[News] Venezuela - UN Independent Expert: Sanctions Must be Terminated and Economic War Must End

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 26 11:24:23 EST 2018


  UN Independent Expert: Sanctions Must be Terminated and Economic War
  Must End

Jan 25th 2018

*Interview with Professor Dr iur. et phil. Alfred M. de Zayas, UN 
Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable 
International Order.*

 From 26 November to 4 December 2017, Professor Dr Alfred M. de Zayas 
carried out an official mission in Venezuela. He had requested an 
invitation in August, which the Venezuelan Government granted in 
September, making him the first UN rapporteur since 1996 to be invited 
and to conduct an official UN visit to Venezuela. The purpose of the 
mission was to explore how the Bolivarian Revolution had implemented 
human rights – especially in the economic, social and cultural domain. 
It was his special concern to compare the coverage in the mainstream 
media of the United States and Europe with the Venezuelan reality on the 
ground. In order to get a sufficiently objective picture, the UN expert 
met with representatives and activists of 35 non-governmental 
organizations specializing on human rights issues, with representatives 
of industry and commerce, members of the opposition National Assembly, 
with Church officials, with victims of violent demonstrations and with 
relatives of detainees. Apart from meetings with a large number of 
government ministers, he met twice with Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza 
and his staff. During his stay he could move freely, as has already been 
reported in “Zeitgeschehen im Fokus” (n. 18, 23/12/2017). He also gave a 
lecture at the University of Caracas. In the following interview, the UN 
expert reports about his impressions and experience in Venezuela.

*Zeitgeschehen im Fokus: How would you assess the economic situation in 
Venezuela after you have stayed there?*

*Professor Alfred de Zayas* The Bolivarian Revolution, which has taken 
place in Venezuela, developed a model that worked rather well in the 
first 10 years. That was partly due to the high oil price. Venezuela 
depends on oil revenues by 95 %. With these revenues, the state could 
finance many social projects. But now that the oil price has dropped by 
more than the half, the country faces massive disruptions in the 
acquisition and distribution of food, medicines and other products.

*What distinguishes the model in Venezuela?*

It is a social model that wants to achieve a fairer distribution of the 
country’s wealth. Meanwhile, 2 million homes have been handed over to 
the poorer part of the population. Thus at least 8 million persons have 
benefitted from affordable apartments. There is also the so-called 
system of CLAP (Comité Local de Abastecimiento y Producción – Local 
Committee for supply and production), in which the government 
distributes food parcels to the poor. Those who cannot pay for the 
packages, receive them for free, of course.

*What does such a parcel contain?*

I did open one when I was visiting one of the modern and very clean 
“Urbanizaciones” (government housing for the poor). There are 16 kg of 
food in it: sugar, rice, cooking oil, flour, cornmeal, milk powder, etc. 
A family gets such a parcel twice a month. Therefore, there is no 
“famine” in Venezuela, despite media reports and generalizations. There 
is, however, a shortage in several sectors, and some products are hard 
to get, but the population does not suffer from hunger as for example in 
many countries of Africa and Asia – or even in the favelas of São Paolo 
and other urban areas in Brazil and other Latin American countries. 
There are mainly problems in the timely distribution of imported 
products – but this is predominantly the responsibility of the private 
sector, which often enough deliberately boycotts the distribution, 
sometimes stocks products in large warehouses and then takes them to the 
black market instead of delivering them to supermarkets — just to make a 
higher profit.

*What is special about the “Bolivarian Revolution”?*

It is an alternative model to capitalism, to unregulated free market 
economics. It is not “Marxism”, and certainly not “Marxism-Leninism”. It 
is an attempt to give the capitalist system a humane face. Since 1999, 
when Hugo Chávez came to power, a certain reorientation of the country 
took place, which could set a precedent for Latin America and many 
developing economies. There are major achievements, which the mainstream 
media systematically ignores – e.g. illiteracy was eliminated within 
shortest time (as was the case in Castro’s Cuba). School education is 
free, from kindergarten to university. There is a system of free medical 
care, a system of support for young mothers, a major effort at building 
affordable housing and expanding the public transport system.

