Alfred de Zayas: US sanctions against Venezuela have cost 100,000 Venezuelans lives

Alfred de Zayas: US sanctions against Venezuela have cost 100,000 Venezuelans lives

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The international jurist cAlfred de Zayas, said Wednesday during the forum «Unilateral Coercive Measures as a crime against humanity: In Venezuela case » the coercive and unilateral measures promoted by the United States Government against this country, have caused death of more than 100 thousand Venezuelans.

Zayas in Geneva, Switzerland, reiterated that these types of sanctions constitute a crime against humanity that must be punished by international courts. The meeting that brought together a group of economists and human rights experts served as a forum for the activist to denounce that these actions have prevented “tens of thousands of Venezuelans” from acquiring medicines.

“It can be said that to date more than 100 thousand Venezuelans have died as a result of unilateral coercive measures, tens of thousands of Venezuelans have died for not having access to medicines,” he said.

In the same way, he said that the Venezuelan migratory flow has its origin in the economic war and financial asphyxiation promoted by the US against the country. “That is the cause and they want to ignore it, they seek to blame the victim,” said de Zayas.

UN Independent Expert Alfred de Zayas Talks About U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela Under Obama and Trump

JS: To fully understand the danger of the growing uniform response in the United States, from political leaders to the media, and the gravity of what’s playing out on the world stage when it comes to Venezuela, I’m joined by Alfred de Zayas. He is an American lawyer, writer, historian, and leading expert in the field of human rights and international law.

As an independent U.N. expert, de Zayas visited Venezuela in 2017, the first such visit by a U.N. expert since the mid-1990s. His report on Venezuela was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September of 2018. The report contained a scathing denunciation of U.S.-led economic sanctions against Venezuela. In the report, Zayas writes, “The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs.” He charged that the sanctions contributed to many deaths and that the sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. He added that “sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity” and he recommended that the International Criminal Court open an investigation into the nations imposing the sanctions. De Zayas also wrote a piece for The Independent newspaper in London where he compared the drumbeat for regime change in oil-rich Venezuela to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

During his U.N. investigation in Venezuela, de Zayas spoke with stakeholders from across the political spectrum, ranging from opposition figures to the government as well as with professors, churches, and non-governmental organizations. And Alfred de Zayas joins me now. Alfred, welcome to Intercepted.

Alfred de Zayas: Thank you very much.

JS: So, I wanted to begin with the most recent developments and that is that according to the way it’s being portrayed in the United States and by most of the U.S media, particularly powerful media, Nicolás Maduro has made a decision to block humanitarian aid from the United States from entering Venezuela. What is your assessment of this situation right now?

AdZ: Well, I spoke in Venezuela in November/December 2017 with a dozen ministers including the foreign minister. They’re all welcoming whatever humanitarian aid is given in good faith, but there’s a question of honor and there’s a question of intellectual honesty here. If the country that is causing the asphyxiation of the Venezuelan economy, the country that has imposed illegal sanctions on Venezuela, the country that has been waging an economic war on Venezuela for 20 years, should Trump be then the savior who delivers humanitarian aid to Venezuela? Here you have the classical example of ex injuria jus non oritur.The United States has caused the problem and then wants to depict itself as the savior.

JS: You know when we’re talking about the allegation from the United States that Maduro is blocking this aid. I want to remind people that Elliott Abrams who now is the Trump administration’s point person on Venezuela, a notorious war criminal, was part of covering up the Iran-Contra scandal, was also one of the major figures involved with covering up numerous massacres throughout Central America in the 1980s, and I want to just read from the Los Angeles Times May 19th, 1987. This was a story about how humanitarian aid “was used as a pretext to arm the Contra death squads” and this is what the L.A. Times reported, this is from 1987 — Oliver North and other Reagan administration aides deliberately used a 1986 program of “humanitarian aid for Nicaraguan rebels to help support the secret effort to deliver military aid to the contras. The aid was administered by the state department’s Nicaraguan humanitarian assistance office, but officials said that all significant decisions were made by a restricted inter-agency group consisting of Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and the chief of the CIA Central America task-force.” So there is a historical context for this exact individual, Elliott Abrams being involved with using the cover of humanitarian aid to covertly attempt to arm rebels in an effort to ensure that U.S. hegemony is protected and that the U.S. has puppets in power.

