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Opinion and Analysis: International | Oil and Gas

US Sanctions on PDVSA - Latest Imperialist Provocation

On Tuesday May 25, the US imposed penalties against Venezuelan state-owned company PDVSA, and another 6 companies from other countries, for conducting business with Iran.  The sanctions are part of an attempt by Washington to step up the pressure against Iran in relation to its nuclear program. They are also an act of blatant bullying directed against Venezuela.

These penalties are imposed within the framework of the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act passed in the US in July 2010, which expands and tightens the 1996 Iran Sanctions Act. They mean that PDVSA will be barred from any U.S. government contracts, U.S. import-export financing and export licenses for sensitive technology.

However this will not affect PDVSA oil sales to the US (which amount to 1.2 million barrels a day) nor the operations of PDVSA’s subsidiary in the US, CITGO. The Americans do not like Hugo Chavez, but they are very partial to Venezuela’s oil. Therefore, their “hard line” does not extend to an oil embargo.

These acts have no standing in international law as they attempt to rule over the activities of companies, individuals or governments outside the USA, and therefore outside of the jurisdiction of US law. However, international legality has never worried imperialism. The sanctions and boycott laws against the Cuban Revolution implemented by Washington are also illegal and have been rejected on numerous occasions by the United Nations, which has not made an atom of difference.

International law, the UN, the ICHR and other international institutions are just a fig leaf to cover, on occasion, the real intentions of US imperialism. If they are able to get their aims backed by “international law” that is useful, of course, from the point of view of fooling public opinion, but if for whatever reason they cannot, they just go ahead regardless.

When all is said and done, international relations are based on the power one country has to impose its will on others. It is based, not on abstract principles or legality, but on gunships, aircraft carriers and missiles. And since the USA is by far the largest military power on earth, no-one is going to impose “internal law” on them.

As well as being directed against Iran, these penalties are also part of the propaganda campaign against Venezuela, particularly in the run up to the crucial 2012 presidential elections. As a matter of fact (so far at least) these penalties will not seriously affect the operations of PDVSA. Their aim, at the moment, is mainly to strengthen the propaganda campaign against Chavez and the Venezuelan revolution.

US Senator Richard Lugar, the highest-ranking Republican in the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, spelt this out clearly when he said that penalties against PDVSA were the result of: "Venezuela's unwillingness to break relations with terrorist organizations and with countries which sponsor them.”

This is the voice of imperialist arrogance. The rulers of the USA claim to have the right to dictate to other countries that they do business with, and if they don’t comply, they will be “leaned upon”. These are the methods, not of international law, but of a Mafia Godfather.  

Similar statements have been coming out of the United States recently:

 “Chavez is making himself the Osama Bin Laden and the Ahmedinejad of the Western Hemisphere,” Rep. Connie Mack (R-FL) told Republicans during the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in February 2011.

“Chavez himself could develop a nuclear weapon,” said Roger Noriega, Former Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, during the “Danger in the Andes” conference in Congress on November 17, 2010.

“We need a systematic policy to change the regime in Venezuela and that is serious issue,” added John P. Waters, former director, White House Office of Drug Control Policy, on November 17, 2010.

The idea is to smear the Bolivarian revolution and the government of Hugo Chávez as “supporters of terrorism”, “developing nuclear weapons” and generally linking them up with “rogue regimes”, in order to prepare public opinion in the USA and elsewhere for action against the Venezuelan revolution.

The latest episode of this propaganda campaign is the bizarre allegation by the German sensationalist newspaper Die Welt, that the Chavez government had reached a secret deal with Iran, so that Iran could build medium-range missile launch pads in the Paraguaná peninsula in Venezuela. The only source given for this clearly false allegation was “Western security insiders”.

Then we had the publication by the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies of a selection of emails and documents allegedly coming from the laptops of FARC commander Raul Reyes which “prove” that the Venezuelan government has been supporting and harbouring the Colombian “FARC terrorists”.

Never mind the fact that Interpol itself declared that thousands of those files had been modified (i.e. doctored) and created after the laptops were seized by the Colombian army, that the chain of custody had not been properly secured and that proper forensic procedures had not been followed in handling them.

