The US Congress is considering targeted sanctions against Venezuelan government officials for their handling of the country’s political unrest. On Wednesday I published a piece in World Politics Review arguing that this measure would be counterproductive.
Sanctions serve an important symbolic purpose: communicating universal support for human rights. But their utility needs to be assessed in terms of whether they can change the Venezuelan government’s relationship with the opposition and its heavy-handedness with protesters.
In light of the underway US government efforts to shame Venezuelan government elites through visa bans and asset freezing, the fact that these sanctions are unlikely to draw multilateral support, the lack of incentives for the targets to comply, and the strong possibility these measures undermine existing diplomatic efforts by the Obama administration to work the problem via third parties, the cons greatly outweigh pros in this case.
What is more, the sanctions could strengthen the Maduro government by playing into its narrative of an international financial siege just when economic pain becomes acute.
On July 8, 2014, WOLA hosted a panel discussion on the likely impacts that targeted U.S. sanctions would have in Venezuela. The discussion featured a presentation by Venezuela’s leading pollster, Luis Vicente León of Datanálisis.
Mr. Leon’s data show that a majority of Venezuelans reject the idea of U.S. sanctions against Venezuelan officials.
Live event broadcast will be begin July 8 at 3:30 p.m. ET.
The street protests that erupted in Venezuela in February generated tensions and violence. The response of Venezuelan security forces has led to credible allegations of excessive use of force and violations of the human rights of demonstrators. The protests have largely subsided for the moment, but Venezuelan politics remain turbulent, and the talks between the government and opposition sectors that began in April—with support from UNASUR and the Vatican—have been frozen since May.
In the meantime, the U.S. Congress has taken up legislation that would impose U.S. sanctions on Venezuelan officials deemed to be responsible for human right abuses committed against protesters. In May, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a targeted sanctions bill and the full House of Representatives passed a similar measure later the same month. Sponsors of the Senate measure have vowed to press for floor debate and a vote in the coming weeks. The Obama administration has opposed the sanctions bills, maintaining that legislation mandating U.S. sanctions would be counterproductive.
What impact would the approval of targeted sanctions legislation have in Venezuela? Please join us for a timely discussion on the likely impacts of U.S.-imposed sanctions, with insights from Marino Alvarado of PROVEA, Venezuela’s premier human rights organization; Datanálisis’ Luis Vicente León, one of Venezuela’s foremost pollsters; and David Smilde, who moderates WOLA’s Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog.
- Marino Alvarado Betancourt is General Coordinator of the Venezuelan Program for Education and Action in Human Rights (PROVEA), Venezuela’s leading human rights organization, and a columnist for Venezuelan daily Tal Cual.
- Luis Vicente León is President of Datanálisis, Venezuela’s most trusted polling firm. He is a professor at the Universidad Católica Ándres Bello and at the Instituto de Educación Superior en Administración.
- David Smilde is a Senior Fellow at WOLA and the Charles A. and Leo M. Favrot Professor of Human Relations at Tulane University. In May, he published a Washington Post Op-Ed arguing against U.S. sanctions.
The Inter American Dialogue’s daily Latin American Advisor ran a Q&A on the implications of the removal of Planning Minister Jorge Giordani. Below is Hugo Pérez Hernáiz’s contribution.
The contributions of Javier Corrales, Daniel C Hellinger and Asdrubal Ontiveros can be read here.
LAA: Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro in mid-June removed Jorge Giordani, one of the main architects of Venezuela’s system of currency and price controls and a staunch supporter of Marxist economic policies, from his long-time post as planning minister, along with several other ministers in a cabinet shakeup. In a public letter after his dismissal, Giordani blamed Maduro’s administration for allowing corrupt practices to continue, sentiments that Héctor Navarro, a fellow leftist and PSUV party leader, endorsed publicly as well. Does Giordani’s departure signal big changes to the country’s economic policy? How are Giordani’s removal and vocal challenges from the left of his party affecting Maduro’s strength and power to control economic decision-making?
HP: Like Giordani, Maduro is a convinced socialist and believes in a planned and controlled economy, but he is being forced by circumstances to make difficult economic decisions, and Giordani’s exit could facilitate economic reform. The economic consequences of the issue are significant, but the political side is also serious. Even if Giordani and Navarro are not power brokers within the PSUV or the government, they are still respected leaders for the rank and file and give voice to the radical left of Chavismo, critical of what they perceive as a ‘turn to the right’ on economics and politics. Maduro could pay a price for his overreaction to criticisms in terms of future electoral support from the radical left. But this is not an electoral year, and for now Maduro seems to have the support and loyalty of the military and the party/state apparatus. In the near future, however, we could witness a struggle over who is the real and legitimate interpreter of Chávez’s political/religious legacy. Maduro is still banking on his legitimacy of origin as the designated heir of the ‘eternal leader,’ but he could soon be challenged by other Chavistas. An event to watch this month will be the Third Party Congress of the PSUV, for which the leadership has been insisting on the need for unity, loyalty and discipline. Party leaders will try to closely control the public side of the event, but displays of discontent related to the Giordani affair are likely.”
The Washington Office on Latin America is pleased to invite you to a discussion featuring
Marino Alvarado Betancourt
General Coordinator, Venezuelan Program for Education
and Action in Human Rights (PROVEA)
Luis Vicente León
Senior Fellow, WOLA
Senior Associate, WOLA
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Washington Office on Latin America
1666 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 400
Washington, D.C. 20009
Read more …
Protests in Venezuela led to the country’s government responding with force. In a period of just a few months, more than 40 people were killed and 800 injured. Most of the casualties were civilians. Some lawmakers in the United States floated a bill to impose sanctions on Venezuelan government officials.