*Today, if you read the New York Times or “inform” yourself about 
Venezuela on CNN or UN Watch etc., you repeatedly come across the 
concept of a “humanitarian crisis” …*

… I warn against this technical term, because a “humanitarian crisis” 
can be easily exploited to justify a so-called “humanitarian 
intervention” or to aim at a “regime change”, under the pretext that the 
government lets the population starve. Some states pretend that the 
Venezuelan government can no longer guarantee the rights of the people. 
Hence, a humanitarian crisis emerged and now they want to intervene 
militarily to “save” the Venezuelan people from a failed socialist 

*What is the situation on the ground?*

I stayed in Venezuela for 8 days of intensive meetings back-to-back; I 
could move around freely wherever I wanted. I did not see any street 
children and I also did not see any person begging. I have not seen a 
single beggar in Caracas although I walked and drove across the entire 
city. I also walked by the poorer quarters, where I did see queues of 
people waiting for some subsidized or rationed products. The situation 
has many facets, and I do not claim that there is no hunger and no 
scarcity of medicine. I simply say that the existing cases of children 
dying of malnutrition or lack or medicine do not add up to a 
“humanitarian crisis”. I did not see any violence, although the press 
keeps telling us about it. As a UN official I have been in many places 
where you “smell” violence, where you sense tension in the air and feel 
that you yourself may be in danger. That is not the case in Venezuela. 
There are homicides – many of them associated with drugs and 
international crime. Honduras is much worse.

*People who beg are the order of the day in our western industrial 
nations. No-one would think of talking about a humanitarian crisis, for 
example in Germany, because there are beggars in the streets.*

In Venezuela, I did not see beggars. No doubt, there is poverty, but the 
population is not depressed – certainly not in the same degree as the 
people of East Germany in the 70s, where people were dispirited and 
demotivated and went about with pale faces, sad and depressed. The 
population in the streets of Caracas is Latino in the best sense of the 
term, they make the best of things and do not let scarcity and boycotts 
turn them into zombies. Just like in any other city; everywhere there 
are cars, motorcycles and bicycles on the road.

*Can the people supply themselves with food?*

There are enough fruits and locally-grown vegetables. People eat bananas 
or mangoes in the streets. There is a certain lack of the products that 
the domestic and foreign monopolies determine.

*What is the situation like in the supermarkets?*

I have seen several food stores and markets – and I took photos of them. 
It is not true that the food stores are empty. Of course, some have 
empty shelves – I got such pictures from non-governmental organizations 
(NGOS) – but there was always enough of everything. Of course, there are 
some products that are imported because Venezuela cannot manufacture 
them itself. They are scarce commodity. But you can live very well 
without these products. The fact that the supply of hygienic items for 
women or diapers for the babies are scarce is a direct result of the 
failure of the private sector to import these goods and to distribute 
them to the supermarkets. However, you can get everything on the black 
market – but at exorbitant prices.

*Is a specific shortage created there to stir up the people’s 
dissatisfaction with the government?*

There are studies and statistical data from several university 
professors who investigated this phenomenon – especially why and how 
supply shortfalls are getting worse, especially when elections or 
referendums are imminent. They are supposed to affect people negatively, 
so that they vote against the government. This is called “voto castigo” 
(penalty vote) in Spanish. If you read an article from the New York 
Times, it will say that there are bottlenecks in supply in Venezuela, 
for example also for medicines. However, you will not read anywhere why 
this is so. You will not read anywhere that the private sector does have 
the foreign exchange to import the necessary medicines. This is not 
said. It is not also said that a huge smuggling has emerged for 
subsidized products – subsidized Venezuelan rice or flour can be bought 
in Bogotá.

*What are the reasons for these phenomena?*

There are a number of reasons, which I was able to observe during my 
stay. I have to study them in more detail. I was given an extended 
documentation from various sources that I still have to digest. There 
are also very good books about this topic. An economist in Caracas, 
Professor Dr Pasqualina Curcio, carefully explained in her book how the 
economic war against Venezuela caused this situation of shortage, and 
that was no accident – it was deliberate, absolutely targeted. In the 
period around the elections – approximately two or three months earlier 
– the goods suddenly disappear. Especially hygiene items cannot be 
purchased any longer. However, warehouses were discovered, and that is 
also documented, that were full of these products. I was also given a 
pictured documentation on the matter.

*Do you mean that shortages are artificially generated?*

Yes, the goods are often not delivered to the supermarkets but traded on 
the black market at exorbitant prices. There are, of course, 
institutional problems and multiple inefficiencies in the socialistic 
model, about which I made concrete recommendations to the government. 
Yet another problem, which I discussed with several ministers, is the 
unnecessary price controls and artificial exchange rates – this all 
results in corruption and abuse. The government should instead give the 
most vulnerable persons direct financial support, rather than making use 
of a price control.

*Why that?*

The danger of price controls, as we know from the Soviet Union, is that 
parallel markets emerge and with them large-scale corruption. People are 
people, and if they can buy subsidized goods, the temptation to resell 
these subsidized goods at a higher price is too big. You can make a 
killing with subsidized corn flour, with subsidized rice, which you can 
then smuggle into Colombia, Brazil, Aruba and sell it there at great 
profit. Venezuela has a very long border with Colombia and Brazil. The 
Caribbean Islands are easily accessible, too.

