transcriptSHARMINI PERIES: It's the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. Over 150 intellectuals and activists from the U.S. and Canada signed an open letter to the Trump administration, urging the U.S. government to end sanctions against Venezuela. Signatories include academic Noam Chomsky, actor Danny Glover, Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein and the Code Pink founder Medea Benjamin. They are among the 150 signatories on the letter. Another signatory to this letter is our friend De Zayas, a former Chief of Petitions at Department of the UN High Commission for human rights. He visited Venezuela as a UN special rapporteur in November and December of last year. He joins us now from Geneva.ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Pleasure to be here.SHARMINI PERIES: Dr. Zayas, when you first returned from Venezuela last December you publicly stated, "There is no humanitarian crisis in Venezuela." That was when there was widespread claims in the international media to the contrary. You know, we saw images of various confrontations between police and youthful protesters on the streets, tear gas cannons, and various attacks on the police and the military that was present. These were not images of an un-crisis, in fact. What made you make that claim?ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Humanitarian crisis is a term of art. It is a terminus technicus. The problem with hyperboles, the problem with loose use of language, is that you can say the government has failed to protect the human rights of the population, there is a humanitarian crisis; therefore we should have a humanitarian intervention and a military intervention. That is the problem. We saw that same argument in the context of Kosovo. We saw that same argument in the context of Libya. There is a prohibition on the use of force, Article 2 Paragraph 4 of the UN charter is preremptory to international law. It prevails over all other principles, if you want. There is a distinct danger of military intervention, as we know from prior history. The United States intervened in Grenada, in Haiti, in Panama and it tried to overturn the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, et cetera. It's not out of the question that a military action could be taken, and that must be averted. Now, humanitarian crisis ... I'm not the only one who says that there is no humanitarian crisis. The SEPAL, which is an organization in Latin America that does studies and comparisons of the level of hunger or the level of poverty, et cetera, has said quite clearly there's no humanitarian crisis. The FAO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, in its latest reports they list 37 countries where there is a humanitarian crisis. Venezuela is not among them. So I want to move away from overheated rhetoric. I want to help the Venezuelan people, and the Venezuelan people are not being helped by the economic war that is being waged against Venezuela, or also imposed by Canada and some countries of the European Union. SHARMINI PERIES: Dr. Zayas, What effects are the U.S. and Canadian sanctions having on Venezuela's economic situation?ALFRED DE ZAYAS: Well, they have considerably aggravated the economic crisis of the country. If you want to buy medicine abroad--and as you know 95 percent of the income of Venezuela comes from oil. Now, they must have access to their money or their money's being frozen in the United States, and assets that they have in the United States, they cannot transfer them to Venezuela. There is a problem with bank intermediaries. When Venezuela wants to buy medicine, like recently in November they had a malaria crisis in the south. They tried to buy in Columbia. Columbia refused. They ended up buying the anti-malaria medicine in India, which of course cost a lot more money. Now, they're encountering a blockage at every step. That adds to the scarcity of certain food items and of certain medicines that are imported from abroad, and it adds to the anxiety and the insecurity of the population. So if you want to help the Venezuelan people, and supposedly that's what we all want, then the first thing you have to do is to lift the sanctions and to stop this economic war, which reminds us of the economic war waged against the Salvador Allende government from 1970-1973. If you know the book by Peter Kwon Blu based on the declassified papers of Nixon and Kissinger at the time, Nixon said very clearly that it would not be tolerated to have an alternative economic system take hold in Latin America. Then he added, quote unquote, "...that we shall make the Chilean economy scream." Now, today, we are making the Venezuelan economy scream. Sanctions have been condemned by the United Nations for decades. There is an important report of the United Nations subcommission on the promotion and protection of human rights. A report written by Professor Marc Bossuyt at the time, he was also the president of the Constitutional Court of Belgium. In that report it's very clear the illegality of unilateral course of measures. We have for the last three years a rapporteur of the United Nations on unilateral course of measures and he has repetitively condemned these measures as inimical to everything that the United Nations stands for the right to development, human rights, human dignity, et cetera. If you go back to the Iraq sanctions--now the Iraq sanctions were imposed by the Security Council, but even those sanctions caused untold suffering. UNESCO reported as early as 1995 that over 500,000 children had died of a direct result of those sanctions and two United Nations so called humanitarian coordinators for Iraq, Denis Halliday and Hans Christophe Graf von Sponeck, both of whom I know very well, they resigned in protest. And Denis Halliday quite specifically called the sanctions a form of genocide. What happened is, by the time the sanctions where lifted in 2003, more than 1,00,000 Iraqis had lost their lives as a result of these sanctions. I would not necessarily use the word genocide, but I certainly would use the word crime against humanity. I think when the magnitude of the suffering that sanctions cause is as it was in Iraq or as is now becoming apparent in Venezuela, I can say that the sanctions against Venezuela entail a crime against humanity, which could be brought against the International Criminal Court as a violation of Article 7 of the Statute of Rome.SHARMINI PERIES: Dr. Zayas, in your recent visit to Venezuela in November and December of 2017, you met with a number of local organizations and experts, and people who are on the ground. Give us a sense of who you met with before you came to the conclusions you have, which is apparently yet to be reported on at the United Nations.ALFRED DE ZAYAS: As you very correctly said, I did receive visits from some 35 non-governmental organizations, about half of them critical of the government, half of them favorable to the government. Among those critical where PROVEA, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, et cetera. I also saw professors