Amidst international media speculation about his health, on 5 July 2011, President Chavez address Venezuelans from Miraflores Presidential Palace, Caracas as part of a civic-military parade to mark 200 years of Independence from Spanish colonialism. Chavez had returned from Cuba the previous day, following an emergency operation to remove a pelvic abscess and small tumour discovered by Cuban doctors whilst he was on a tour of Latin American countries promoting further regional integration. Chavez has now returned to Cuba for further treatment.
Whilst Venezuela has been celebrating its historic independence from Spanish colonialism, the US has stepped up its aggression against the Bolivarian revolution.
On 24 May the US announced sanctions against Venezuela’s state oil company PSVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela) prohibiting it from competing for US government procurement contracts, from securing finance from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and from obtaining US export licenses. Hypocritically, the sanctions do not affect the US’s imports of Venezuelan oil, which at 1.2 million barrels of oil per day amount to 15% of US imports.
The paper-thin justifications for this move were spurious claims that Venezuela is implicated in supporting terrorism due to its trade with Iran. Between December 2010 and March 2011 Venezuela exported $50 million worth of the fuel additive reformate to Iran. In the statement released on 24 May U.S. Vice Secretary of State James Steinberg, stated that the sanctions were to send a ‘clear message’ to companies which continue to ‘irresponsibly support Iran...they will suffer serious consequences’ Friday 24 June saw a hearing of the US Foreign Relations Committee of the House of Representatives solely devoted to discussion on ‘Sanctionable Activities in Venezuela’.
Additionally the hearing demanded the State Department impose sanctions against Venezuelan airline CONVIASA, citing its ‘support for terrorism’ because of flights between Caracas and both Syria and Iran. This was in response to misinformation from German newspaper Die Welt, which had falsely claimed that Venezuela and Iran were building a missile base in western Venezuela. In response to these dangerous allegations, Chavez showed footage of a windmill farm in same the location where Die Welt had indicated the fictional Iranian military base was located.
The sanctions against PDVSA follow a string of sanctions put in place since 2005 when Washington classified Venezuela as a country that does not ‘cooperate in the fight against drug trafficking.’ Whilst the US originally sought financial penalties against Venezuela for refusing to work with the notoriously corrupt US Drugs Enforcement Agency, it found it had a problem: Venezuela has no loans in the US and had paid off its IMF loans in May 2007. The only support that could be cut would be the $40-50 million given annually to opposition groups through USAID and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) who work to undermine the Bolivarian Revolution. Therefore, the US included an exception to this penalty, stating it ‘would not affect US economic support to “pro-democracy civil society organizations”’. Exposing Washington’s real interest in labelling Venezuela as a narco-trafficking state, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported in June that Venezuela is ranked fifth worldwide in cocaine interdictions and has been a territory free of illicit coca leaf cultivation since 2006.
The Venezuelan response to continued attacks on their sovereignty has been strong. Venezuela is determined to ignore the US sanctions and continue trade with Iran, threatening to withdraw its exports to the US if necessary. On 29 May thousands of people marched in Caracas to protest the sanctions with slogans including ‘PDVSA is ours until death’, and ‘You don’t mess with my country, Venezuela is respected’. Consolidating such sentiments, Chavez warned ‘Bring it on, Mr. Obama. Do not forget that we are the children of Bolivar...the true impact of this latest US aggression is the strengthening of our nationalistic and patriotic morale in Venezuela!’