*Who is responsible for this process?*

There is an internationally organized mafia that operates the process, 
but apparently the governments of the neighbouring countries do nothing 
to stop this smuggling. If a store in Bogotá offers cheap rice from 
Venezuela, we should assume that the traders know where the rice comes 
from: It is either stolen or smuggled. In any case it was brought into 
the country illegally. The government does nothing – or too little – 
against these supermarkets. Moreover, Colombia allows the Venezuelan 
currency to be changed at wildly fluctuating rates of exchange. This has 
devastating effects on the economy and financial situation in Venezuela.

*What about agricultural production in the country?*

Diversified agricultural production is now being systematically 
promoted, but this is a process that takes time and requires importing 
seeds and other goods. Venezuela no longer wants to be exclusively 
dependent on oil exports and wants to produce its own food. However, the 
procurement of seeds is in the hands of foreign monopolists, and the 
government has difficulties in obtaining seeds at decent prices.

*To what extent do sanctions have an impact on the supply situation?*

Direct and indirect sanctions have hit the economic situation in 
Venezuela seriously. The economic, financial and trade war against 
Venezuela reminds of the US measures against the democratically elected 
government of Salvador Allende in Chile in 1970-73 and against the 
Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Deliveries from abroad are traded in dollars. However authorized persons 
must sign for the payment in dollars. Many of the persons who have this 
right to sign are on the sanctions list. This means that no trading 
partner dares to accept their signature. Thus, the company cannot earn 
any money because no payment can be made, and the goods do not come to 
Venezuela. The suppliers are afraid that they will be penalized by US 
authorities – with fines of tens of thousands of dollars if they fail to 
comply with the unilateral sanctions regime of the United States.

*For which goods or sectors do the sanctions apply?*

That is the next problem. Nobody really knows how far they reach. They 
are based on so-called catch-all clauses, which can be interpreted one 
way or the other. But who wants to have to pay a fine? So many 
international companies are prudent and do not take unnecessary risks. 
For Venezuela this is devastating.

*What would help the country?*

The sanctions must be terminated. The economic war has to end, that 
would be the greatest help for the country. However, what we can observe 
in Venezuela is the result of a targeted economic war. There are many 
countries participating, even from Europe. The misinformation about 
Venezuela has been successful – even with people who should be better 
informed. You have to be on the spot to see that the situation is not 
like you read in The New York Times. If you look at the mainstream 
media, you get the impression that the country is close to collapse. In 
fact, the country is rich and with a bit of cooperation and solidarity 
it could sell its oil, its gold, its bauxite well. Venezuela must now 
trade a lot with China and India because of the very limited trade with 
the US and Europe.

*Is the oil trade also subject to the sanctions?*

Yes, partly. The sanctions are very complex. It is not the case that a 
sale cannot be done at all, but it is connected with so many obstacles, 
and there are so many restrictions and delays that many people say, “We 
would rather not do business with Venezuela, there is too much 

*During your stay you could certainly talk to the population. What 
impression have you gained here?*

Many are somewhat resigned because they suffer from an economic war. But 
when it comes to elections, Maduro wins. The majority of the population 
does not make the government responsible for all that, but they accuse 
the United States, Europe, Colombia, etc. When the Constituent Assembly 
was elected, there had been very violent demonstrations prior to the 
election for four months. In the foreign media we read about those 
“peaceful demonstrations.” In fact, these were orgies of violence with 
Molotov cocktails and explosives. It was almost terrorism that hit many 
normal, non-political people when, for example, a supplier wanted to get 
from A to B, but the “guarimbas” (violent demonstrations with 
barricades) blocked his path. Several ordinary people were killed, who 
only wanted to go about their business. In addition, demonstrators 
attacked hospitals, nursery schools, burned ambulances and buses in 
order to intimidate the people. Is this not just classic terrorism?

*Did the demonstrations succeed with these methods?*

No, 8.5  millions of people went to the polls for the Constituent 
Assembly, in spite of the guarimbas and in spite of the violence. In the 
local elections of 15 December more than 9  million went to the polls. 
The opposition does not succeed in changing the people’s mind, but the 
polarization of the country continues to be a problem, because Chavistas 
are very strongly pro-government, and the MUD is very strongly against 
the government. There is very little sense that “la patria es de todos” 
(the fatherland belongs to all). According to media reports in the US 
and Europe, the only solution is regime change, to chase the government 
from office. We must however not forget that this government was 
democratically elected in 1999, in 2002 it survived a coup because the 
people and the army opposed the coup and prevented the planned physical 
elimination of Chávez. In 2004 a recall referendum was held, which 
Chávez won easily — 70% of the population did not want to remove him 
from office. After his death in 2013, Maduro was elected President, in 
spite of a violent campaign, accompanied by terror and sabotage on the 
part of the opposition.

