Venezuela has been targeted by a series of threats by the United States government over the last several years. Since President Barack Obama decreed the country in 2015 as an “unusual threat to US security,” a number of coercive measures have been implemented that constitute an economic blockade.
The Trump administration maintained its aggressive stance and, in May 2018, the Bolivarian government declared Washington Business Officer Todd Robinson as a “persona non grata” in Venezuelan territory.
The announcement came shortly after the White House failed to recognize the electoral process that re-elected Nicolás Maduro as president and issued new economic sanctions against the country.
In response, the Trump administration gave 72 hours to all Venezuelan officials to leave Washington.
In March 2020, the US Department of Justice denounced the Venezuelan head of state and 12 other diplomats for alleged drug trafficking, money laundering and arms trafficking offences. Without providing evidence, Attorney General William Barr announced a 15 million USD reward for the “capture” of the defendants.
On April 1, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the special representative for Venezuela, Eliott Abrams, announced the “Democratic Framework for Venezuela”, a proposal for a transitional government and a call for elections by the end of 2020. The document provided for the formation of a State Council that would administer the country on an interim basis, without President Nicolás Maduro, without Deputy Juan Guaidó and with the support of the Armed Forces. In return, the United States would progressively lift sanctions against Venezuela.
In the same month, President Donald Trump announced the beginning of a military anti-drug operation in the Caribbean Sea. Although about 80% of the flow of drug trafficking crosses the western coast of the Pacific Ocean along the coast of Ecuador and Colombia, US fleets encircle the eastern side, blocking the Venezuelan coast. The series of measures taken in recent weeks aggravates tensions between Caracas and Washington.
Carlos Ron Martínez, was the Business Manager of Venezuela in the United States since 2017. Today, he is in Caracas and serves in the Bolivarian government as the Vice-minister of Foreign Affairs for North America.
In an interview with Brasil de Fato, he spoke about Venezuela’s foreign policy, the relationship with the US government, and the future of the Trump administration.
Brasil de Fato: Is this new proposal of transition government for Venezuela, announced by the US Department of State, without President Nicolás Maduro and without opposition Deputy Juan Guaidó, evidence that Guaidó’s narrative as a self-proclaimed president has been exhausted?
Carlos Ron Martínez: Certainly he has weakened during the last year. In fact, he never had the strength that the United States expected he had. What they are proposing is unconstitutional. There is a State Council in the Constitution, but it is different from what they propose.
In addition, they are telling a part of the Venezuelan population that they can no longer be a government, that they no longer need to respect the 2018 elections. In other words, we have to give up because they want us to do so. It looks like a cowboy movie. “We offer 15 million USD for your head, you leave the government and everything is going to be fine.” It’s not like that.
It is a disrespect towards the Venezuelan population and our democratic system.
If you combine everything you’re pointing out, it’s a summary of what they’ve been announcing since March, which is the “maximum pressure” campaign. It is important to understand the context over there. They have elections in November and one state that is key to Trump’s victory is Florida, where many Venezuelan opposition leaders reside, including many who fled Venezuela to the United States with the money they stole, the people involved in acts of terrorism. That’s the foundation, they have a lot of money and they can support a candidate in the United States.
Trump is trying to get that support and now more with Bernie Sanders’ exit from the dispute. Sanders, who defined himself as a socialist, had a lot of rejection among this electoral base that I told you about, but Biden is something else, he is more well-received in Florida.
Another thing that I think is key to understanding what is happening is that they’re taking these steps in the midst of a major coronavirus crisis. They don’t have answers.
Moreover, those who direct foreign policy for Latin America in the United States is a group that, in a way, is linked to anti-Cuban policy. Maurício Claver-Carone, at the National Security Council, Marco Rubio, in the Senate, John Barsa, at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the US agency that funds NGOs that carry out political work in Venezuela. It is this group that sees this moment as an opportune political moment to attack Venezuela. They think Venezuela can’t fight the pandemic and the pressure from the United States at the same time.
It is very interesting in North American culture, to believe in “manifest destiny”, to think that they have a messianic mission. They believe that their mission is to end communism in Latin America, so they will overthrow Venezuela, Cuba and everything that is red, because all that is red is communist.
BdF: A letter by Guaidó’s ambassador to the United States, Carlos Vecchio, was recently published, in which he requested a meeting with Craig Faller, commander of Southern Command, a branch of the Pentagon that controls US military bases in South America. That meeting could indicate that Guaidó could be coordinating on a parallel level with the military?
CRM: They have already held several meetings with Southern Command. I think it’s an attempt to work together. The US strategy has been clear. And when I talk about the United States, I also mean this group of Guaidó, because there is no clear separation between them.
The interest is to promote a rebellion within the Armed Forces. They believe they could convince FANB (National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela). Even within the transition plan, one of the things they are talking about is the possibility of lifting the sanctions that exist on officials who leave Maduro’s government.
This is not working, because it is also quite contradictory. One day they say they’ll be charged with drug trafficking, the next day they say they can lift sanctions against these people, but they can’t drop drug trafficking charges.
I believe that the Guaidó group is trying to refine this strategy. They have people working on it. Ivan Simonovis, who in 2002 took part in the coup against President Chávez and fled to the United States, now coordinates a kind of security commission with Vecchio.
