Gaza, Venezuela, and Collective Punishment: A Conversation with Medea Benjamin

The co-founder of CODEPINK draws parallels between the plight endured by Palestinians and Venezuelans.
Medea Benjamin (Venezuelanalysis)

In Venezuela, the expressions of solidarity with the people of Palestine have been powerful and permanent, perhaps because Venezuelans know firsthand the brutality of the US and its allies exercise in pursuing their ends. In this exclusive interview, Medea Benjamin reflects on the brutality of US policy against both the people of Palestine and Venezuela, and the mechanisms by which the “enlightened” West carries out wars and genocides.  

Although we can’t equate the US aggression against Venezuela – an attempt at slow asphyxiation via sanctions in these years – with the genocidal aggressions the Palestinian people have suffered for more than 75 years, there are parallels to be made. Can you reflect on them?

One parallel is that in both cases, the US is causing harm to entire populations. In the case of Venezuela, the US is directly responsible for trying to destroy the economy, including restricting food and depriving the government of resources to provide services to its people. In the case of Gaza, the US is doing this indirectly via its support for Israel and Israel’s 17-year siege on that strip of land.

In both cases, the economic squeeze is not only responsible for food shortages, but for increased disease and mortality. In Gaza, the deaths are obvious for all to see; in Venezuela, they are hidden but still very real. There is one major difference, however. In Venezuela, the economic collapse has forced many to leave the country; in Gaza, people have nowhere to flee.

The people of Gaza – and in general Palestinians – and the people of Venezuela are both victims of collective punishment for alleged misdeeds and crimes of their governments and so, apparently, deserve to die in the thousands. That’s what the mainstream media and Western governments say, either explicitly or tacitly. Tell us about the mainstream media’s role in legitimizing sanctions, coups, and, even worse, genocides.

The mainstream media has played an incredibly pernicious role in dehumanizing the populations of both Gaza (and Palestine in general) and Venezuela. The narrative is that both peoples are ruled by oppressive governments that constitute a threat to either the US or its allies (Israel), and therefore anything the US does to support the overthrow of their leaders is justifiable. 

During the 17 years since the people of Gaza have been under siege – and the 75 years of oppression since the creation of the state of Israel – the day-to-day Israeli stifling of life in Gaza has been erased from the US media. That is why they are able to say that this conflict began on October 7, without taking into account the decades of oppression that have left people in a state of despair. 

Likewise, in the case of Venezuela, the mainstream US media has erased the suffering of ordinary Venezuelans under the oppressive yoke of sanctions. The entire economic crisis is portrayed as the fault of “communism,” the fault of the Venezuelan government. The staggering effects of sanctions are either ignored or downplayed as just one of many causes of the destruction of the economy – with government mismanagement or disregard for the wellbeing of its people as the main cause. 

This gives the US media the ability to portray the brutal US sanctions as a positive policy designed to free the people being oppressed by their own government.

Impact of the US sanctions on Venezuela infographic. (Venezuelanalysis)

Western politicians pride themselves on their commitment to democracy and human rights, while they sponsor or carry out massacres of people in the Global South and support the governments of Israel, Saudi Arabia, or the United Arab Emirates. Aren’t these gross, shameful contradictions?

Yes! More and more, the hypocrisy of US policy is being exposed around the world. How can the US continue to talk about its ally, Israel, as a “democracy” in need of “defense”? How can the US be allied with countries like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, countries that rule their own people with an iron fist, countries that have carried out horrific crimes against the people of Yemen, countries that don’t have any elections or political parties? 

How can these countries be considered allies while Venezuela is sanctioned because the US says its elections are not “free and fair”? The hypocrisy is astounding.

While Western governments support and even finance Israel’s genocide in Gaza and abide by the sanctions regime imposed by the US on Venezuela, public opinion seems to be shifting on Palestine and the sanctions on Venezuela. Is this the case, and why?

In the case of Palestine, the bombing in Gaza is so horrific that despite the media and US government propaganda, the majority of the US people are calling for a ceasefire. 

In the case of Venezuela, unfortunately, I think the sanctions – a “silent killer” – continue to be hidden from the US public. And unfortunately, the slight US government overtures have occurred only out of a desire to stem migration to the US or reduce the price of oil, not to help the Venezuelan people. We must do more in the US to make the public aware of the deadly effects of sanctions.

What should people who care about humanity (be it Western or not, be it Black, brown, yellow, or white) do to stop the genocide against the Palestinian people and the coercive measures against the people of Venezuela, to say nothing of the sanctions against the people of Cuba, Iran, North Korea and several others?

The people around the world are already rising up against the genocide in Gaza and against US hegemonic policies, such as the extraterritorial sanctions where the US tries to impose its policies on the entire world. Strong countries like the BRICS nations are finding more and more ways to circumvent the sanctions, and people throughout the Global South are protesting US interference in the affairs of other nations. 

We must continue to build alternatives to US power by building a stronger multipolar world that is capable of reining in the ability of the US to wreak havoc – through militarism or sanctions – on people who just happen to live in nations the US government opposes. And we have to help put progressive governments in power that will stand up to egregious US interference in the internal affairs of others. 

Venezuelans took the streets chanting “¡Viva Palestina libre!” (Fuerza Patriótica Alexis Vive)