The United States under President Trump has extended its economic blockade of Venezuela, with new punitive measures announced last month against the Venezuelan state- owned airline Conviasa and the Russian state energy giant Rosneft for buying oil cargoes from Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA.
Trump has also threatened further action, saying at a press conference in New Delhi that “you’ll be seeing something on that in the not-too-distant future…. there could be very serious sanctions.”White House Special Envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams has confirmed recently that the Trump administration will target customers who buy Venezuelan oil, even indirectly.
Foreign companies such as India’s Reliance and Spain’s Repsol would fall into this category.
The US’s unilateral coercive measures have already caused untold harm to millions of Venezuelans and the Venezuelan economy. In response, Venezuela has formally submitted charges against the US government to the International Criminal Court, arguing that the sanctions represent “crimes against humanity” and can be equated to “weapons of mass destruction.”
Numerous multilateral bodies, including the United Nations and the Non-Aligned Movement, have previously condemned US sanctions as being illegal under international law. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticised the sanctions a year ago, stressing her concern that they “may contribute to aggravating the economic crisis, with possible repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing.”
This is even truer today, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, since the blockade measures mainly target Venezuela’s ability to purchase food and medicines. Securing the necessary testing equipment for the initial stage of the coronavirus is three times as difficult under the blockade, according to the Venezuelan government.But rather than easing the blockade, the Trump administration has ratcheted it up by sanctioning a Swiss-based subsidiary of Russian energy company Rosneft for brokering the sale and transport of Venezuelan crude oil.
Meanwhile, the process of dialogue between the government and a substantial section of the opposition is steadily advancing. The new president of the National Assembly, Luis Parra Flores, who is a member of the Primero Justicia party, is playing an important role here.
Agreements include the setting up of a new National Electoral Council and elections to the National Assembly. The effect of this is to isolate and marginalise the self-proclaimed president Juan Guaidό. Not only is he mired in scandal about corruption and connections with Colombian paramilitaries; he is also calling for more sanctions and even military aggression against his own country.
All told, this reduces US leverage to influence Venezuela’s domestic politics through opposition surrogates. In growing desperation, the Trump administration is working through the US Southern Command to enlist both Colombia’s Duque and Brazil’s Bolsonaro in a possible military adventure against Venezuela, including a naval blockade.
Despite clear indications of these US manoeuvres, the EU is currently maintaining a deafening silence, while Boris Johnson can be expected to raise no objections, if not actually go along with any US adventure.