Oil. The answer is always oil.
The White House on Monday announced the imposition of new sanctions on various Venezuelan officials, pronouncing itself “deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents”: deeply concerned. President Obama also, reportedly with a straight face, officially declared that Venezuela poses “an extraordinary threat to the national security” of the U.S. — a declaration necessary to legally justify the sanctions.
Today, one of the Obama administration’s closest allies on the planet, Saudi Arabia, sentenced one of that country’s few independent human rights activists, Mohammed al-Bajad, to 10 years in prison on “terrorism” charges. That is completely consistent with that regime’s systematic and extreme repression, which includes gruesome state beheadings at a record-setting rate, floggings and long prison terms for anti-regime bloggers, executions of those with minority religious views, and exploitation of terror laws to imprison even the mildest regime critics.
Absolutely nobody expects the “deeply concerned” President Obama to impose sanctions on the Saudis — nor on any of the other loyal U.S. allies from Egypt to the UAE whose repression is far worse than Venezuela’s. Perhaps those who actually believe U.S. proclamations about imposing sanctions on Venezuela in objection to suppression of political opposition might spend some time thinking about what accounts for that disparity.
That nothing is more insincere than purported U.S. concerns over political repression is too self-evident to debate. Supporting the most repressive regimes on the planet in order to suppress and control their populations is and long has been a staple of U.S. (and British) foreign policy. “Human rights” is the weapon invoked by the U.S. Government and its loyal media to cynically demonize regimes that refuse to follow U.S. dictates, while far worse tyranny is steadfastly overlooked, or expressly cheered, when undertaken by compliant regimes, such as those in Riyadh and Cairo (see this USA Today article, one of many, recently hailing the Saudis as one of the “moderate” countries in the region). This is exactly the tactic that leads neocons to feign concern for Afghan women or the plight of Iranian gays when doing so helps to gin up war-rage against those regimes, while they snuggle up to far worse but far more compliant regimes.
Any rational person who watched the entire top echelon of the U.S. government drop what they were doing to make a pilgrimage to Riyadh to pay homage to the Saudi monarchs (Obama cut short a state visit to India to do so), or who watches the mountain of arms and money flow to the regime in Cairo, would do nothing other than cackle when hearing U.S. officials announce that they are imposing sanctions to punish repression of political opposition. And indeed, that’s what most of the world outside of the U.S. and Europe do when they hear such claims. But from the perspective of U.S. officials, that’s fine, because such pretenses to noble intentions are primarily intended for domestic consumption.
As for Obama’s decree that Venezuela now poses an “extraordinary threat to the national security” of the United States, is there anyone, anywhere, that wants to defend the reasonability of that claim? Think about what it says about our discourse that Obama officials know they can issue such insultingly false tripe with no consequences.
But what’s not too obvious to point out is what the U.S is actually doing in Venezuela. It’s truly remarkable how the very same people who demand U.S. actions against the democratically elected government in Caracas are the ones who most aggressively mock Venezuelan leaders when they point out that the U.S. is working to undermine their government.
The worst media offender in this regard is The New York Times, which explicitly celebrated the 2002 U.S.-supported coup of Hugo Chavez as a victory for democracy, but which now regularly derides the notion that the U.S. would ever do something as untoward as undermine the Venezuelan government.
The real question is this: if concern over suppression of political rights is not the real reason the U.S. is imposing new sanctions on Venezuela (perish the thought!), what is? Among the most insightful commentators on U.S. policy in Latin America is Mark Weisbrot of Just Foreign Policy. Read his excellent article for Al Jazeera on the recent Obama decree on Venezuela.
In essence, Venezuela is one of the very few countries with significant oil reserves which does not submit to U.S. dictates, and this simply cannot be permitted (such countries are always at the top of the U.S. government and media list of Countries To Be Demonized). Beyond that, the popularity of Chavez and the relative improvement of Venezuela’s poor under his redistributionist policies petrifies neoliberal institutions for its ability to serve as an example; just as the Cuban economy was choked by decades of U.S. sanctions and then held up by the U.S. as a failure of Communism, subverting the Venezuelan economy is crucial to destroying this success.