Venezuela’s direct losses sustained as a result of US sanctions over the last three years stand at around $38 billion, Venezuela’s Vice President for Planning Ricardo Menendez told Agencia Venezolana de Noticias on Monday.
Menendez said that $23 billion refers to the country’s GDP losses, while another $15 billion in losses are linked to lost profits from Citgo Petroleum — the US-based oil company which operates three refineries in the US and is majority-owned by PdVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A.). “If we add another $20 billion lost in the sabotage of the oil industry we will get $58 billion in losses. That is almost $60 billion that the country lost,” he said.
He noted that the initiative to provide foreign humanitarian aid to Venezuela against the backdrop of introducing new economic sanctions against Caracas is ‘cynical.’ “We want attacks on our economy and military to stop, so that we can launch the process of economic restoration,” the vice president stressed.
On January 23, following a phone call from US Vice President Mike Pence the previous evening, Venezuelan National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido proclaimed himself as the country’s “interim president”. He was immediately recognized as Venezuela’s rightful leader by Washington and its allies.
The legitimately elected Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has described it as a coup attempt and announced severing diplomatic relations with the United States. On January 28, the US imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-owned PdVSA oil company, seen by many as a move to funnel income from the country’s main oil exporter into the hands of opposition leader Juan Guaido.
In a live national broadcast, Maduro announced Washington “intend[s] to steal the company Citgo from all Venezuelans,” referring to the PdVSA’s US subsidiary, which Guaido also has an eye on.
“(Be on) alert Venezuela, the United States today has decided to go down the path of stealing the company Citgo from Venezuela and it’s an illegal path,” he said.
Maduro also described the sanctions as “illegal, unilateral, immoral, (and) criminal.”
He said that the firm is “already studying [legal counter-]actions and we from PdVSA will take all the legal, political, operative, technical, and commercial measures to defend the interests of Venezuela in the United States.”
The Venezuelan president also vowed to “give the necessary, symmetrical and forceful response to defend the interests of Venezuela, at the right time.”
Only moments before the announcement of the sanctions, Guaido said he had ordered the opposition-controlled National Assembly — which is currently not recognized by the state, as it is still being held in contempt by the country’s Supreme Court of Justice for refusing to remove 3 illegitimate legislators — to nominate executive boards for PdVSA and Citgo to “guarantee that Citgo continues to be for Venezuelans.”
The Trump administration announced new sanctions last Friday targeting five high-profile figures in the Venezuelan government and security services.
The move is the latest in a series of harsh US-led sanctions targeting Venezuela, including most recently a de facto oil embargo set to cost the Caribbean nation over US $11 billion in lost revenues in 2019. On January 31, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on sanctions, Idriss Jazairy, warned that US sanctions are illegal and risk exacerbating the country’s economic and social crisis by further “curtailing access to food and medicine.” US President Donald Trump has reiterated that “all options,” including escalating sanctions and potential military intervention, remain “on the table” in his administration’s effort to oust President Nicolas Maduro from office.
There were also hints over the weekend of further sanctions against Venezuela.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters, “We intend to persecute anyone who enables corruption and depredation by Maduro.”
Likewise, US National Security Advisor John Bolton took to Twitter to threaten foreign firms dealing with PdVSA.
International oil companies, brokers, and traders take note: General Quevedo, the president of Maduro’s corrupt oil slush fund PDVSA, is now subject to U.S. sanctions. Don’t risk dealing with him!
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) February 17, 2019
Current US oil sanctions only apply to US firms or those operating under US jurisdiction, but sources told Bloomberg that the Trump administration is considering broader sanctions which apply punitive measures against any company dealing with PdVSA, regardless of nationality or legal jurisdiction.
The new sanctions coincide with an escalation of tensions along the Colombian-Venezuelan border. On Saturday, three US military aircraft touched down in Cucuta, Colombia, just five miles (8 km) from the Venezuelan border.
The C-17 cargo planes purportedly contain “humanitarian aid” from US Agency for International Development (USAID), a covert regime change arm of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). USAID officials aim to cross into Venezuela in coordination with anti-government groups on February 23.
It should be lost on no one that Trump’s recent appointment of Special Envoy to Venezuela happens to be convicted war criminal Elliott Abrams, who has a documented history of smuggling arms under the guise of “humanitarian aid” to right-wing death squads for regime change operations.
“This plane is coming full of solutions, of hope,” said Jose Manuel Olivares, a right-wing Venezuelan opposition politician in Cucuta. Olivares has been tapped by Guaido to oversee the entry of humanitarian aid.
President Maduro has repeatedly denounced the aid as a “trojan horse” allegedly providing cover for potential foreign military intervention and ordered the military to refuse entry to USAID personnel.
International relief bodies, including the Red Cross, the United Nations, Oxfam, and War Child, have likewise distanced themselves from the shipments, criticizing Washington for its politicization of aid.
The Trump administration initially pledged US $20 million in aid to Venezuela, consisting of lentils, rice, flour, vegetable oil, toothpaste and toothbrushes for roughly 7,500 Venezuelans for 10 days. The net total has been subsequently increased, with 200 tons of supplies reportedly arriving on Saturday. No plans specifying logistics or criteria for the aid’s distribution have been made public.
Compared to the $38 billion of the Venezuelan economy lost to US-led sanctions, the $20 million in “humanitarian aid” that the US is trying to force across the border seems paltry and farcical; if the US was truly concerned about humanitarian relief, it would lift the sanctions so Venezuela could provide for itself.
Venezuelan officials have repeatedly insisted that the very existence of a “humanitarian crisis” to begin with was invented by the US to further the neocons’ regime change narrative. The United Nations has likewise not declared the situation in Venezuela to be a humanitarian crisis.
The Grayzone Project has released the following video debunking the “humanitarian crisis” myth:
Guaido has established February 23 as the date when the aid will “enter no matter what,” issuing a new ultimatum to the military and government personnel. Previous ultimatums have been ignored.
“[You] have seven days to take the side of the Constitution and do what is right, seven days for the humanitarian aid to enter,” he warned Saturday.
Guaido has urged opposition forces to set up “humanitarian camps” which he hopes will pressure the military to rebel against Maduro’s orders. Opposition-led NGO Rescate Venezuela reports having set up camps in ten states of the country, while Guaido claims to have registered 700,000 volunteers to help distribute “aid.” He also plans to mobilize his followers to the border on Saturday and will be supported by international figures such as billionaire media mogul Richard Branson, who is throwing a “live aid”-type concert at the border. Pro-government groups have also announced they are to hold their own large concert for humanitarian relief to Colombia the Venezuelan side of the border the same day, at which 20,000 subsidized CLAP food boxes are planned to be distributed among Cucuta residents in a show of international solidarity by the Maduro government.