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Declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the U.S., President Trump renewed Obama’s sanctions against Venzuela–violating international law in the process, says CEPR co-director Mark Weisbrot

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. President Trump issued an executive order on Friday renewing sanctions against Venezuela. As required by law, the executive order states that Venezuela continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. The sanctions renewal comes a day after the Venezuelan government announced it reached an agreement with all presidential candidates to postpone the presidential elections from April 22 to May 20. Despite this agreement, most opposition parties continue to call for a boycott. They say that not enough of their demands have been met, such as the appointment of a new national electoral council.
Joining me now to discuss the Trump administration’s effort to stop the presidential elections in Venezuela is Mark Weisbrot. Mark is the co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research and is the author of Failed: What Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. He joins us from Washington, D.C.. Thanks for joining us, Mark.
MARK WEISBROT: Thanks for having me, Sharmini.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, the Trump administration says sanctions are because Venezuela poses a threat to the US. That threat is described how by the United States?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, he’s read it in the statement. It’s described as an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States. They don’t really try to make that case. That is, as you said, that’s required by law to issue such an executive order for sanctions. There’s a reason that’s in the law. It’s because you’re not supposed to do that just because you don’t like a government and under international law, of course, the sanctions are violating international law. The OAS charter, for example, the Hague conventions that the US is a signatory to also are violated by that. So, in other words, that language is there because you’re really not supposed to do it unless there really is some kind of really severe national security threat to your own country. And of course, nobody can really make that case.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. So, with the absence of the threat, the other main reason for the sanctions apparently is that they believe, that means the US believes, that the presidential election and the vote will be illegitimate. Is there any reason to believe that the elections will be illegitimate or fraudulent?
MARK WEISBROT: First of all, I don’t really know what they believe, but I think they want us to believe that the elections are illegitimate because they’ve been trying to overthrow the government. Of course, that’s been true of the Bush and Obama administrations as well. The Trump administration is different in they openly admit it. Marco Rubio, senator from Florida, is the one who’s really deciding policy for the Trump administration, according to the people very high up in that administration. And so, he said openly that the military should overthrow the government. The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, also said when he was in South America just recently, he basically said the same thing. So, they’re not even trying to hide it. And then, of course, they’ve imposed these financial sanctions on the country, which make it impossible for the economy to recover while those sanctions are in effect, not completely impossible but almost impossible because it prevents them from borrowing or from restructuring their debt, which are both conditions they would need to have an economic recovery.
So, it’s really an attempt, they don’t want anybody to believe these elections are real but the problem they’re running into is that there is a credible opposition candidate, a former governor, a retired military officer, Henri Falcón, who is running. And he’s reached an agreement and it’s not just him, he’s got a couple of parties backing him. He’s also polling the best of any opposition, or really any candidate. In fact, the latest most reliable polls show that he would probably beat Maduro, they say, by a margin of 7 or 8 percentage points. So, it’s a credible candidate and yet they don’t want this to happen. The Trump administration doesn’t want this to happen. And they have allies in the extreme opposition who also are going along with it so far.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, you mentioned Henri Falcón. Now, you published an article in US News & World Report, in which you had some pretty explosive information. You state that Trump administration is threatening the main candidate opposing President Maduro and that is Henri Falcón. Tell us what these threats consist of and a little bit more about Henri Falcón’s background.
MARK WEISBROT: Falcón was told by US officials that if he entered the race for president, he could be the recipient of financial sanctions against him personally. And he entered the race anyway. He’s a former governor and retired military officer. He was in the government or with the government until 2010 and then for the last eight years, he’s been in the opposition. He’s more of a moderate than some of the other opposition leaders, who are boycotting the election.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, how did you come across this information that Falcón was being threatened by the United States?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, that was from a source who had knowledge of the conversation. I can’t really say who that was because they wouldn’t put their name on it but there isn’t any doubt about it, and it should be, there are other reporters from major news outlets that are also looking into it now and will probably report it, I assume.
SHARMINI PERIES: Mark, why is the Trump administration so intent on preventing a presidential election that the opposition has been demanding and calling for for a couple of years now?
MARK WEISBROT: I think the Trump strategy is regime change. They want to overthrow the government. Their strategy has been to try and make the economy and worse and through the financial sanctions especially so that people will get into the streets and topple the government. Now, why wouldn’t they want to have this kind of an election? You’d have to ask them that but if I were to guess, I would say they want their people in there. They want somebody who owes their allegiance to them. And they want a government, if you look at one of the differences between Falcón and the rest of the opposition is he is less likely to endorse a kind of violent retribution and political persecution of the government and their supporters than the other opposition leaders that the Trump administration is close to. I think that’s one major difference is whether there’s going to be a negotiated solution that protects all sides. You have a third of the electorate, about 6 million people who support the government. And you have many people who of course have been part of the government. And so, you have to have some kind of guarantees and I think they don’t want that.
SHARMINI PERIES: Finally, Mark, what comparisons can you make in terms of these elections that are about to take place in Venezuela and the ones that took place in Honduras not too long ago?
MARK WEISBROT: Well, there’s no real comparison. The Honduran elections, nobody really believes that those were honest. They were quite obviously stolen, as you know from all the shows that you’ve, reports that you’ve had on it. And in Venezuela, you’ve had elections now under this political party in power under Chávez first and under Maduro. There really has never been any doubt about the vote count in any of the contested elections. There was one uncontested election for the constituent assembly, where there were some doubts raised and you don’t really know for sure what the vote count was because there weren’t opposition participation and opposition observers. But all the contested elections, the vote count was never in doubt with the exception of one governor’s race recently out of 23, where there was probably some kind of cheating done at the local level. But really, you’ve had a very, very secure vote count for just about all of the last 20 years. So, that’s completely different from Honduras, it’s completely different from Mexico. There’s a lot of countries where, in South America, there’s all kinds of vote buying and ballot stuffing that really goes far beyond anything that you’ve seen in Venezuela.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Mark. I thank you so much for joining us today.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.

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Mark Weisbrot is Co-Director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is also the author of “Failed: What the ‘Experts’ Got Wrong About the Global Economy” (2015, Oxford University Press).