By Diego Arria
Imposing sanctions on a country as the U.N. Security Council, or unilaterally as those of the United States on Iran and Russia, is a difficult process that does not always guarantee the objectives pursued. This is what happened in the case of Iraq after the first Gulf War, when an oil fund had to be created to ensure that its revenues were invested by the regime of Saddam Hussein in food, medicines, medical equipment, etc. I learned about the shortcomings of the process when I was in the U.N. Security Council.
The argument to the contrary is that economic sanctions do not distinguish between the innocent and the guilty, and that the latter who control the finances of the regime do not suffer the same as the rest of the country. This reasonable argument, among others, is put forward by Moisés Naím, one of the most prestigious political analysts, of whom I am fortunate to count among my dearest friends. He does it in his column in the Madrid-based newspaper El País with a headline of fine irony: "This is how Trump could save Maduro."
Naím argues that President Trump would be considering to impose an oil embargo on Venezuela, which in his opinion would not only be a bad idea but also "a wonderful and timely political lifesaver for Maduro to present Trump as the one responsible for the hunger of Venezuelans." And he concludes: "Don't do it, President Trump!"
I feel interested in this topic because his opinion carries weight and since our country is fighting a real battle today everything that can weaken us or give us strength should be taken into consideration. For this reason I believe it essential to quote the speech of Luis Almagro, the Secretary General of the OAS, on July 19 before a United States Senate committee when Senator Marco Rubio asked for his opinion regarding the consequences for the Venezuelan people if economic sanctions are imposed on the nation.
This was the response of Almagro: "I'm asked frequently about this topic and I want to be very clear in affirming that the potential sanctions would not worsen the present suffering of Venezuelans, because the resources that belong to the people are being used by the regime to kill and torture them, and are not invested in their well-being as evidenced by the tragic statistics of infant mortality and malnutrition that already exceed those of Syria."
The Secretary General has learned that Venezuela, kidnapped by a narco-military tyranny, is waging a battle that requires that all measures to allow the urgent rescue of its freedom and rights are taken, so there is nothing in his statement suggesting that the application of sanctions would strengthen the regime of Maduro, or that these would exacerbate the humanitarian crisis there, but on the contrary he underscored: "Regarding this particular issue, it is fundamental to send out a clear message to Maduro."
The only foreign exchange revenue that Venezuela generates today is from the sale of approximately 700,000 barrels of oil per day to the U.S., yet the regime of Maduro has been accusing the U.S. of waging an economic war on his government for years. This is certainly an absurd argument because in any case it could be speculated that private oil companies would be forced not to buy from the most dangerous enemy it has across the continent today. In order to be consistent, the narco-military tyranny should not sell to U.S.-based oil companies in any case.
In conclusion, imposing sanctions is always debatable especially in the theoretical field, but Venezuela is a real case where scarce resources are today under the control of the armed forces who with extraordinary rapacity buy medicines and food at four or five times the real price of these inputs, and that in addition take advantage of them to blackmail the people playing with the desperation of their misery.
The line followed until now to confiscate the goods of Venezuelan rulers, advanced by the Obama administration, proved that has its limits. Those indicted have gained strength at political level for not having options, and today they control the hardline wing of the regime. No matter how many more names are added on the lists from the Department of the Treasury, it doesn't seem that anything radically different from what has already been seen happens.
This reality explains why the consensus of the experts from the North leans towards taking measures on the flow of funds generated by oil exports to the U.S as a last resort.
What is my suggestion? That U.S. companies don't stop buying our oil, but instead of paying for it in foreign currency, they should do it in the form of barter transactions that include food, medicines and medical equipment bought in the market at real prices. This way the revenue generated from the sales of our oil will not continue to be used the way Secretary General Almagro has described.
And I am not making anything up, because there is a precedent in the chavista ideology on the barter subject as published in a report in the issue of September 23, 2008, of El País entitled "Chávez resurrects barter: this is done by the Revolutionary Government and President Chávez through the so-called mega barter, that is to say, supplying our brother countries with oil in exchange for machinery to strengthen food sovereignty." Previously in the Página12 daily newspaper based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on March 7, 2008: " An exchange of energies said Hugo Chávez. “We will give all the energy that Argentina needs for the 21st century, and Argentina will export food to Venezuela."
Other modalities such as the so-called "smart sanctions" are familiar to me. Moisés Naím defined them very well in his El País column on October 17, 2010, entitled: "What is a smart sanction?": "Despite their unpopularity, and obvious flaws, sanctions are an instrument increasingly used in international politics. And this is good news. But how can it be? Because the alternative to the sanctions is War".
The dilemma is cruel. But, at the end of the day, doing nothing not only means to tolerate but also to complacently subsidize the regime. The latter, which is essentially the current situation, is the worst of the options and seems inconceivable for the brave Venezuelans fighting for our freedoms in a civic way.Diego Arria is the Former Governor of Caracas, Minister of Information and Tourism (1977-1978), former editor of Diario de Caracas (formerly owned by LAHT's predecessor The Daily Journal) and the Former Venezuelan Ambassador to the United Nations (including a stint as President of the U.N. Security Council).