End British Theft of Venezuela’s Gold!

Online event. 20 January 2022 hosted by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign and supported by the Morning Star and Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America.

Luke Daniels (Venezuela Solidarity Campaign Executive Committee member and also President of Caribbean Labour Solidarity) introduced the meeting which focused on the latest situation with regards to the UK withholding Venezuela’s gold – and how this relates to the US’s illegal sanctions on Venezuela. The US’s sanctions, ratcheted up by Trump and now maintained by Biden have created a blockade of the country that aims to asphyxiate its economy and achieve illegal “regime change.”

Luke explained how Boris Johnson’s government endorses these sanctions as well as imposing its own, and is currently supporting the Bank of England’s refusal to return to the Maduro government over £800m of Venezuela’s gold held in its vaults. This is yet another example in a long line of terrible cases where the operation of so-called ‘British justice’ is a tool to crush those challenging the established order.

As the position of self-declared ‘interim president’ Juan Guaidό crumbles and Venezuela’s opposition parties return to contesting elections, more pressure on the US and UK governments is needed to end the sanctions and give back the gold.

Luke emphasised that the Venezuelan gold deposited in the Bank of England is the property of the Venezuelan people, not British banks. Preventing its return, like all such sanctions, only hurts the poorest in Venezuelan society.

The first speaker was Christine Blower of Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, who highlighted how Venezuela is a critical stage, more than six years after the US’s sanctions – illegal under international law – were first imposed.

Sanctions have asphyxiated Venezuela’s economy and degraded people’s living standards, killing at least 50,000 according to one report. The continuation of sanctions during the pandemic, restricting the country’s ability to buy medical supplies, has been nothing short of criminal. Instead of opting for peace and dialogue, Biden renewed the sanctions in March 2021.

In the UK, we have a particular duty to campaign for the return of Venezuela’s gold and oppose the illegal sanctions, so Christine urged everyone to sign VSC’s petitions and engage in solidarity with Venezuela.

VSC Secretary Francisco Dominguez highlighted howcurrently the conditions to make inroads into the support for the US blockade were more favourable. The UK government is now the only European government not to have jettisoned so-called “interim president” Juan Guaidό whose support has drained away – only 16 countries still support him while the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly recognised Maduro as Venezuela’s president in a recent vote.

So, we must keep up the pressure to force the return of the 31 tons of gold to Venezuela, under a mooted arrangement with the UN Development Programme, so that Venezuela can use the assets to buy food, vaccines and other medicines.

Francisco drew attention to other examples of the illegal confiscation of Venezuelan assets – European financial institutions hold $7 billion, while the US has confiscated $60 bn, all of which should be returned as part of the blockade being immediately and unconditionally lifted.

Venezuela is entitled to decide its own affairs and must survive, or else a very dangerous precedent is being set of the US getting away with destabilising and overthrowing an elected government. Despite the rigours of the blockade, with the aid of supportive countries Venezuela is recovering economically and has managed to get previously astronomical levels of inflation down to around 7%. This heroic resistance to US aggression has been an inspiration for other Latin American countries.

Francisco’s final point was to note that this year is crucial in relation to the forces in Latin America that can confront US aggression, governments where the Left is in power now (Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Honduras, as well as Nicaragua and Cuba) or after elections this year, as in Brazil where Lula is polling at 45% against Bolsonaro’s low 20s.With everything to play for, we need to go for the weakest link – the UK government – and cascade support for Venezuela across Europe.

Sue Grey as VSC’s Vice-chair explained how Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) had been campaigning in defence of Venezuela’s national sovereignty since the early days of Chavez’s presidency, noting how the US has consistently wanted to achieve illegal ‘regime change’ in the country, using a range of methods.

Using Facebook, Twitter, the VSC website and the promotion of articles in sympathetic press outlets VSC has focused on condemning the illegal, coercive sanctions, with a petition (http://bit.ly/stopvenezuelasanctions) and the Bank of England’s withholding of Venezuela’s gold resources, which are desperately needed to help combat the pandemic (again with a petition – https://www.change.org/p/boris-johnson-mp-give-venezuela-back-its-gold ).

Most recently, VSC has been supporting the campaign against the US’s attempts to extradite Alex Saab, about which more later.

VSC is immensely grateful for the support of our national TU affiliates and all our members and volunteers, but all this work costs money, so donations to VSC are very welcome, and can be made at https://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/donate/.

For those who are not yet members of VSC, please join the campaign, (https://www.venezuelasolidarity.co.uk/join/), follow us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/VenSolidarity/) and Twitter (VSC @VenSolidarity) and please keep supporting VSC.

