
And that’s not even the worst part.
Next week we’ll examine the U.S.-supported destabilization attempts against the Maduro government, and the frontman for them, Juan Guaidó. Subscribe so you don’t miss it.
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