AdZ: U.S. aid and the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Endowment for Democracy are notorious as Trojan horses. They are notorious as tools used by the state department to subvert governments that we do not like. So it is understandable that Maduro has his concerns, his suspicions, about any kind of humanitarian aid coming to Venezuela from Colombia or from Brazil or from the United States. On the other hand, I would recommend to the government of Maduro to accept whatever aid is offered and that aid should be delivered and distributed only through neutral channels be it the International Committee of the Red Cross, be it certain non-governmental organizations that have remained neutral in this issue. In any event, the government has a right to monitor what enters the country because it’s not impossible that together with humanitarian aid, together with food and medicines that also weapons, drugs, or other kind of contraband would be brought into the country. So, this is a complex issue but for the media, of course, it is a bonanza.

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JS: It’s not just the media coverage. You see this love fest going on between Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and notorious neo-cons like John Bolton, who — Bolton was praising Nancy Pelosi the other day on Twitter because she released a statement saying that she supports the recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. And then she goes on to say and this is quoting Nancy Pelosi “Nicolás Maduro’s regime of repression and impoverishment for his personal enrichment continues to gravely violate human rights and must be condemned swiftly by the full international community.” And then she goes on to slam Maduro for his “decision to block bridges and cut off channels of food and supplies saying that it imperils the health and futures of the Venezuelan people and must be immediately reversed.” What about this issue of the U.S. sanctions and the way that it’s being portrayed as somehow an alternative to the use of military force? You were on the ground you did the first serious investigation in many years in Venezuela. What has the impact of U.S. sanctions been on the Venezuelan people?

AdZ: Well, the beginning of the problems with the Venezuelan economy goes back to 2013-14 when the oil prices fell dramatically. For a country like Venezuela that depends 90-95 percent on the sale of oil obviously, this is a major disaster when you end up having 50 percent of what you used to have. Now normally, a country as wealthy as Venezuela would be able to issue bonds to increase its sovereign debt — which was actually very low in comparison to the sovereign debt of most countries — should be able to borrow money to bridge the gap. What the United States did and what the United States had been doing for 20 years is increasing the pressure, increasing the economic war and then applying sanctions.

Steven Mnuchin: Today’s action is focused on restricting the regimes access to American debt and equity markets. Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system.

AdZ: What bothers me with this whole media campaign is that they have weaponized human rights, but we already saw it back in the year 2003. In 2003, George W. Bush decided he wanted to destroy Iraq, and he wanted to take the oil in Iraq. I mean there was no danger at all emanating from Saddam Hussein to the United States or to its neighbors. On the other hand, they invented the myth of weapons of mass destruction. It was carried by the mainstream media. The ocean of lies, Colin Powell lying to the American people, lying to the world, lying to the United Nations, saying that there are weapons of mass destruction.

Colin Powell: Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.

AdZ: I mean it is so shocking. We have learned nothing from it. I mean the kind of manipulation of public opinion that occurred in 2003 is very similar to the manipulation of public opinion that we witness today with regard to Venezuela. It is shocking that whenever Trump commits a major violation of international law by imposing sanctions on the poor people of Maduro, sanctions kill. People tend to forget that. People think that “Oh, the malnutrition is just the result of the socialist system that always fails.” It’s not that the socialist system necessarily fails. We are making sure that it fails. We’re making sure that it fails by asphyxiating the economy through sanctions and through a financial blockade. Going back to Nancy Pelosi applauding the president when he violates international law, now that is a direct violation of Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter. That is a prohibited interference in the internal affairs of other states. That is also a violation of chapter four, Article 19 of the charter of the Organization of American States, but that makes Trump suddenly presidential and why is he doing that? Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. It has huge gold reserves, and bauxite reserves, and coltan reserves. There is an enormous market there. There are trillions of dollars in profit to be made and that is what Trump and here there’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are both in favor of looting Latin America.

JS: The underlying statement that precedes all of their criticism or the support that they throw behind Juan Guaidó — they’ll say, “Look, Maduro is an illegitimate president. The election in 2018 was illegitimate. The leading opposition figures were put in prison. The vote was rigged. People did not participate in large numbers because the opposition boycotted it.” What is your response to the political figures in the United States that run the gamut from Nancy Pelosi to John Bolton who say those elections were fraudulent and that is why we’re in this crisis right now?

