Saturday, December 8, 2018

CONCERN THROUGHOUT U.S. AND CANADA OVER TRUMP’S USE OF INTERNATIONAL SANCTIONS AS AN INSTRUMENT OF FOREIGN POLICY

A talk I gave at the University of Missouri-Kansas City on the sanctions against Venezuela. The participation and interest on my anti-sanction tour in Canada and the U.S. was a demonstration of the widespread concern over Trump’s reckless threats and unilateral action throughout the world. 


Monday, November 19, 2018

Opposition to Washington-imposed sanctions and threats against Venezuela is growing

In the face of the escalation of threats of military action against Venezuela, as announced in today’s Washington Post article titled “Trump administration prepares to add Venezuela to list of state sponsors of terrorism,” there is evidence of growing support for a “hands-off” policy. I have just completed a speaking tour throughout the U.S. and was pleasantly surprised by the concern of a fair number of people, some active members of the Democratic Party and others more to the left, with regard to the sanctions against Venezuela and the threats on the part of the Trump administration. The following is an article of mine originally published in Spanish in El Universal (Caracas):  http://www.eluniversal.com/politica/26010/grupo-de-boston  

INTERNATIONAL OPPOSITION TO THE “MILITARY OPTION” AND SANCTIONS AGAINST VENEZUELA MAY BE GAINING STRENGTH 
by Steve Ellner
Several developments point to a reaction against loose, imprudent talk of a military solution to the situation in Venezuela. A recent article in the New York Times titled “Trump Administration Discussed Coup Plans with Rebel Venezuelan Officers” criticized the U.S. government for encouraging coup plotters in the Venezuelan military.

Furthermore, Spain’s recently elected prime minister Pedro Sánchez has assumed a position on Venezuela that is closer to that of his predecessor José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, who opposes sanctions and calls for dialogue, than Felipe González with his hard line opposition to the Maduro government. 
Mexico’s President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador has made clear his intention to restore his countries principle established by the revolution of 1910 and embodied in its constitution of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
The situation in the Democratic Party, which just gained control of the lower house of congress, also points to possible changes, even though historically the differences between it and the Republican Party on foreign policy are often minimal. The Democrats object to Trump’s sanctions against Iran since the agreement with that nation, which Washington has just torn up, was an initiative of their fellow party member, President Obama. The mainstream media such as the New York Times, which is close to the Democrats, are now publicizing the fact that the sanctions have a widespread effect throughout the world. For instance, even though Great Britain and France oppose the sanctions, oil companies Shell and Total respectively have announced they will not import Iranian oil out of fear of reprisals. 
U.S. sanctions against Venezuela have had the same effect, even though they have not received as much publicity up until now. The decision of companies like Ford and Kimberly Clark to pull out of the country followed Obama’s decree declaring Venezuela a threat to U.S. national security, while General Motors and Kellogg’s did the same following Trump’s sanctions.
Furthermore, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin’s activities purportedly designed to discover the hidden financial accounts of sanctioned Venezuelan officials, and then to freeze them, discourage companies throughout the world from doing business with all Venezuelans.  
Whether or not the Democrats, and perhaps a sector of the Republican Party, take up the issue remains to be seen. But changes are underway which may shed international light on how unilateral sanctions have always contributed to considerable suffering in those countries where they have been applied. And they may pave the way for initiatives involving Washington in favor of dialogue between the Venezuelan government and those in the opposition who are open to the idea.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Flashpoints-KPFA interview on sanctions against Venezuela

Dennis Bernstein, executive producer of “Flashpoints” on Pacifica Radio Station KPFA broadcasted from Berkeley California interviewed me on the topic of the sanctions implemented by the Trump administration against Venezuela. https://archives.kpfa.org/data/20181030-Tue1700.mp3  

In addition to the direct effects of the sanctions, they also discourage investments and pressure financial institutions to avoid any transactions involving Venezuela. They are now having a similar effect on Iran, as the Belgium-based banking network Swift suspended Iranian banks from its service in order to (in its words) maintain “the resilience and integrity of the global financial system as a global and neutral service provider,”

Monday, October 8, 2018

Talk titled “Venezuela under Siege: Challenges From Within And Without.”


Talk I gave at the James Connolly Forum in Troy New York on Friday, Oct. 5 titled “Venezuela under Siege: Challenges From Within And Without.” 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

THE NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL OPPOSING MILITARY INTERVENTION IN VENEZUELA MAY DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD


There is a growing body of pro-establishment statements opposing the possibility of U.S. military intervention in Venezuela. The latest expression of this position is a New York Times editorial titled “Stay Out of Venezuela, Mr. Trump” published on September 11. At first glance the editorial is a welcomed statement that counters the careless war-mongering declarations coming from the ilk of Marco Rubio and a number of high-ranking Trump administration officials as well as Trump himself. Certainly, one must applaud the NY Times’ decision to come out in opposition to military intervention, and its recognition that similar intervention and support for regime change in Latin America historically (the editorial even makes reference to the Brazilian coup of 1964) as well as elsewhere in the world has had disastrous consequences.

