Archive for March, 2015

A Letter to President Obama

The following is a letter to President Obama written by Noam Chomsky, Eva Golinger, and Miguel Tinker-Salas, and endorsed by the Quixote Center among other organizations and prominent individuals.

Dear Mr. President:

We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, met your December 17, 2014 joint announcement with President Raul Castro of steps to normalize relations with Cuba with cautious optimism. For decades the US has been isolated in its policy on Cuba, both from the rest of the hemisphere and the rest of the world. For the 23rd year in a row, the UN General Assembly voted last October (188-2) to condemn the US embargo of Cuba.

The UN called on the US to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and regulations which violate the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction, and the freedom of trade and navigation.

We were pleased that the US was finally taking steps to come into compliance with international law. Yet our optimism turned to renewed concern the following day, December 18, when you signed a sanctions bill against Venezuela which appears to perpetuate the same failed policy toward Venezuela that you had just rejected toward Cuba. You hardened that policy on March 9 when you issued an executive order declaring a national emergency with respect to the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by the situation in Venezuela.” This action also verified that the US is stepping up its support for regime change in Caracas.

What is US hemispheric policy given this belligerent stance toward Venezuelan democracy? That is the question being asked by the world media and particularly by the sovereign States and multinational institutions of Latin America and the Caribbean. The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which represents every country in South America, said your executive order constitutes a “threat of interference” against Venezuela’s sovereignty and calls on you to revoke the order. While politics in Venezuela is polarized and economic disruption caused primarily by the falling price of oil have caused long lines and falling poll numbers for President Nicolas Maduro, we see nothing that could conceivably be described as an “extraordinary threat” to the US or even to Venezuela’s closest neighbors. We note that Colombia, the US’s closest ally in South America and even the Venezuelan opposition have rejected US sanctions.

Compared to Mexico and Honduras where state violence is endemic and the rule of law tenuous at best, Venezuela is not at all outside the norm among nations. Venezuela is not at war with any nation, does not have military bases outside its borders, and is helping to mediate an end to the war in Colombia; it is a champion of peace in the region. To call it a national security threat to the US diminishes the credibility of your administration in the eyes of the world.

To those who know the dynamics in democratic Venezuela, this US policy stance is dangerous and provocative. To set the record straight, the Venezuelan government is democratically elected. Presidents Chavez and Maduro were both elected in what former President Jimmy Carter declared to be the best election process in the world. (The Carter Center monitors and reports on elections worldwide.) Your executive declaration, however, is likely to be taken as a green light to the most hard line and anti-democratic forces in the country to continue to commit anti-government violence.

We call on you, President Obama, to rescind your executive order naming Venezuela a US national security threat. We call on you to stop interfering through funding and reckless public statements in Venezuela’s own democratic processes. And most of all, we encourage you to show to our Latin American neighbors that the US can relate to them in peace and with respect for their sovereignty.

Sincerely,

Noam Chomsky, MIT

Eva Golinger, Human Rights lawyer and author

Miguel Tinker-Salas, Ph.D., Pomona College*

 

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President Obama’s Cynical Declaration

Last week President Obama declared Venezuela a threat to United States national security, going so far as to characterize the country (operating under a duly elected President and legislature) a national emergency. He did so with the full knowledge that the statement is untrue. Rather, the declaration was made to satisfy United States legal requirements for issuing sanctions against individual Venezuelan leaders. What does this behavior say about the state of affairs in Washington as regards Venezuela? Nothing good.

We at the Quixote Center affirm our opposition to the Obama administration’s efforts to isolate and destabilize the elected government of Venezuela. We do this with the full knowledge that Venezuela is experiencing a dramatic political battle in the wake of President Chavez’s death two years ago. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has faced off with an increasingly energized opposition since assuming office, with both sides appearing to engage in violence in the streets.

Our condemnation of President Obama’s actions is based on our long-held position in support of maintaining democratically elected governments, even those considered embattled. By issuing sanctions against the Venezuelan government, the Obama administration harms regional progress and security, and provides an easy bogeyman for Venezuelan politicians who may seek a distraction from home-grown problems.

President Maduro has repeatedly accused the United States of supporting efforts to organize a coup in Venezuela. The Obama administration has repeatedly denied support for coup plots as ridiculous, but history tells us that these concerns are valid and ought to be brought out into the light for a true examination. If the United States is providing financial or moral support for an illegal change of administration, this support must end immediately because it would be both illegal and harmful to global security and cooperation.

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Oil Prices and Regional Solidarity

Oil prices matter beyond the pump. The recent drop in the price of crude (from $100 to $30 per barrel) has been cause for celebration in oil-consuming countries like the United States. An understandable reaction since it sometimes seems as if our economy is based entirely on this liquified fossil fuel. The impacts beyond the gas tank are, however, more complex and diverse.

The IMF recently warned that Haiti and Nicaragua stand to lose out because of the low oil prices. That’s because both countries (along with seventeen others) receive oil at a steep discount from Venezuela through the regional solidarity bloc PetroCaribe. Through the alliance, Venezuela offsets these discounts with profits from oil sales to other countries. With profit margins thinning and a series of local crises, some internal and some external, Venezuela’s ability to continue the program is now in question.

Like all national and international policies, I find it helpful to look at concrete impacts. In Nicaragua you needn’t look past the local bus stop. The country’s public transportation system is kept affordable because of the subsidized oil imports from Venezuela combined with Nicaraguan policies dictating reduced rates for travel by bus, van, and taxi both in urban centers and between them. These reduced rates allow people from the countryside to reach urban areas and the economic opportunities they contain. They make possible local trade networks for individual producers and small businesses. Without reduced oil from PetroCaribe, it’s quite possible that transportation costs could become prohibitive for those who rely most on public transit. In Haiti, the situation is much the same.

It’s unclear how long Venezuela can maintain these subsidies, but in the meantime continuing sanctions and denouncements from Washington are complicating rather than resolving Venezuela’s own internal conflicts. These conflicts also threaten regional initiatives like PetroCaribe, and in doing so carry the possibility of unsavory outcomes in fragile countries like Haiti and Nicaragua.

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