Shortly after Venezuelan opposition leader and self-declared president Juan Guaidó got a standing ovation at Trump’s State of the Union address, United States officials promised more sanctions on Venezuela. Why?


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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Greg Wolpert: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Greg Wolpert in Arlington, Virginia. The Trump administration is promising more and yet harsher sanctions on Venezuela once again. The sanctions announcement came in two forms this week. First, from an unnamed government officials speaking to reporters who said that the new sanctions would be crippling and impactful measures, and that Trump instructed all parts of the US government to use all of the tools at their disposal to further create stress upon Maduro and his cronies. Then on Thursday, the Trump administration’s special representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, announced that quote, “Russians may soon find that their continued support of Maduro will no longer be cost-free.” All of this comes on the heels of a very warm bipartisan reception that Venezuela’s opposition leader and self-declared parallel president Juan Guaidó received during Trump’s State of the Union address on Tuesday.

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Donald Trump: here this evening. It’s a very brave man who carries with him the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of all Venezuelans. Joining us in the gallery is the true and legitimate president of Venezuela, Juan Guaidó. Mr. President, please take this message back to your [inaudible 00:01:16]. Socialism destroys nations, but always remember freedom unifies the soul.

Greg Wolpert: Joining me to analyze all of this is Guillaume Long. He is a senior policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, CEPR. Prior to joining CEPR, he held several cabinet positions in the government of Ecuador, including minister of foreign affairs. Thanks for joining us again and Guillaume.

Guillaume Long: Thank you.

Greg Wolpert: So let me start with the reception that Guaidó received in Congress on Tuesday where Trump clearly linked to Venezuela’s economic crisis to socialism. Now, this was part of his larger dig against socialism as a concept, but also against some members of Congress, particularly presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who calls himself a democratic socialist. Then house speaker Nancy Pelosi also gave Guaidó a warm reception on Wednesday. We have a clip here of her and Guaidó.

Nancy Pelosi: Good afternoon, everyone. It was a great honor to welcome to the Capitol, who we consider to be the president of Venezuela. We were all thrilled that he was at the State of the Union address the other day and received such an overwhelming bipartisan welcome to the Capitol. We believe that the plight of the people of Venezuela is a challenge to the conscience of the world and we will all stay with you, Mr. President, in that fight.

Greg Wolpert: So what do you make of this bipartisan support for Guaidó, who Trump and others called the legitimate president of Venezuela, but who does not actually control anything in Venezuela? Why do you think Pelosi and Trump, despite their animosity towards each other, which was on display at the State of the Union speech, why do they find so much agreement on this issue?

Guillaume Long: Well, I think this has to do with a broader trend in US politics, and a general consensus between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy. There hasn’t been a fundamental break in foreign policy, I would say in the world, but certainly towards Latin America, between different administrations in the United States. What some people call liberal internationalism, what I maybe would call liberal imperialism, very much applies to many Democrats, particularly right wing Democrats to call them that. So I’m not really surprised. I mean, if you think of Venezuela in particular, it was President Obama who first started raising the stakes and trying to isolate Venezuela or declaring it, Venezuela, a threat to us national security in 2015 and eventually that got the ball rolling for sanctions in August 2017, and then again in January 2018, and so it’s gone, it’s grown and it’s gone in crescendo, but it actually started during the Obama administration. So I’m not particularly surprised there.

As you said, I think Venezuela plays a role in domestic politics. It has done in Latin America for years now. It’s been brandished by the right to try and attack the left because Venezuela has been struggling economically now for several years. Particularly so since the sanctions have been heightened, and therefore you know it’s a useful tool to attack the left. It’s been done in Latin America, it’s been done in Europe. The left in Europe has been systematically attacked. Oh, look at socialism and its failures in Venezuela. This is what you want to do, and so on and so forth, is a common recurrent discourse. It’s clearly going to be done during this presidential campaign in the United States.

Greg Wolpert: Well, that’s what I wanted to turn to next is actually the role of the sanctions. That is as I mentioned, Trump has announced a new round of sanctions. It’s a kind of an open question as to what else can be sanctioned considering that there’s basically an economic blockade going on against Venezuela at the moment, and the sanctions as we’ve mentioned have dealt a crippling blow against Venezuelan economy. But they’ve actually not worked. I mean, that is in terms of their stated goal of getting rid of Maduro and forcing him to resign. So I guess the question is also, you mentioned this already. Some of the issues that perhaps there’s other reasons for the sanctions also considering that US companies seem to have received some exemptions. I was wondering if you could say more about that as to what the different reasons could be for the sanctions and the effect that they’re having on the Venezuelan economy.

Guillaume Long: So I agree that essentially I think the exercise this week is essentially rhetorical. I agree with you. I don’t see how they can significantly increase the aggressiveness of these sanctions. The current sanctions on Venezuela are extremely aggressive. They are crippling the economy. Actually CEPR, the organization I work for, published a paper on the effect of the sanctions that were implemented after August 2017 and how those in 2017 and 2018 had probably caused 40,000 deaths in Venezuela. Now since January 2019, we have an extra layer of sanctions, and we haven’t yet got a clear idea about the exact number of victims. We have a general idea of its effect on health care, on social provisions, on the immigration crisis, which has affected the region as a whole. Venezuelans leaving their country to look for jobs and for some stability elsewhere. So on and so forth.

