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Economist Jeffrey Sachs: U.S. Sanctions Have Devastated Venezuela & Killed Over 40,000 Since 2017

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More than 40,000 people have died in Venezuela since 2017 as a result of U.S. sanctions, according to a new report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research co-authored by economists Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot.

The report examines how U.S. sanctions have reduced the availability of food and medicine in Venezuela and increased disease and mortality. We speak with Jeffrey Sachs in our New York studio. In the report, he writes, "American sanctions are deliberately aiming to wreck Venezuela's economy and thereby lead to regime change. It's a fruitless, heartless, illegal, and failed policy, causing grave harm to the Venezuelan people."

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AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! I'm Amy Goodman. Our guests are Miguel Tinker Salas, a Venezuelan professor at Pomona College in California; Jeffrey Sachs is with us here in New York, leading economist and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. He's recently co-authored a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research headlined "Economic Sanctions as Collective Punishment: The Case of Venezuela."

So much is being used against the presidency of Maduro, saying he's brought the country to an economic standstill. You make a different case, Jeffrey Sachs.

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JEFFREY SACHS: Well, it's not an economic standstill. It's a complete economic collapse, a catastrophe, in Venezuela. There was a crisis, for sure, before Trump came to office, but the idea of the Trump administration, from the start, has been to overthrow Maduro. That's not a hypothesis. Trump was very explicit in discussions with presidents of Latin America, where he asked them, "Why shouldn't the U.S. just invade?" He said that already in 2017. So the idea of the Trump administration has been to overthrow Maduro from the start. Well, the Latin leaders said, "No, no, that's not a good idea. We don't want military action." So the U.S. government has been trying to strangle the Venezuelan economy.

It started with sanctions in 2017 that prevented, essentially, the country from accessing international capital markets and the oil company from restructuring its loans. That put Venezuela into a hyper-inflation. That was the utter collapse. Oil earnings plummeted. The earnings that are used to buy food and medicine collapsed. That's when the social, humanitarian crisis went spiraling out of control. And then, in this year, with this idea, very naive, very stupid, in my view, that there would be this self-proclaimed president, which was all choreographed with the United States very, very closely, another round of even tighter sanctions, essentially confiscating the earnings and the assets of the Venezuelan government, took place.

Now Venezuela is in complete, utter catastrophe, a lot of it brought on by the United States deliberately, creating massive, massive suffering. We know there's hunger. We know there's a incredible shortage of medical supplies. We can only imagine, because we won't know really until the dust settles and careful studies are done, how much excess mortality there is, but, surely, in a context like this, this is a catastrophe largely created by the U.S., because, as was said earlier, this is an all-or-nothing strategy. What the U.S.wants -- Trump just doesn't understand and what Bolton, of all, of course, never agrees to, is the idea of negotiations. This is an attempt at an overthrow. It's very crude. It's not working. And it's very cruel, because it's punishing 30 million people.

AMY GOODMAN: How did you come up with the number 40,000 dead as a result of these crippling U.S. sanctions?

JEFFREY SACHS: Let me be clear: Nobody knows. This was a very basic, simple calculation based on estimates of universities in Venezuela that mortality had increased by a certain proportion after the sanctions. I don't want anyone to think that there is precision in these numbers. What is certain, though, staring us in the face, is that there is a humanitarian catastrophe, deliberately caused by the United States, by what I would say are illegal sanctions, because they are deliberately trying to bring down a government and trying to create chaos for the purpose of an overthrow of a government.

AMY GOODMAN: Why?

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JEFFREY SACHS: Why are they doing that? This is normal U.S. right-wing foreign policy, nothing different. This is the same foreign policy that we saw throughout Latin America in the 20th century. It's the same foreign policy that we saw catastrophically in the Middle East. This is Mr. Bolton. This is Mr. Bolton's idea of diplomacy. This is Trump's idea of diplomacy. You punch someone in the face. You crush your opponent. You try whatever way you can to get your way. It's very simple-minded. It's very crude. And, Amy, it never works. It just leads to catastrophe.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Miguel Tinker Salas back into this conversation, professor at Pomona College. As these protests were taking place in -- or this coup attempt was taking place in Venezuela -- in Honduras there were massive protests against privatization, also huge demonstrations in Paris. You certainly don't get the same kind of coverage.

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What's not being said, is that Big Oil is also behind this, and has been ever since Hugo Chavez nationalized the Venezuelan oil fields as part of Venezuelan land, which, therefore, belong to the people of Venezuela. Chavez began using the oil revenues to improve the lives of the people - better water supply systems, better schools, better hospitals, better roads. It was, and still is, a massive undertaking, to reverse over a century of manipulation by the 'elite' wealthy, not a little in emulation of what has happened in America. Maduro is what is known as, in Venezuela, a 'Chavista', as are the vast majority of its people. It's no wonder he has been targeted, via the Dept. of State, and its international thugs, the CIA. It is no great surprise, either, that that effort has failed, especially through using their stooge, Guaido, who was in this country for ten years, going to college, and being schooled for his great leadership role to 'restore' Venezuela to its rightful rulers, the wealthy, which includes his own family, which most Venezuelans are aware of. Chaves was a true democratic socialist, so he was anathema to anything the 'leadership of this country could, or would, tolerate. All of Central America, and most of South America understand this. Many of them have been dealing with the same struggle since WWII came to a close, and that began as far back as the Spanish-American War. Any government that demonstrated socialist tendencies, from Chile, to Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, and Argentina had to be 'converted' to the 'right' way of thinking, and governing, which meant using all of a country's resources to benefit the already wealthy. And, practically all of the dissent, disruption and rebellion has been stirred up by 'operatives' recruited by our 'State' from among the young, who's memory of socialistic benefits is either non-existent, or very short, and who are easily roused, through 'revolutionary' rhetoric, to rebellious activity. Looked at carefully, the same agenda can be seen to be operative in many parts of the world, especially the middle east - can you guess why ... ?

It's not over yet. But the trend is becoming ever more clear, even in this country. As we are able, and insistent, on freeing ourselves from the energy monopoly of the fossil fuel industry, the greater will become the opportunities for a better, more equitable distribution of wealth, in all its forms.

Submitted on Friday, May 3, 2019 at 6:54:29 PM

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