at the university who were critical. I also saw members of the opposition. I saw members of the National Assembly. I saw business circles. I saw the Chamber of Commerce [Spanish 00:11:07], et cetera, in order to obtain information firsthand. And I did receive an enormous amount of documentation, statistics, et cerea. I'm results oriented. I'm not interested in naming and shaming. I'm not interested in condemning. I'm interested in seeing how can we help these people? I want to help the Venezuelan people, not the government. The government is in charge of implementing changes, only the government can improve the situation of the Venezuelan people. Therefore, I had the opportunity of meeting with 16 ministers of the government, and I presented them with six pages of recommendations, some of which have already come into effect. Among them, they released 80 detainees, and I made myself very strong for some of them. They also increased sustainability in their cooperation with the UN agencies in Venezuela, matter of fact, I took the initiative of convening a meeting with all the UN agencies and other agencies in Venezuela. So as to discuss, how can we give this government advisory services and technical assistance? How can we help solve the problems of distribution? How can we help solve the problems of scarcity of medicine and scarcity of foods? To the extent that there is scarcity any country or any organization who wants to provide humanitarian assistance, that humanitarian assistance is welcome. The problem is, is that humanitarian assistance going to be conditioned? Are there going to be strings attached, which are going to impinge on the sovereignty of the Venezuelan government? I believe that our function as rapporteurs is to study a situation. To listen to all stakeholders. To reach a constructive conclusion, and to try to persuade the government that it is in its own interest to make certain necessary reforms, and that is what I did. I consider my mission to have been remarkably successful. What is peculiar is that although I was the first rapporteur in 21 years to go to Venezuela, although I have opened the door for other rapporteurs, and indeed Venezuela has invited the rapporteur on sanctions, that is, Dr. Idriss Jazairy, and they've also invited the rapporteur on the right to development. When I left I spoke with the foreign minister and I tried to convince him that we rapporteurs can bring an added value, not just naming and shaming. Not just insulting the government that brings nothing, but bringing some ideas and facilitating some form of mediation, dialogue between the government and the opposition. SHARMINI PERIES: Dr. Zayas, the opposition has been calling for presidential elections to be taking place immediately for several years now. In fact, they tried to frame Venezuela as a country with such unrest, and President Maduro didn't have the moral mandate to govern. So they got their wish, which is that President Maduro finally called for presidential elections to be taking place immediately, as soon as possible. Now they're saying they will boycott the elections, and in fact Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, before leaving on a Latin American tour a few weeks ago stated that even if Venezuela holds a presidential election the United States won't recognize it. In fact, he tried to get various Latin American countries to sign on to an agreement to not recognize the Venezuelan elections. It didn't quite go the way the United States wanted, but still we have a situation where the opposition parties are not participating in the upcoming presidential elections. And I understand that you where a part of or at least in the room when the negotiations between the opposition and the government took place in the Dominican Republic not to long ago. Tell us what your observations where and whether the position of the opposition of not participating in these elections are the correct ones.ALFRED DE ZAYAS: As far as elections, you must consider that since 1999 since the arrival of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro there has been 25 elections in Venezuela. The democratic culture of elections does exist. But remarkably enough, because there's such polarization, certain political parties want to boycott. Now I find that extremely, extremely regrettable, because you want to have maximum participation of the population. Indeed, it was the opposition that was demanding early elections. Once the date was set, and that was, by the way, in the agreement that was not signed. The government signed it, but the opposition didn't. The agreement that was reached thanks to Rodriguez Zapatero had foreseen the elections for the 22nd of April. It was so much protest by some sectors of the opposition the government actually decided to postpone the elections till the 20th of May. There is a certain amount of time to engage in political campaign, which is what you would expect in the democratic country to take place, and we will see what happens in May. But if you already decide you're not going to participate then where do we go from here? You cannot have that kind of polarization. My concern is to add my voice to those who say the policy of extraterritorial application of United States laws, the policy of imposing sanctions, the policy of preventing the Venezuelan government from issuing bonds and selling those bonds et cetera, et cetera, who is suffering the consequences? The Venezuelan people. It's not something like you are freezing the assets of the ministers or Mr. Maduro or whatever. You're actually hurting the people. And to the extent that sanctions have caused death--and they have. If you need insulin and you don't get insulin because the sanctions make it very difficult to get it, or the sanctions delay the availability of the medicine, you get the medicine too late, you die. I think that a study should be conducted precisely into that issue. How many people have actually lost their lives because of sanctions and because of this economic war? By the way, this economic war is clearly in violation of the Charter of the Organization of American States. I mean Chapter 4, Article 19 prohibits that quite specifically. Also in the United Nations system you have numerous resolutions of the General Assembly that prohibit this kind of interference of the internal affairs of states and in particular in the economic affairs of states, for instance Resolution 26/25, the famous friendly relations resolution. And that is where I would like to see academics and persons of the moral authority of Norm Chomsky asking for a--the only humanitarian thing that you can do, which is a termination of this illegal application of this Helms-Burton Act and illegal application of sanctions against the Venezuelan people.SHARMINI PERIES: Dr. Zayas, I thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to your report, and to you coming back on the Real News when that report is out.ALFRED DE ZAYAS: It would be my pleasure.SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on the Real News Network.