So these sanctions have been, as often US sanctions are, very cruel, very hurtful, very socially harmful. Completely illegal, of course. It’s important to remember that they contravene international law. These are not UN sanctions. They’re unilateral corrosive economic measures, and I can’t see that whatever the rumor is about intensifying them, how that would change the situation. Certainly sanctions have failed so far to achieve regime change, and I don’t think they’re going to succeed in changing the regime henceforth.
So I think the main reason is for domestic politics or US politics. We’ve seen the attack on socialism, bringing Venezuela always back into the national debate. I actually think it is going to play a big role for President Trump’s reelection bid and his system of alliances in Florida with people like Marco Rubio, with the Cuban immigrant community, with the Venezuelan immigrant community. Whether that is a good electoral calculation or not is a different issue because I think the Venezuelan issue does not work throughout the Latino community in the United States. But I think it’s clearly part of his pattern of alliances within the Republican party and particularly with people such as Marco Rubio and so on.

Greg Wolpert: Yeah. I think also, of course, the Democrats are probably playing a part in that effort to win over the Latino vote, and therefore you see Nancy Pelosi supporting the policy, aside from the issue that you mentioned earlier about the bipartisan nature of foreign policy. But I want to move also to the issue of how people in Latin America are reacting to this. That is, many right wing and conservative governments right now in Latin America are actually supporting US foreign policy towards Venezuela. But that’s not necessarily the same as kind of the general sense among the the intellectuals and among the people who are aware of what’s happening in terms of US policy towards Venezuela. How do you think it’s being received more generally? That is, with Latin American history of suspicion towards US foreign policy and particularly the rejection of the Monroe doctrine, which claims that the U S has the right to intervene anywhere in Latin America. How do you see this policy being received, let’s say, behind the scenes in Latin America?

Guillaume Long: So specifically with some of the right wing governments in Latin America and many of them recognize the Guaidó government and are kind of aligned with United States on the policy towards Venezuela. But over the last few months we’ve seen a number of right wing governments getting colder feet, I would say, with regards to them being more cautious. At the beginning, the group of Lima was very aggressive, and they were hoping to have a swift, well, to be successful, quickly, to have regime change in Venezuela quickly. This didn’t happen. We’re seeing little by little a number of countries within the Lima group as sort of being a little bit more cautious because at the end of the day if you recognize Guaidó and you don’t have any type of diplomatic relations with the Maduro government, this is also problematic. You can’t negotiate a number of things, including with regards to immigration. Immigration of Venezuelans, we were talking about.

There’s just been a high profile case of a Colombian criminal who’s a former congresswoman who’s sought refuge in Venezuela, and the president of Colombia, Duque, wrote a letter to Guaidó to hand her over. I mean, it’s incredibly ironic or verging on surreal given that Guaidó doesn’t control the sovereignty, the institutions, the judiciary, the penitentiary. I mean, there’s there’s no institutional hold on behalf of this Guaidó sort of shadow government that’s recognized by some and obviously Guaidó is incapable of handing over this person wanted by Colombia. So we’re in a surreal world where the recognition of Guaidó on behalf of a number of Latin American countries and not of Maduro is creating problems for these Latin American governments, which is why you’re seeing the new right wing elected government of Uruguay saying, “Hey, we’re not going to go down that road because it’s not helpful.”

Also a few governments sort of center left or on the progressive side of things having been elected in the last year or so. So Mexico first and now Argentina moving away from the Lima group, its policies, and from recognizing Guaidó. Given that within Venezuela Guaidó is not getting any more support, even the Venezuelan opposition has sort of taken its distance from Guaidó, that has an impact on the rest of Latin America.

Now that’s on the right wing governments. But generally speaking? Yeah. I think all these policies that we’re seeing on behalf of the United States under the Trump administration, they’re very aggressive policies, they’re very right wing policies. They’re supporting a regime change in Venezuela, and we’ve just seen it now. They supported effective regime change in Bolivia, this alliance with the far right, including with a Bolsonaro government in Brazil and so on and so forth. This return to what you call monoism, which is treating Latin America as its backyard is going to have, sooner or later, a boomerang effect. It’s exactly what pulls the pink tide in the first place, this kind of victorious hegemony of the United States in the ’90s imposing neoliberalism and a very sort of imperial approach to to that region caused a leftist backlash. A pro sovereignty, backlash if you, if you like.

I think eventually where democracy is given a chance and there’s a democratic deficit right now in Latin America, but where democracy is given a chance, you’re going to see progressive governments of different forms. They’re not all as radical as each other. Some will be more modern or whatever, but progressive governments come back to power, and that will have consequences on the US’s interest in the region, on the US’s relationship. I think it’s a grave mistake on behalf of the United States to apply this really hawkish imperial return of the fist in the region, imposing all sorts of pro Washington regimes. I think is going to have a backlash and probably sooner rather than later.

Greg Wolpert: I think that’s a really good point, but we’re going to have to leave it there. I was speaking Guillaume Long, senior policy analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, CEPR. Thanks again, Guillaume, for having joined us today.

Guillaume Long: Thank you very much.

Greg Wolpert: Thank you for joining the Real News Network.


Gregory Wilpert

Gregory Wilpert is Managing Editor at TRNN. He is a German-American sociologist who earned a Ph.D. in sociology from Brandeis University in 1994. Between 2000 and 2008 he lived in Venezuela, where he first...