AdZ: Well, they are wrong, number one. Number two, they are spreading fake news. A narrative that has very little to do with what transpired in Venezuela. The former prime minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero hosted in the years 2016, 17, 18 negotiations between the opposition and the government. It was supported by the Vatican. It was supported by the president of the Dominican Republic. Three Latin American states were advising the government of Venezuela and three were advising the opposition led by Julio Borges. Now, one of the principle demands of the opposition was to advance the presidential elections and the agreement that was reached on the 6th of February 2018 provided for advanced presidential elections in April of 2018. So that as a concession to the opposition, that as a satisfaction of the demands of the opposition to have elections. Now the opposition knew very well that they could not win the elections. Knowing that, they decided to boycott them.

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News Anchor: After days of deliberations, Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Coalition had stood united saying it would boycott the early presidential race.

AdZ: Now the system — and I spent hours with the electoral commission in Venezuela — their system of security for any election is nearly full proof as confirmed repeatedly by The Carter Center.

JS: The Carter Center, of course is run by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and actually is a U.S. funded entity that praised the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral system.

AdZ: Well, I saw it myself. I spent time studying it so I have no doubt whatever that indeed 47 percent of the population voted and that 68 percent of that vote went to Maduro. Now obviously, Leopoldo López was in house arrest. Why? Because he had been calling for violence. I mean, in any country if you are inciting violence, that is a criminal offense under any penal code. There are many other opposition leaders who could have run in those elections, but decided, simply strategically, not to participate. So, they are trying to wage war from outside the country. They are asking the United States to increase the sanctions although they know themselves that sanctions kill. And these are the leaders that the mainstream media in the United States are applauding.

JS: You have argued that as the heads of government, Chávez and Maduro ultimately bear overall responsibility for the economic crisis, but then you go on to talk about their failure to understand what forces will strike back at you when you go after the biggest hegemon in the world. Talk a little bit about the mistakes you think Maduro and Chávez made as they explored this socialist economic model and taking on such a powerful entity as the United States government.

AdZ: These people are committed to an ideology and what I told them, “Look, you have too many ideologues in the government. You don’t have enough technocrats. So, you absolutely must rely on the technocrats. You must sit down with Fedecámaras [Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production]. You must sit down with the private sector. You must sit down with the entrepreneurs in Venezuela and make sure that they make money.” The problem — and I felt it speaking with members of Fedecámaras — is that they felt that the government didn’t want to take them into account and that they were not being consulted. I am convinced that that’s true. That is a major, major mistake, political mistake on the part of both Chávez and Maduro, but that in no way justifies a coup d’état. That in no way justifies what the United States is doing.

But going back to the larger picture: The recognition of Juan Guaidó by a number of ostensibly democratic states like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, etcetera. I ask myself “Don’t they have lawyers? Have they not read Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution?” The Venezuelan Constitution in case that Maduro dies or is killed, provides that the vice president will exercise the function of the president not the National Assembly. Article 233 does not, in this particular circumstance, allow the National Assembly to name an interim president. Besides the legitimacy of the National Assembly — you hear again and again in the press that the National Assembly is the only legitimate authority in Venezuela, ridiculous, ludicrous.

I mean, the fact is that in any country with separation of powers and with checks and balances, you have an executive, you have a legislature, and you have a judiciary. Now, the legislature arrogated to itself in 2015 the policy of exiting the president. What they wanted was to do an illegal parliamentary coup as was done in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff.

Dilma Rousseff [translated from Portuguese]: It wasn’t just a single coup. It’s a whole process. Don’t think it started and finished the day I was removed from office. It started before when they didn’t have a way to get to power through direct Democratic elections. Democracy wasn’t viable from their point of view.

AdZ: And that is not legal. It’s not constitutional under the Venezuelan Constitution. They went way beyond their powers and then there was an additional problem that during those elections in 2015 at least three parliamentarians in the Amazon region had been elected fraudulently. I mean, there’s no question about it. That was challenged. It went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court told the National Assembly, “Fix it.” But the National Assembly, they refused. So the Supreme Court declared the National Assembly in contempt. That is what it’s called in Spanish “en desacato.” Now, I don’t read anywhere in the mainstream press that there are major constitutional issues about the legitimacy of the National Assembly. Nowhere will you read that in the mainstream press. That is a problem of manipulation of public opinion. It is no accident. It is clearly deliberate.

JS: On February 8th, Reuters news agency reported that the United States is holding direct talks with members of Venezuela’s military to try to blackmail, bribe, cajole, encourage them into abandoning Maduro and his government. And you had a senior White House official of course, quoted anonymously saying that more sanctions may be coming. What do you make of this two-track approach where there’s these sanctions that are being portrayed as targeting Maduro and his inner circle and Maduro blocking humanitarian aid — that’s one part of the narrative — and then the other part is you had John Bolton — and this may have been a provocation — walking into a press briefing with 5,000 troops to Columbia written on his notepad? But this notion that while all of this is going on, the United States is clandestinely meeting with members of Venezuela’s military?