BdF: Do you think there is a possibility that the White House will abandon the hybrid war tactic to carry out a military attack on Venezuela? Could the activation of the mechanisms of the Inter-American Treaty on Reciprocal Assistance (TIAR) and the US anti-drug operation suggest this military siege?
CRM: Threats have always been there. Trump says he has a military option for Venezuela. Everyone has pointed out that all options are on the table.
If you have military forces nearby, there’s always a chance that something will happen. I don’t think we are in that moment right now, but we can’t rule out it being a possibility, because they are not acting rationally.
It’s also historic that when the United States feels very strong domestic pressure, it goes to war outside the country to try to distract. The invasion of Iraq was a distraction, the invasion of the former Yugoslavia and so many other cases. We are preparing ourselves. We have an Armed Force that has always been prepared for this, to defend the country.
BdF: Some analysts point out a possible scenario due to the pandemic crisis that Trump will suspend the presidential election, just like the primary elections have already been suspended, and that he would use this long period of rule to advance an autocratic regime. How do you evaluate this?
CRM: I think it would be difficult to suspend the electoral process, but again, nothing is off the table. It doesn’t really matter to Venezuela. Because the attacks against Venezuela began with the Obama administration.
When the president is not the one who takes on the most aggressive policy, we will have other people who are enemies of the Venezuelan democratic process.
We hope that the American people can express themselves democratically, that they can change what they see necessary in government, and that they will change this aggressive attitude against Venezuela and against several other countries.
BdF: The recent resignation of the commander of nuclear aircraft carrier base Theodore Roosevelt suggests a disagreement between the White House and the Pentagon. Do you think there is any divergence between the state and the military in actions against Venezuela?
CRM: I hope so. I think there must be people within the Armed Forces, the US Department of Defense, who understand what it would mean to open a military conflict against Venezuela.
Opening a front like this in Venezuela would be very dangerous for the rest of the region. They have the discourse that we have a migrant crisis affecting the rest of the region, but a migration crisis would exist if they unleash violence against the country. Look at what is happening in Colombia. Here in Venezuela we receive millions of Colombians forced to flee the civil war.
The information we receive from there is that the military has tried to stop these political actors who are only thinking about the electoral strategy in Florida, the “manifest destiny,” in that Cold War film that they believe should end.
It is important that the people of the United States demand that these resources, which could now be used to combat the pandemic, are not spent on an aggression against Venezuela, on a false anti-narcotics policy.
An hour of flight of the radar aircraft used costs approximately 39,000 USD, while a day of operation of respirators used for intensive care costs 2,000 USD. Why not invest the money in that instead of doing this show?
BdF: Minister of Foreign Affairs Jorge Arreaza reported that they were preventing ships with gasoline or oil refining chemicals from entering. What are the real impacts of this anti-drug operation?
CRM: Our oil needs to go through a chemical process that uses imported substances in order to generate gasoline as a result.
They [the Trump administration] confessed that they are pressuring many companies not to transport these chemicals here. Much of the problem we have with gasoline is because the United States has already imposed a blockade on these components.
We have cooperation with other countries, but we need to understand that our entire system was created to supply oil to the United States.
All refineries in Venezuela are designed to ship oil to the Gulf of Mexico and Louisiana refineries, so that the final product can be from the United States. Therefore, it is much harder for us to reverse this dependency, because the structure was planned in this way.
BdF: In this sense, how can CITGO, the subsidiary of Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), be retaken in the United States?
CRM: Legally we have taken some actions that the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic is carrying out abroad.
We also believe that we need to advance in the internal political dialogue so that the opposition that has the political control of CITGO returns the company to the Venezuelan State.
BdF: The pandemic has accelerated one of the biggest crises of the past 90 years in the United States, while China seems to provide more efficient and faster responses, both in healthcare and economy at the moment. Do you think it can generate a new hegemony? How does the Venezuelan government see this post-pandemic scenario?
CRM: One important thing at this juncture is that the political need to have a strong state to respond to this type of crisis at the national level is becoming evident. This has been important to see that within a scenario of crisis the most effective responses are collective and not individual or private.
I believe it has become clear that the United States is no longer the only and hegemonic power in the world. What we’ve built is multipolarity.
The idea is not to replace the United States with China. And I think this is not China’s intention, it has acted with great solidarity with several countries. What we’re trying to build is a balance in the world.
That’s why it is very important to build the union of Latin America so that we can have a voice within this group of powers that are emerging in the world. That’s why the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is important, we could plan, have joint strategies and a common perspective.
BdF: How does Venezuela intend to defeat the blockade?
CRM: For the first time, I think there is an international climate that shows the impact [of the blockade] and calls for reflection. There are already some people within the Democratic Party, I would not say they are the dominant thinkers, but there are several voices against this policy.
Therefore, our international denunciation must continue and these internal United States forces must see the impact. Part of what we are doing within the United Nations is a cross-country organization that denounces the United States’ action as illegal and against international law.
These are unilateral coercive measures, which are illegal, because the only sanctions provided for in international law are those imposed by the UN Security Council.
When other countries allied with the United States assume these attacks, it is the collectivization of unilateralism, it is not a multilateral measure.
This unity that we are creating in the international community is important. We have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
No one is asking them to support the Bolivarian process. We don’t need the support of the United States. What we need is that Venezuelans are allowed to make their own decisions. We receive the support here, we build it here with our public policies, with our country’s project. This is the only support we need.
Original text by Michele Mello; Translated by Tanya Wadhwa