The line of reasoning of the New York Times’s editorial overlaps that of other articles that have come out recently in the establishment media such as one titled “U.S. Military Intervention in Venezuela would be a Major Mistake” by Robert Moore published the following day in “The Hill” as well as the position of the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). The anti-war stand crosses party lines as Moore has served Republican senators including Tea Party Republican Jim DeMint.

One hint regarding the limitations of this new position is the subtitle of the NY Times’ editorial: “President Maduro has to Go, but an American Backed Coup is not the Answer.” The way the article frames the issue is what makes it worrisome. The New York Times does not question the right of the U.S. as a nation (as opposed to the UN) to promote regime change. All it says is that a more intelligent approach to getting rid of Maduro is what is called for. As an alternative to military intervention, Trump’s pro-establishment critics call for increased sanctions. WOLA, for instance, criticizes the Trump administration for increasing the number of Chavistas who are being sanctioned, rather than concentrating on a smaller number of leading Chavistas and increasing the penalties against them. In fact, the issue of sanctions against individuals serves as a cover for the financial embargo which has inflicted considerable harm on Venezuela, as even Reuters recognizes.  

A valid question is why the New York Times has waited until now to adamantly oppose military intervention. After all, the then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised the possibility of a military solution as far back as February of this year when he kicked off his six-day Latin American tour in Austin where he stated “In the history of Venezuela and South American countries, it is often times that the military is the agent of change when things are so bad and the leadership can no longer serve the people.” The statement was a trial balloon. Trump pushed the idea in subsequent months but the response from right-wing and conservative governments was negative. Countries which form part of the Lima Group rejected the military option and distanced themselves from Washington by supporting Mexico in its differences with the U.S. on tariffs and NAFTA. The New York Times saw the handwriting on the wall and realized that military intervention would not count on the support of Latin American governments, in spite of their hostility to the Maduro government. The intervention that Trump proposed would be truly unilateral (unlike current military intervention in the Middle East) as Latin American governments would be unwilling to pay the inevitably high political price for supporting a U.S. invasion in the region.

Given these circumstances, coupled with Trump’s lack of political capital, a military invasion is unlikely. Talk of it may be designed to encourage dissension and unrest within the Venezuelan military. The strategy is that by threatening military action, members of the Venezuelan armed forces may put up resistance to Maduro out of the prospect of having to risk their lives in a confrontation against the world’s greatest military superpower. In any case, if the central argument of the New York Times and other members of the “liberal” establishment is that Trump should focus on economic sanctions rather than a military solution, then they are undoubtedly doing more harm than good.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

My latest article: “Class Strategies in Chavista Venezuela: Pragmatic and Populist Policies in a Broader Context”


Latin American Perspectives just posted my article titled “Class Strategies in Chavista Venezuela: Pragmatic and Populist Policies in a Broader Context.” The article will be published in Latin American Perspective’s January issue that I am coordinating on Pink Tide governments in Latin America.

Rowman and Littlefield will be publishing the January issue in book form (slated for publication in December 2019) with several new chapters (one by Bill Robinson on the economy, another by Hilary Goodfriend another by Mabel Thwaites Rey on Argentina and my own conclusion). The book will contain chapters on all eight Pink Tide governments.

Article ABSTRACT: The governments of Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro responded to the opposition’s attempts at regime change by implementing pragmatic policies favoring businesspeople who refused to participate in destabilization actions, as well as populist social measures benefiting the nonprivileged. Both sets of policies have to be placed in political context. The characterization of allegedly pro-government businesspeople as a new ruling elite referred to as the boliburguesía fails to take into account the sharp tensions between them and the Chavista leadership. The primary importance of social programs in the Chavista political triumphs over an extended period of time and of the periodic initiatives that sparked life into individual programs implicitly rules out claims regarding the government’s failure to alleviate poverty or achieve other social objectives. The Chavista governments failed to take full advantage of favorable periods and junctures when the opposition was demoralized following defeats in order to correct the negative side effects of pragmatic and populist class policies, such as bureaucratization and crony capitalism.

Monday, September 3, 2018

THE NEW BUZWORD THAT GUIDES U.S. FOREIGN POLICY: “NATIONAL SECURITY”


The claim that Venezuela represents a threat to U.S. national security is as ludicrous as the Trump administration’s claim that imported cars from China, Canada and Mexico do the same. But the bogyman claim regarding Venezuela is not just an invention of Marco Rubio and others close to Trump. It goes back to the Obama executive order that stated that Venezuela represents an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security. It’s now become the new mantra that guides U.S. foreign policy. And it has extremely dangerous implications for Venezuela as it does for world trade and ipso facto the world economy. It’s one more example of how some of the policy decisions of the Obama administration set the stage. President Trump has just taken those policies to a new, absurd level.