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AdZ: Well, the United States is trying anything to bring him down and the United States has miscalculated often enough. I mean, they thought that the economic war and the asphyxiation of the Chilean economy would bring Allende down. It didn’t so they needed a General Pinochet. Now they’re looking for a General Pinochet in Venezuela. Maybe they find him and obviously, they would love to have some Venezuelan general do the dirty work. They’d much rather do that than to use troops to invade Venezuela. But what I also told the Venezuelan opposition when I was there whether you like it or not, there are 8 or 9 million Venezuelans who are committed Chavistas. If you succeed with a coup d’etat, they’re not simply going to roll over. You may find yourself in a situation of Civil War. You may find yourself in a situation that a part of the army is going to fight those who participated in the coup. You’re going to find that a large part of the police is going to fight those who organized the coup and they’re not going to take orders from Juan Guaidó or from anybody who has no legitimacy. And there’s nothing, nothing more undemocratic and more corrosive of the rule of law than a coup d’etat. And it is shocking to see this revolt against international law and against the rule of law when not only President Trump does what he does, but he drags in Canada and the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Melissa Bell: That pressure on the Venezuelan authorities, on the government of Nicolás Maduro really gathering steam with an unusual level of unity between the United States, Canada and Western Europe. I mean, we really had forgotten what it was like for them to agree so profoundly on a foreign policy matter and yet —

AdZ: The United Nations Charter is very clear on this issue. Article 2, Paragraph 3 requires mediation, requires that all disputes among countries be solved by peaceful means. That is the purpose of the invitation of Mexico and Uruguay to the Montevideo talks, to the Montevideo Mechanism that is trying to mediate between the opposition and the government.

I told the opposition, those of the opposition who I met and also several opposition nongovernmental organizations every human being in Venezuela has human dignity including the Chavistas, including those who support Maduro and there are 9 million of them. You cannot simply ignore what these people want and what their vision for the future of Venezuela is. And the future of Venezuela would be entirely different the moment that you lift the sanctions, the moment that you stop the economic war. It is shocking that the Bank of England is sitting on 31 tons of Venezuelan gold worth about $1.3 billion that Venezuela needs to buy food and medicine and they don’t release it. It is shocking that the United States has frozen something like $9 billion of profits of Citgo in the United States again, monies that Venezuela needs for buying food and medicines. I have argued that this deliberate homicide, this premeditated homicide of Venezuelan people constitute a crime against humanity. It’s certainly falls within the mandate of the International Criminal Court and I would call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start an investigation into this issue.

JS: What can Maduro do right now that would bring a resolution? Because it seems like the United States and its allies are pretty intent on overthrowing him, bringing him down or fomenting a coup.

AdZ: What I would recommend the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations in New York and for the Venezuelan government is to get the non-aligned movement and to get other important groupings in the United Nations to adopt a resolution first of all, condemning the sanctions and condemning the adverse human rights impacts of the sanctions.

JS: That did nothing in Iraq. It does nothing in Palestine.

AdZ: That is true. But you have to have some arguments on the other side. International law will support the legitimacy of Maduro as the only legitimate president.

JS: And then it gets vetoed by the United States if it ever comes in front of it, of the Security Council.

AdZ: Of course in the Security Council, you can count on a veto against any resolution favoring Venezuela, but there is another avenue. Article 96 of the United Nations Charter provides for the International Court of Justice taking legal questions, refer to it by the general assembly, and issuing advisory opinions. I think an advisory opinion on the situation now in Venezuela on the kind of flagrant violation of Article 2, Paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter that would help in the argument that Maduro has that it’s not just Venezuela that is at stake. International law is at stake. International order is at stake. We have here a frontal attack on international law, on principles of customary international law. It is prohibited to do what the United States is doing in Venezuela and a reminder from the International Court of Justice in the form of an advisory opinion would be at this moment, I think crucial.

JS: Alfred de Zayas, thank you very much for joining us and for your analysis.

AdZ: Thank you very much.

JS: Alfred de Zayas is an American lawyer, writer, historian, and a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law. From 2012 until April of 2018, he was the United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. He was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council. At the moment, he’s teaching international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. You can find him on Twitter @Alfreddezayas. We will link his official U.N. report on Venezuela on our episode page.