'This Is Very Dangerous': Trump Administration Seizes Venezuela Oil Assets, Renews Threat of Military Action If Maduro Stays
"The problem here is that these efforts by the United States to change other countries' governments often lead to catastrophe."
The Trump administration intensified its interference in politically-fractured Venezuela on Monday by announcing the seizure of billions of dollars in assets connected to the nation's state-owned oil company, a move critics decried as part of a "dangerous" U.S. policy to help opposition forces overthrow elected president Nicolás Maduro.
National Security Adviser John Bolton and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced the sanctions imposed via executive order against Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PdVSA)—a primary source of income and foreign currency for the country—at a White House press briefing on Monday afternoon. They were joined by Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council.
"Today's measure total's $7 billion in assets blocked today. Plus, over $11 billion in lost export proceeds over the next year."
Mnuchin vowed the United States "will continue to use all of our diplomatic and economic tools" to back Juan Guaidó, who has declared himself Venezuela's "interim president." The secretary made clear that "the path to sanctions relief for PdVSA is through the expeditious transfer of control to the interim president or a subsequent, democratically-elected government."
As CNBC reported:
Mnuchin said PDVSA has long been a vehicle for embezzlement and corruption by officials and businessmen. The sanctions will prevent the nation's oil wealth from being diverted to Maduro and will only be lifted when his regime hands control of PDVSA to a successor government, he added.
Under the sanctions, U.S. companies can continue to purchase Venezuelan oil, but the payments must be held in an account that cannot be accessed by the Maduro regime.
"If the people in Venezuela want to continue to sell us oil, as long as that money goes into blocked accounts, we'll continue to take it," Mnuchin said. "Otherwise we will not be buying it."
In addition to tightening economic restrictions on the Maduro government as a way to bolster the position of Guaidó, Bolton also issued a fresh threat of military action by telling reporters in the White House briefing room that Trump "has made it clear that all options are on the table" when it comes to next possible steps.
"This is very dangerous," world-renowned economics professor and senior U.N. advisor Jeffrey D. Sachs warned on CNN Monday afternoon. He expressed concern that the administration's actions could cause immense suffering among the Venezuelan people, similar to the consequences endured by citizens of other countries subjected to U.S. interventions.
"The problem here is that these efforts by the United States to change other countries' governments often lead to catastrophe," Sachs noted, "as has happened all through the Middle East in recent years."
"Very often Washington says, 'Somebody must go,'" he continued. "And this is how our foreign policy often works—it's very arrogant [to say] who should rule in another country. By the way, Maduro is not a decent, pleasant man—but on the other hand, for Washington to just announce that a self-declared politician is the president, is kind of an American regime change tradition."
Keeping with that tradition, a Wall Street Journal report published last week revealed that Guaidó's coup attempt has been highly coordinated with Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers. A handful of other nations including Israel and Brazil are also backing Guaidó, and in a speech before the U.N. Security Council on Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged others to follow suit.
Experts and a few progressive members of Congress, meanwhile, have acknowledged the economic and political crises in Venezuela but also demanded that the Trump administration refrain from intervening through military action or sanctions.
"Instead of a U.S.-led regime change, the two sides need to share power temporarily, until new elections, perhaps in 2021. It seems inconceivable, yet history shows this can be done,"
Sachs charged in a column for CNN on Sunday, citing Poland's transition to democracy in 1989 as an example. As he outlined:
Such a compromise would have Maduro remain as president, the military in effect hold the Ministries of Defense and Interior, and the opposition forces take over the civilian ministries, and the Central Bank of Venezuela. Guaidó, or some other leader in the opposition camp, would serve in effect as a prime minister, leading the civilian cabinet, and guiding Venezuela's economic policies. Elections would be agreed upon for 2021 or 2022, perhaps under a semi-parliamentary system by that time.
"The U.S. instead appears to be aiming for regime change and tightening sanctions to bring Maduro to his knees," Sachs concluded. "Such an outcome is perhaps feasible, though it would leave a very bitter legacy. More likely, though, it would occasion further violence and an escalation of the economic crisis, possibly leading to war."
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License
Here's How Venezuela Can Achieve a Peaceful Resolution to the Crisis
Monday, January 28, 2019
Instead of a US-led regime change, the two sides need to share power temporarily, until new elections, perhaps in 2021
These US interventions, both direct and indirect, have resulted in dozens of regime changes over the course of more than a century. (Photo: Edilzon Gamez/Getty Images)
Events in Venezuela may be heading toward a catastrophic conflict. Venezuelan society is deeply divided between President Nicolas Maduro and his supporters, backed by the military, versus an opposition led by self-declared president, Juan Guaido, leader of the National Assembly.
According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, which cited a senior administration official, the US promised it would back Guaido as part of a secret plan developed over several weeks. The US, along with Canada and several Latin American governments, quickly recognized Guaido as president, while China and Russia are backing Maduro. One spark could set off a civil war.
Neither side appears willing to go down without a fight and new elections in these circumstances would be fraught with peril. If Venezuela had a parliamentary system, new elections might produce a broad coalition among several small parties. Unfortunately, with Venezuela's presidential system, an election now, if somehow organized, would amplify both the stark polarization between Maduro and the opposition -- and the threat of civil war.
The US' move to recognize Guaido is provocative. The problem is that the US has a track record of bullying Latin America and staging interventions in the region. These US interventions, both direct and indirect, have resulted in dozens of regime changes over the course of more than a century.