However, almost as quickly as it began, the revolution fizzled out. CCTV’s John Holman explains what happened.
David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz
On Wednesday the Maduro government responded forcefully to the continuing fallout begun by the letter of former Planning Minister Jorge Giordani. Several former ministers have expressed criticism as have other sectors from the left of the government coalition. On Wednesday Maduro referred to the dissenters as “petty bourgeoisie that want to confuse the people.” Other government figures echoed his statements.
On Tuesday, during the anniversary of the Battle of Carabobo on 24 June, Maduro called for “union and maximum discipline of all the revolutionary forces of the Fatherland,” and added that “we cannot allow dissolving forces to prevail. These forces prevented the strategic union of the people in the 19th and 20th Centuries.”
In her speech at the same event, Defense Minister Carmen Meléndez, stressed the need for “civic-military unity” in the face of “internal threats” to independence. The President of PDVSA Rafael Ramirez for his part said that “in this day of the Fatherland, the Bolivarian people have to show unity and maximum loyalty to President Nicolás Maduro and to the Comandante Hugo Chávez.”
But that same day PSUV leader and ex-minister of education complicated Maduro’s position further. Like Giordani, Navarro is considered to be part of the left wing of the Chavista leadership. In a public letter, Navarro asked “is it Giordani who is a traitor because, for example, he denounced the assignation of dollars to fictitious companies and suggested ways to prevent this from occurring?”
Navrarro asked Maduro to “act like a statesman” with respect to criticism. He also suggested that the fact that the “financial right” has shown relief at Giordani’s exit from the government is a troubling sign.
Read more …
A water tower in Catia with Hugo Chávez’s face on one side and the face of Lina Ron (founder of the Venezuelan Popular Union party and symbol of La Piedrita, another well known collective) on the other © Richard Snyder 2014
A previous version of this article was published at Anthropoliteia.net
Speculation about the participation of armed citizens in “policing” the cycle of protests that began in February has raised questions about the relationship between these citizens, the government, and state security forces.
In my first post in this series I looked at how officers from the National Police view the role and actions of the security force that is playing the most active role in policing Venezuela’s protests: the National Guard. Regrettably (and despite their own relatively extensive training in human rights) National Police officers strongly support the National Guard’s presence precisely because they are not encumbered by human rights regulations like the police are.
In this post I look at an even more complex relationship: how the National Police view the actions of what officers, the media, and many Venezuelans refer to as “the collectives.”
Journalists have suggested that police are working in collaboration with the collectives to repress protestors (see, for example, Wall Street Journal , BBC, and Al Jazeera). And in May Human Rights Watch published a report which, though carefully avoiding the term “collective,” suggested that the police and “armed pro-government groups” were collaborating.
But National Bolivarian Police (PNB) officers describe this relationship quite differently. For them, their relationship to the collectives is one structured not by collaboration but competition for territorial control, access to arms, and even state protection.
In fact, ever since the Metropolitan Police in Caracas participated in the 2002 coup against Chávez, police officers have felt that the government trusts the collectives, who came out in support of Chávez during the 48-hour coup, more than the police to work the protests.
Read more …
Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde
The removal of Planning Minister Jorge Giordani announced by president Maduro this week has turned into an open political row within Chavismo. Giordani has been one of the key architects of the government’s economic policy over the past fifteen years. He is from the left of a leftist coalition and is a hardline supporter of economic controls and planned economy.
Analysts in Venezuela agree that Giordani’s exit could mark a more pragmatic government approach to the economy. And it was not a surprise given that Giordani had been removed from the board of directors of the Central Bank the week before. However the most immediate impact of the event has been political.
Giordani published an extensive open letter in the Chavista independent web page Aporrea almost immediately after Maduro’s announcement. The letter makes strong criticisms of Maduro and has renewed criticisms of the government from within the ranks of Chavismo.
In the text, Giordani protests his progressive exclusion from government decisions after the death of Chávez. He reveals that he suggested himself as the head of the foreign exchange control mechanism CADIVI, to try to get a handle on illicit dollar requests. He also suggests that he repeatedly urged for the reduction of public expending.
Interestingly, perhaps incredibly, Giordani does not describe any relation between the economic controls he helped to establish and the current economic problems faced by the government. Analyst Luis Vicente Leon suggests that instead of a mea culpa, the statement amounts to an “it wasn’t me” letter. Leon says he has a difference of opinion with Giordani. “He thinks the cause of the crisis is that they didn’t pay enough attention to him. I think the cause of the crisis is that they paid too much attention to him.”
Read more …
Hugo Pérez Hernáiz
Venezuela’s most influential human rights organization has issued its Annual Report for 2013. The Venezuelan Program for Action and Education in Human Rights (PROVEA) report gives a mixed review of 2013. It points to advances in poverty reduction and access to education, but also casts doubt on the sustainability of these advances. The report also strongly criticizes the government for deterioration of the health care infrastructure
PROVEA starts its report by suggesting its human rights researched was seriously hampered in 2013 by a lack of information provided by the government. Only 9.3% of public institutions have published its 2013 annual reports [Memoria y Cuenta] on line as required by the Constitution. PROVEA says the consistency and scale of the lack of information suggests a deliberate policy.
In its report PROVEA recognizes the important achievements of the Venezuelan government in poverty reduction and particularly in the “Rights to a Proper Alimentation” of the population. However it also points to possible negative effects of high inflation and scarcity on poverty. Most worrying for PROVEA is the fact that these economic problems could have an impact in poverty reduction.
Read more …