Suzie Gilbert from the Free Alex Saab campaign gave a brief update on the US’s kidnapping of Venezuelan diplomat Alex Saab. Saab was arrested on orders from Washington in June 2020 during a stopover in Cabo Verde on his way reportedly to Iran to secure food and fuel imports for Venezuela. He was detained and tortured and then extradited to Miami to face ‘money laundering’ charges, despite all this being illegal given his diplomatic status.

He now faces a court case in April regarding the issue of immunity. Various international bodies have spoken out against his detention and CODEPINK has set up a petition (https://www.codepink.org/freealexsaab). Suzie urged those attending to sign the petition and support the campaign to free him.

Teri Mattson, CODEPINK peace campaign’s Latin America Campaign Coordinator in the US noted that the gold in the Bank of England was not the only theft from Venezuela – the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington and the Consulate in New York also needed to be restored to their rightful owners. This type of piracy is a tactic used on other countries too, such as Afghanistan where the US is failing to repatriate funds.

But in the long run this strategy of financial starvation won’t work in Venezuela, because Venezuelans understand what the US is doing and value their national sovereignty.

In the wider context, November saw key election outcomes, in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Honduras which saw the support for national sovereignty and against neo-liberalism. At Ortega’s inauguration, Venezuela’s resistance to US aggression in the hemisphere was acknowledged in a long, sustained ovation, while Nicaragua’s recognition of China and joining of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) development strategy (which aims to build connectivity and co-operation across six main economic corridors) marks a significant advance for the country.

With the new canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific and a possible new deep-water port, there are real possibilities of a trade triangle involving China, Venezuela and Nicaragua, realising Chavez’s vision of multi-lateral trading. This would build on the phenomenal forecasts of growth in the Venezuelan economy of between 3-6%.

Teri concluded that with election successes last year and the possibility of more to come, there was a lot of hope for the hemisphere, with a rebalancing of power enabling some negotiations to take place. As a key part of this, Venezuela’s heroic resistance is an example for the world.

Ben Chacko, Morning Star Editor, focused on the Supreme Court ruling which in recognising Guaidό made it plain that this was a political issue, not a legal one. Depriving Venezuela of its assets which could help fight the pandemic was simply punishment of Venezuela, and unsurprising from a government that has banned a list of medicines from export from the UK because they are needed for UK patients.

The UK government’s support for US sanctions, which in 2017-18 alone led to 40,000 people in Venezuela, is a political decision in support of the US government, joining it in depriving Venezuela of resources to fight the pandemic.

As such, it is an offence to our national sovereignty to be following on the coattails of the US and must be opposed.

Carlos Ron, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and President of the Simon Bolivar Institute, outlined how the US’s aggressive policies against Venezuela remain intact, despite there being some hope a year ago that the Biden administration would bring some change.

So, the US’s hybrid war, involving a negative media narrative, political violence, and coercive sanctions constituting a blockade against Venezuela continues in an effort to cause instability and breakdown. Overall, Venezuela has lost 99% of its income, with $30 billion abroad being withheld.

This harassment and persecution have affected Venezuela’s freedom to trade, and its stolen gold reserves could have paid for vaccinating the entire population last year. But although the US has threatened vaccine producers and blocked purchases, through the solidarity of various countries 89% of the population are fully vaccinated and boosters are now being given.

Challenges remain, such as providing water where most water is piped and reliant on working pumps, but sanctions obstruct buying spare parts and equipment.

On the positive side, Venezuela has demonstrated outstanding resilience. Workers have shown clever ingenuity, creating solutions to problems to enable production to be sustained and pick up. Other measures include tax reforms, optimising subsidies and the anti-blockade law. Production has recovered in the oil industry, with one million barrels expected by the end of 2021 and a target of two million by the end of 2022.

As a result, this wartime economy is expected to grow this year by at least 3%, which is higher than, say, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador, while social programmes such as the CLAP programme and the Missions continue to protect living conditions and sustain education, healthcare and housing provision.

The Venezuelan government would continue to regain its stolen assets – some of which, he noted, were funding Guaidό’s collection of 1600 people on a salary of $1,000 a year (twelve times the minimum wage).

Overall, the region is looking promising. The neoliberal model is clearly outdated and based on divisions withing the progressive camp. Venezuela will continue to be at the forefront of challenging the neoliberal model and standing up to imperialism, alongside Cuba which is a beacon of humanity.

Carlos concluded by thanking the organisers and urged all those attending to counter the mainstream media narrative against Venezuela and continue campaigning against the injustices of the blockade.

Luke Daniels thanked all the speakers for their contributions, especially Carlos for the example of how Venezuela has stood up to and resisted US aggression.

For solidarity activists in Britain, the absolute key now is to oppose external intervention in Venezuela, call for an end to US sanctions and campaign for the UK Government to return Venezuela’s gold.

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