Report: U.S. Venezuela Sanctions Linked to 40,000 Civilian Deaths

Interview with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, conducted by Scott Harris

Over the last several months the Trump administration’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Special Envoy Elliott Abrams, have been working quite openly to overthrow the government of Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro. The latest attempt to oust Maduro came on April 30 when U.S.-backed self-declared “president” Juan Guaidó called for the Venezuelan military to revolt and participate in a coup, but that effort under the glare of world media failed.
In recent years, Venezuela, gripped by economic collapse, has seen some three million of its citizens flee the country. The nation’s economic crisis can be traced to several important factors, including a dramatic fall in the price of oil, which is Venezuela’s number one export, government mismanagement, charges of corruption – and the imposition of harsh U.S. economic sanctions. The impact of these sanctions is the subject of a new report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.
The report titled, Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela,” finds that U.S. sanctions have inflicted deprivation of medicines and food that has resulted in an estimated 40,000 deaths between 2017 to 2018. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and co-author of the report, along with economist Jeffrey Sachs. Here, he outlines the findings of the report that looked into the deadly impact of U.S. sanctions of the Venezuelan people.

MARK WEISBROT: Yes, it’s tens of thousands since August of 2017, when the Trump administration imposed broader financial sanctions that deprived the economy of credit. So we estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018. Of course, it’s very approximate. You can’t know exactly how many, but it was based on the increase in mortality from 2017 to 2018. But it’s a terrible thing. You know, it’s very obvious. There’s some people try to deny it because you know, there are all kinds of people here who support these sanctions. In fact, anybody like Nancy Pelosi and other members of Congress who recognize a parallel government that is, recognize Juan Guaido as the so-called interim president when he declared himself president of Venezuela in January. That by itself imposes a whole set of sanctions in addition to Trump’s executive orders because what happens when this government recognizes a parallel government – which by the way something we haven’t done since, you know, the Nazis invaded countries like France in Europe and the U.S. recognized the government in exile.

This is a very unusual, unprecedented thing to say, “Oh, we don’t like the way your election was run in May of 2018” and then almost a year later you come back and say, “Oh, and by the way, since we didn’t like that election and it was disputed, we’re going to recognize this guy who, Vice President Pence called the night before and you know and gave him the go-ahead to declare that he was president. Somebody who hardly anyone in the country knew who he was before he did that. So this is an extreme measure. But what it does and most people don’t know – It creates this whole new set of sanctions because any money that the sale of oil from Venezuela, which is the way they get almost all of their dollars. Any money from that now goes to him instead of to the government, which means that both the government and the private sector are deprived of the money, the foreign exchange, the dollars that are necessary to import food and medicine and medical equipment and everything that hospitals need and infrastructure, for parts, for water and sanitation.

So that’s why the main reason why you see this big increase in death. These kinds of sanctions have always been a war. They’re like the wars of the Middle Ages, when you lay siege to a city and starve people. Amazingly, our Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was asked by Matt Lee, a reporter for the Associated Press at a press briefing on March 11th. He asked him how this regime change effort was going because clearly that was already three months since they first declared the presidency of Juan Guiado. And so, Matt Lee said, “Are you satisfied with the pace of the momentum behind Guiado and his leadership?”

And Pompeo said, this is his answer and I’m reading it from the transcript of the press conference. He said, “Well, we wish things could go faster, but I’m very confident that the tide is moving in the direction of the Venezuelan people and will continue to do so. It doesn’t take much for you to see what’s really going on here. The circle is tightening. The humanitarian crisis is increasing by the hour. You can see the increasing pain and suffering that the Venezuelan people are suffering from.”

So you see, he’s basically telling them that this is what’s going to overthrow the government. And it hasn’t succeeded yet, but that’s their actual strategy. These tens of thousands of people are not even collateral damage. You know, like in a bombing. They’re actually the point of the sanctions so that people will become desperate, either topple the government or the military will be convinced to topple the government, which is what they tried to do just a week ago.

BETWEEN THE LINES: What do you make of calls for dialogue and negotiations to end both the political and economic crisis in Venezuela where the United Nations and the Vatican have offered to be mediators in such talks in an effort to avert more pain and suffering and to avoid a future threatened Trump administration military intervention or the possibility of proxy forces going to civil war where certainly many more lives will be lost?

MARK WEISBROT: They said from the beginning they don’t want any mediation. They don’t want any kind of negotiation. Because as soon as the Vatican announced that they were willing to mediate if asked by both parties. Trump said no. And then Pompeo said No, the time for negotiation has passed. What they’re really doing there is trying to avoid any kind of negotiated solution. And they’re doing that by choosing Juan Guiado. He’s with a party called a Voluntad Popular, which has just 14 seats out of 167 in the National Assembly. And why did they choose him and his party? Because they don’t want any kind of negotiation, whereas probably most of the opposition would like to negotiate or at least a good part of it. A much larger part than he represents.

For more information on the Center for Economic and Policy Research at

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