During a hearing on the Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives of the United States on “sanctioned activities in Venezuela,” Congressional Democrats and Republicans asked the Obama administration to take more aggressive actions against the government of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The head of the Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs for the Western Hemisphere, Connie Mack, Republican of Florida, branded the Venezuelan government “terrorist”, saying “it is time to act to contain the dangerous influence of Hugo Chavez and his relations with Iran”.
Mack is known for his rabid anti-Chavez stance. However, the Republican congressman has weight in the legislature because of his high office in the Foreign Relations Committee. His efforts, along with the head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, managed to convince the White House to impose sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) last May 24. Mack has said that his only mission this year is “go for Hugo Chavez.”
Today’s hearing, devoted entirely to in Venezuela, was attended by senior officials of the State Department, the Treasury Department and the Office of Foreign Assets Control. In testimony before the Committee, the Assistant Under-Secretary of State for Latin America, Kevin Whitaker, revealed that the administration of Barack Obama is “seriously considering” labeling Venezuela a “terrorist state”. “No option is off the table and the department will continue to study any further action as may be necessary in the future,” said Whitaker.
The sanctions imposed on May 24 PDVSA fell into a sanctions law against Iran (Iran Sanctions Act) of the United States, including the prohibition of entering into contracts with the U.S. government, the use of the import and export bank of the United States and the approval of certain technology licensing. Washington’s hostile action towards Venezuela did not have much economic impact against the South American country and its oil company because it no longer had agreements with the U.S. government or loans from their banks. The sanctions did not affect the important oil supplies from Venezuela to the United States or the Venezuelan subsidiary in U.S. territory, CITGO.
However, the sanctions had an impact on diplomatic relations between Caracas and Washington, which were already in a period of deterioration. After the latter’s aggressive actions, the Venezuelan government declared relations with the United States “frozen”.
DANGEROUS TO DO BUSINESS WITH PDVSA
According to the Department of State, sanctions against PDVSA, while not impacting the country economically, “give a message to the world that it is dangerous to do business with Venezuela and PDVSA,” indicating that in the near future, Washington would act against those who enter into contracts or agreements with Venezuelan companies.
SANCTIONS AGAINST CONVIASA
The lawmakers also demanded that the State Department impose sanctions against the Venezuelan airline CONVIASA because of what they consider their “support for terrorism” because it had maintained flights between Caracas, Syria and Iran. Without a shred of evidence, the congressmen said that the flight, which is no longer operating, was “carrying radioactive material, weapons, drugs and known terrorists of Hezbollah and Iran.”
To support this dangerous “accusation”, Congress cited the German newspaper, Die Welt, which had published earlier in the week that Venezuela and Iran were building a missile base in the western Venezuelan coast-to “attack the United States.” Faced with this misinformation, President Hugo Chavez showed footage of a farm of windmills in the location where “sources” had indicated the fictional Iranian military base was.
The congress also implored the State Department to consider applying more sanctions against Venezuela, including “a ban on U.S. imports” and “transactions in dollars.” Representatives of the White House said that although they are considering further action against the government of Hugo Chávez, which they consider to be “an enemy government”, they must take into account the significant supply of Venezuelan oil, which comprised 15% of U.S. imports . Some days ago, President Barack Obama authorized oil drilling in the state of Alaska in an area protected due to its environmental value, indicating that Washington is seeking to secure their energy needs before breaking the trade relationship with Venezuela.
SANCTIONS TO DATE
In addition to the sanctions imposed against PDVSA on 24 May, Washington already has taken aggressive actions against the Venezuelan government. In June of 2006, it classified Venezuela as a country that “does not cooperate sufficiently with the fight against terrorism” and imposed sanctions prohibiting US arms sales to Venezuela or of any company in the world using U.S. technology.
Since 2005, Washington also has classified Venezuela as a country that does not “cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking,” which should carry a financial penalty against the South American country. Yet, Washington clarified that since Venezuela has no loans in the U.S., the only support that could be cut would be those millions of dollars given annually to anti-Chavez groups in Haiti who work every day to overthrow the Chavez government. They included an exception to this penalty, saying that it “would not affect the U.S. financial support grants to democratic ‘civil society’ organizations, thus ensuring continued support for the destabilization of Venezuela.
In 2007, the Treasury of the United States sanctioned three senior Venezuelan officials, accusing them of ties to terrorism and drug trafficking, but never offered proof. The officials included the Director of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, General Hugo Carvajal, the then Director of Bolivarian Intelligence (SEBIN), General Henry Rangel and then-Minister of Interior and Justice, Ramón Rodríguez Chacin.
The following year, the Treasury Department designated two Venezuelans of Syrian origin, Fawzi Kan’an and Ghazi Nasr al Din, as being “terrorists” for having ties with Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the United States.
All indications are that Washington will continue to increase their aggression against Venezuela with future sanctions and isolation.