Never mind the fact that the Colombian Supreme Court has just ruled that any evidence from the Raul Reyes laptops is not admissible in court because it was obtained during an illegal incursion into Ecuadorean territory. Clearly, the IISG does not think that the facts should be allowed to get in the way of a good story.

It should be noted that the IISG is the same institute which also produced the infamous report on weapons of mass destruction which served to sell the case for the invasion of Iraq to the British public. The point is that by publishing these so-called emails and files they have captured the headlines about Venezuela for a couple of days and strengthened the idea that Venezuela is a country that supports terrorists and therefore “something must be done about it”.

The publication of these “documents” after the Venezuelan government handed over Colombian political exile Joaquín Pérez Becerra to the authorities in Bogotá is very significant. It shows that no amount of appeasement and concessions made to Washington and its puppets in Colombia will stop the campaign against the Venezuelan Revolution. Let’s not forget that the “proof” that Bogotá used to accuse Perez Becerra was based on the same Raul Reyes laptops files which have been now been ruled inadmissible by the Colombian Supreme Court.

From the point of view of the Venezuelan Revolution, PDVSA is an extremely sensitive target. It was the revolution which unraveled plans for the privatization of the oil company. It was the sacking of the pro-imperialist and reactionary PDVSA managers by Chavez which sparked the coup in 2002. It was PDVSA which was the main target of the criminal bosses’ lock out of December 2002 and January 2003, when thousands of well paid engineers and managers of the company abandoned their jobs and sabotaged the operations with the aim of bringing down the democratically elected government.

It was when the Bolivarian government took over PDVSA that it got the necessary resources to launch the massive social programs (Misiones) to deliver health care, education and subsidized food products to the majority. It is no surprise then that opposition members of the Venezuelan National Assembly refused to vote for a resolution condemning the sanctions against PDVSA and calling on the government to take retaliatory measures. They have shown who their master is. The Venezuelan oligarchy is anti-national and pro-imperialist. They would rather have their own country taken over by imperialism, than accept the democratic will of the majority of Venezuelans.

In each one of these occasions in which PDVSA was threatened by the attacks of the reactionary ruling class, it was the mobilization of the people and the workers that saved the revolution. In the case of the oil sabotage it was particularly the oil workers, who took over the installations and ran them under workers’ control, which defeated the reactionary offensive. For this reason it is absolutely correct that the response of the Foreign Affairs Ministry to this latest provocation from Washington “calls on all the Venezuelan people, the working class and especially the oil workers, to stay alert and mobilized in defense of our PDVSA and the sacred sovereignty of the homeland.”

It has been proven time and time again that only the revolutionary mobilization of the workers and the poor can effectively defend the Venezuelan revolution and inspire the workers of the world to come to its support. No amount of diplomatic maneuvering can achieve that.

In a previous occasion when, faced with the provocations from Washington, Chavez threatened to cut oil supplies to the US, the Venezuelan oil workers responded with a massive march in Caracas. They declared they were ready to defend the revolution, but at the same time pointed out the sabotaging role played by many of the managers in the oil industry, not a small number of them having participated in the 2002-03 sabotage and having sneaked back into the industry. The oil workers pointed out that only through workers’ control in PDVSA could the industry be defended against attacks and sabotage and this is absolutely correct.

The oligarchy, the capitalists, bankers and latifundia owners, are the direct agents of imperialism in Venezuela, as was graphically shown in the National Assembly vote. In order effectively to defend the country against imperialist attacks and provocations their power needs to be broken. Above all this means their economic power. Their properties should be expropriated and put under democratic workers’ control. The marvelous national gathering of socialist workers’ councils to discuss workers’ control, which took place at the SIDOR steel works on May 21-22 with the presence of 900 worker representatives from all over the country, shows the way forward.

The revolution can be defended against imperialism if it is completed as a socialist revolution, abolishing capitalism. On that basis it can launch an internationalist appeal for the workers in other countries to follow its example. Such a call would have an electrifying impact throughout Latin America, but also in the Arab world and in Europe and the USA where the workers are now being made to pay the price of the crisis of capitalism.

  • Down with imperialism!
  • Defend the Venezuelan revolution!
  • Long live international socialism!