Mexico City, Mexico, February 14, 2023 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro expressed his condolences to President Bashar al-Assad in a phone call Monday with his Syrian counterpart after more than 36,000 people were killed and thousands injured when a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Syria and Turkey last week.
Venezuela quickly dispatched humanitarian aid and a team of rescue workers to the earthquake-stricken region. The Simon Bolivar Humanitarian Task Force has focused its efforts in Latakia, in northwestern Syria, which had received little assistance.
Analysts have attributed the lack of sufficient aid to affected areas in Syria to the sanctions imposed on the al-Assad government following years of war between the state and Western-backed rebel forces.
Assistance to the northwest region of Syria is further complicated by divisions prompted by the 12-year conflict in the country, with some areas de facto controlled by Turkey and others under the control of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a rebel group with ties to al-Qaeda.
According to a communique from the Venezuelan government, Maduro expressed his faith that the Syrian people would be able to overcome the consequences of the earthquake as they have with the “terrorist war driven by imperialism”.
Likewise, al-Assad expressed his gratitude for the aid from the Venezuelan people despite also suffering from US unilateral coercive measures.
Shortly after the earthquake, various groups and officials including the head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Khaled Hboubati, called for sanctions against Syria to be lifted in order to expedite the arrival of aid.
The US responded Thursday by issuing six-month sanctions exemption for all transactions related to providing disaster relief to Syria.
“I want to make very clear that US sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people,” claimed Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.
The Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) of the US Department of the Treasury is the agency charged with administering sanctions waivers and is likewise tasked with enforcing the sanctions regime on Venezuela.
Adeyemo further claimed that US sanctions already provide exemptions for humanitarian efforts. However, in the case of Venezuela, the efficacy of these exemptions have been challenged, with critics pointing out that they are insufficient and cumbersome, with organizations having to spend resources to prove they qualify for an exemption. In the case of disaster aid to Syria, the US has said organizations would not need to prove an exemption unless requested to later.
However, a common consequence of widespread sanctions is a phenomenon known as overcompliance, whereby firms refuse to do business with a sanctioned country due to fear of running afoul of strict US sanctions despite not necessarily violating unilateral coercive measures. Commentators have similarly expressed concern that this phenomenon could impede the delivery of aid to Syria.
Alena Douhan, UN Special Rapporteur on Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on Human Rights, specifically highlighted the challenge of overcompliance while calling for sanctions to be lifted.
“While welcoming steps taken to suspend some sanctions on Syria, I call all sanctioning states to lift sanctions, to open all ways to deliver humanitarian aid and to ensure that no donor, bank or other actor is punished for humanitarian help to Syrians to avoid over-compliance,” wrote Douhan on Twitter.
In an extensive report for the UN, Douhan similarly called for an end to coercive measures on Venezuela due to their impact on human rights.
The recent earthquake and obstacles to relief efforts have seen a number of demonstrations take place inside Syria against Washington’s economic blockade. The Syrian Teachers Union held a protest Tuesday in front of the United Nations headquarters in Damascus calling for the lifting of all sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation.
Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar Humanitarian Task Force arrived in Syria Wednesday on a jet from state-owned Conviasa, itself a sanctioned entity.
The Simon Bolivar Humanitarian Task Force is also present in Turkey, where a team of Turkish rescue workers symbolically delivered a flag of Turkey to the Venezuelan aid workers. Venezuela likewise delivered 15 tons of food and medicine as part of its humanitarian efforts.
Edited by Ricardo Vaz in Caracas.