The US Must End Its Economic War Against Venezuela

Jesús “Chuo” Torrealba, a 63-year-old journalist and social worker, is a prominent figure in Venezuela’s opposition. He was secretary-general of the Democratic Unity Roundtable, the leading coalition of organizations opposed to the government of President Nicolás Maduro. He has 1 million followers on Twitter. And even he says the harsh US economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela over the past four and a half years have failed and should be eased.

In August 2017, the Trump administration declared economic warfare against Venezuela. Torrealba told me that the sanctions have not weakened the Maduro regime, but they have helped push millions of Venezuelans out of the country. Some 6 million Venezuelans have now fled—the largest exodus in Latin American history. The mass departure from Venezuela is now the third largest in the world, trailing only Syria and Ukraine.

Torrealba said that the sanctions have backfired. The United States has blocked most of the country’s oil exports and essentially cut it off from international finance. On paper, the sanctions made exceptions for the sale of food and medicines, but nearly all global companies have steered clear of the country, afraid to violate US law, even if by accident. “The Trump administration believed that if you make people suffer, if you impose the politics of pain, that you will promote a general insurrection,” he said. “That has not happened. Hungry people do not revolt. Meanwhile, the Maduro regime’s leading figures are not suffering. Ordinary people are.”

He added that polling inside Venezuela shows that an overwhelming majority of people favor lifting the economic pressure.

There is an additional factor. The war in Ukraine has raised the price of oil. Easing sanctions could restore some Venezuelan oil to the market, slowing the global price increase. US diplomats have been to Caracas for talks, and US energy firms are already signaling their interest in Venezuelan oil.

Torrealba is one of the people who appears in Things Are Never So Bad That They Can’t Get Worse: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela, a new book by former New York Times reporter William Neuman. It is the only comprehensive account in English of Venezuela’s last 10 years. Neuman’s strength is that he presents the views of ordinary people. He writes about Hilda Solórzano and her children, who live in Petere, the poor community in north Caracas, and about Marlyn Rangel, a young student of computer science in Maracaibo, the western industrial city that is the historic heart of the country’s oil industry. Neuman portrays Darwin Briseño and his colleagues, electrical engineers who try to restore the nation’s fragile power grid after frequent blackouts. And he profiles David Natera, an independent newspaper editor who keeps publishing online despite government repression.

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