*How did the government deal with all these organized attacks?*

The government relied on the 1999 Constitution. However, a number of 
major mistakes including excessive force by the police, did occur. If a 
government is under such pressure, then it must act quickly. If one acts 
fast, one makes mistakes, often goes too far. This includes, for 
example, introducing economic measures that can be counter-productive, 
including subsidies and price controls.

*What kind of agenda does the opposition follow?*

They wish to cancel the Chávez and Maduro years and return to a purely 
capitalistic model. But there are at least 8 million Chávistas, and they 
will not disappear. These voters are convinced of the government’s 
program. These people will not allow the social achievements to be swept 
away. If the economy does not collapse as a result of sabotage, 
smuggling and sanctions, the government is likely to be reelected in 
2018. The administration and the army are on the side of the government. 
Certainly, the plan in Washington is to launch a military attack on 
Venezuela by making use of disinformation about the allegedly miserable 
situation in the country with hunger, infant mortality and an 
economically desolate conditions, and then to chase the government out 
of office. We know this proceeding from other countries, so for example 
from September 1973 when the government of Salvador Allende was 
overthrown by a coup and Allende died.

*How do you assess your stay?*

I got a very different impression from the one I pictured to myself 
before I visited the country. In our media there is scarce interest in 
truly investigative journalism, in discovering what the root causes of 
Venezuela’s problems are. We get a caricature of the situation, and this 
caricature becomes dogma. Weeks before my journey, my independence, my 
professionalism, my honour were questioned. UN Watch published an 
article and called my visit a “fake investigation”, even before I had 
set foot on Venezuelan soil. Some NGOs have claimed that I was not the 
right Special Rapporteur for these questions. That was before I had 
announced anything at all about my journey. On my personal blog I showed 
pictures of Caracas, its churches, monuments, and a picture of a 
supermarket that was full of goods. After that there were particularly 
offensive attacks against me. UN-Watch found the picture and reacted to 
it. I had published the picture without any comment. I was attacked as a 
chavist, a castrist, a communist, etc. All I wanted to show is that the 
situation is not as they want us to believe. I had seen so many pictures 
of empty shelves that I thought it was legitimate to show a different 
photo in my private blog (which also reflected my observation in other 

*What did you suggest to the Venezuelan government?*

I submitted to the foreign minister six pages of preliminary 
recommendations, among others institutional improvements, the 
elimination of price controls, the fight against smuggling and 
corruption, but always within the rule of law. They ought to respect the 
UN covenants on civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. 
They are already seeking dialogue with the opposition and showing 
commendable flexibility and patience. They should either release 
individuals who have been imprisoned for political reasons, or take them 
to court with a fair trial. And for the better management of the country 
they need technocrats, not only ideologists! Above all, the government 
must prove that it takes human rights seriously. Corruption must be 
fought at all levels, even with the help of the UN Office on Drugs and 
Crime in Vienna. In doing so, UN organizations, such as the World Health 
Organization, the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), the 
International Labor Organization (ILO), etc. could help to ensure that 
the necessary improvements are translated into action.

*What do you think of the conversations you had in the Dominican Republic?*

Every opportunity of dialogue with the opposition must be taken. The 
previous meetings in Santo Domingo in November, December 2017 and 
January 2018 have already been fruitful. Further meetings are planned. 
It is in the interest of all who care for human rights and who care for 
the Venezuelan people to support these negotiations. Unfortunately, a 
“human rights industry” has emerged that has instrumentalizes human 
rights as weapons of mass destruction against governments. This 
“industry” is not interested in solving the “humanitarian crisis”, they 
want to use the hyperbolic “crisis” as a pretext for military 
intervention and regime change. This “industry” does not want 
independent experts who travel to Venezuela to find out what the real 
situation is. They only want “experts” who go to Venezuela (or 
elsewhere) simply to grandstand and condemn governments. If anyone means 
it with humanitarian aid, they should offer their cooperation to the 
government and send food and medicines without strings attached. If they 
are interested in the Venezuelan people, they will make sure that 
sanctions and boycotts are lifted, so that the Venezuelan government can 
function normally, without discrimination, in the international 
community, so that Venezuela can import and export free of sabotage and 
political ostracism.

/The *Alliance for Global Justice*, and anti-imperialist solidarity 
group based in the US, will be holding a live webinar 
<https://www.facebook.com/events/426125947803686/> with Alfred de Zayas 
this Sunday, January 28. Follow this link 
<https://www.facebook.com/events/426125947803686/> for information on 
how to register./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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