Even if Guaido proves successful in his bid for power, millions in Latin America and around the world will view Maduro's overthrow as the latest case of US-led regime change.
The appointment of neoconservative Elliott Abrams on Friday as President Trump's new special envoy for Venezuela just two days after Guaido declared himself the new leader will only fuel the charges. Abrams famously advocated for the armed support of Nicaraguan Contras and pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress about secret efforts to arm the rebel forces -- before he received a presidential pardon. Even if Guaido proves successful in gaining power, the view that the US once again helped to orchestrate regime change will embitter Venezuela and the region for years to come.
Instead of a US-led regime change, the two sides need to share power temporarily, until new elections, perhaps in 2021. It seems inconceivable, yet history shows this can be done. Poland's successful transition to democracy in 1989 provides a pertinent example. In early 1989, Poland was on the brink of catastrophe, with martial law, a hugely unpopular Communist government, a collapsed economy and an incipient hyperinflation.
n Poland's case, the rapid transformation started with Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost, or restructuring and openness. The Communist regime and the Solidarity opposition brokered a Round Table Agreement in 1989, which led to a partially free election for the Polish parliament later that year, which set the country on a path of deep economic reform.
While Solidarity won a significant victory with a majority in the upper chamber of parliament, the communists retained control of the lower chamber. The Solidarity movement brilliantly found a way to peacefully break the deadlock and proposed the solution known as "Your President, Our Prime Minister." The Communists would retain the presidency and the "power ministries" of interior and defense, while one of the Solidarity leaders became prime minister with the power to appoint his cabinet.
This compromise was put into practice and it held fast under the guidance and support of Gorbachev, the US, Europe and Pope John Paul II. The Communists did not meddle in economic management. Indeed, the new Polish government launched the most ambitious reform in modern history, designed to return Poland to the mainstream of the European economy. The reforms worked. Poland's economic collapse was reversed and economic growth resumed, setting it on course for European Union membership.
Violence was completely avoided. In 1990, Wojciech Jaruzelski, the last Communist leader of Poland, stepped down and Poland elected Lech Walesa as president. Of course by then, the international scene had changed dramatically, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
There is of course no precise analogue between Poland in 1989 and Venezuela today, but the comparison is apt. Venezuela, like Poland, needs a compromise that avoids a violent confrontation between the government and the opposition, a military coup, a civil war or, even more disastrously, a proxy war pitting US-backed contingents against Russian-backed contingents. Such a grim scenario might seem fanciful, yet Syria has been blown apart by such a proxy war during the past eight years.
And like Poland, Venezuela has suffered an economic collapse. This is the sad, predictable result of Venezuela's failed policies under Maduro, also stoked by US economic sanctions that have further squeezed Venezuela's oil production and helped to push the country into vertiginous collapse.
Maduro won re-election in 2018 with most of the opposition boycotting the election. Hyperinflation has now reached a rate of 1 million percent per year, with signs of acceleration. Venezuela has defaulted on its external obligations, including enormous sums owed to China and Russia, which will no doubt try to protect their claims.
In short, all sides have an urgent reason for compromise. The Venezuelan military aims to protect its privileged standing within the Chavez-Maduro system, yet it would like to end the economic catastrophe and avoid mass bloodshed. Maduro aims to hold power, yet is clearly incapable of solving Venezuela's economic crisis. He has lost the confidence of the overwhelming majority of the population. Yet for now he holds the backing of the military.
The humanitarian crisis in Venezuela is also very serious, with hunger, dire shortages of medicines, and massive refugee movements out of the country. These grim realities could propel a Polish-style compromise solution. Such a compromise would have Maduro remain as president, the military in effect hold the Ministries of Defense and Interior, and the opposition forces take over the civilian ministries and the Central Bank of Venezuela. Guaido, or some other leader in the opposition camp, would serve in effect as a prime minister, leading the civilian cabinet, and guiding Venezuela's economic policies. Elections would be agreed upon for 2021 or 2022, perhaps under a semi-parliamentary system by that time.
The major outside powers, notably the US, China and Russia, and the neighboring countries, would agree to and oversee the end of economic sanctions and the regularization of economic relations with the international institutions and the formulation of an emergency stabilization program. All creditor nations would be ready to take urgent steps, such as debt restructuring, needed to end the catastrophic hyperinflation. The UN Security Council would support these measures.
We are not currently on this path. The US instead appears to be aiming for regime change and tightening sanctions to bring Maduro to his knees. Such an outcome is perhaps feasible, though it would leave a very bitter legacy. More likely, though, it would occasion further violence and an escalation of the economic crisis, possibly leading to war.
This is the urgent time for compromise, not for a winner-take-all showdown.
© 2019 CNN
Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please donate.
Jeffrey D. Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, having held the same position under former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He is Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network. He is co-founder and Chief Strategist of Millennium Promise Alliance, and is director of the Millennium Villages Project. A recent survey by The Economist Magazine ranked Professor Sachs as among the world’s three most influential living economists of the past decade. Sachs is the author, most recently, of “The Age of Sustainable Development,"2015 with Ban Ki-moon.
Donations can be sent to the Baltimore Nonviolence Center, 325 E. 25th St., Baltimore, MD 21218. Ph: 410-323-1607; Email: mobuszewski2001 [at] comcast.net. Go to
"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs