By inflicting sanctions, Canada sides with the bullies against Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro. Photo: Eneas De Troya/flickr

In terms of foreign policy damage, whatever harm Justin Trudeau did by parading around India in colourful outfits is a nothing-burger compared to the severe hardship he is inflicting on Venezuela.

And yet media commentators have been full-throttle in denouncing the prime minister's alleged wardrobe malfunction on his recent India trip while being silent -- or downright supportive -- of Trudeau's decision last fall to join the Trump administration in imposing sanctions on the struggling South American nation.

Anyone following the international media coverage would conclude that the Venezuelan government is terribly autocratic and that Western nations, led by the U.S., have stepped in with sanctions out of concern over human rights abuses there.

A closer look suggests a different scenario that puts Western actions in a less laudable light: Washington is waging economic war against a nation that dared to rise up and reject U.S. control over its ample oil reserves.

The Obama administration targeted individual Venezuelans with sanctions, but the Trump administration's sanctions are much broader, taking punishing aim at the country's entire economy.

Sadly, Trudeau is backing up the U.S. bully, apparently hoping to win a reprieve from Trump's arbitrary trade measures -- a strategy that seems unfair to Venezuela and also likely futile. We'll return to Canada's sorry role in this saga in a moment.

Venezuela has been in Washington's cross hairs ever since the dramatic 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, a charismatic, populist leader -- and this is one case where the word "populist" legitimately applies.

Unlike the "populist" Donald Trump, Chavez actually came from humble roots as the child of Black and Indian parents, and actually championed his country's large peasant population.

Indeed, unlike many Third World leaders who siphon off their nation's wealth in cahoots with foreign multinationals and local elites, Chavez enraged Washington by nationalizing Venezuela's oil and redirecting the wealth to health care, education, housing and food for the poor.

Venezuela's wealthy elite, angry about losing their privileged position, vowed to overthrow Chavez -- and briefly did in a violent 2002 coup, with the help of Washington, before being repelled two days later when hundreds of thousands of pro-Chavez demonstrators from poor neighbourhoods took to the streets of Caracas.

Many in the elite had worked for the U.S.-owned oil industry when it effectively ran the oil-rich nation. And, like the Cuban elite after Fidel Castro nationalized U.S.-owned industry there, the Venezuelan elite has remained close to Washington.

After the failed 2002 coup, Venezuela's elite concentrated on demonizing Chavez -- and Nicolás Maduro, his hand-picked successor, who narrowly won election following Chavez's death from cancer in 2013.

Although lacking Chavez's charisma, Maduro has continued to win elections even as the country's economy has plunged, along with world oil prices. Frustrated, the opposition has adopted increasingly violent tactics -- including a bizarre attack last year when rebels dropped grenades from a helicopter on the country's Supreme Court.

Alfred de Zayas, a UN-appointed expert sent to investigate the chaos last fall, met with dozens of opposition activists as well as church and human rights groups, and concluded that the Maduro regime has made "major mistakes including excessive force by the police."

But de Zayas also found that popular support for the Chavez revolution remains strong. And he accused anti-government demonstrators of having "attacked hospitals, nursery schools, burned ambulances and buses in order to intimidate the people. Is this not classic terrorism?"

The UN expert also explained that the sanctions -- which he considers reminiscent of U.S. measures against Chile's Salvador Allende in the 1970s -- are aggravating the suffering of Venezuelans, and he called for them to end. "That would be the greatest help," he said.

But Canada refuses to listen. Our sanctions aren't as broad as Trump's, but they lend Canadian credibility to penalizing Venezuela, thereby providing political cover for the harsh U.S. measures.

And so we continue to inflict sanctions on Venezuela, citing the lofty goal of defending human rights -- even while we actively trade and sell arms to full-fledged dictatorships, such as Saudi Arabia.

What's going on in Venezuela is a bitter class war, with millions of poor people committed to defending a revolution carried out in their name, and Canada taking the side of the wealthy, well-armed opposition.

Journalist and author Linda McQuaig interviewed Hugo Chavez in Caracas in 2004 for a book she wrote on the geopolitics of oil. Her book Shooting the Hippo: Death by Deficit and Other Canadian Myths was among the books selected by the Literary Review of Canada as the "25 most influential Canadian books of the past 25 years." You can follow her on Twitter @LindaMcQuaig. A version of this column originally appeared in the Toronto Star.

Photo: Eneas De Troya/flickr

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.