End the United States' sanctions against Venezuela

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The government of Hugo Chavez has used Venezuela's oil wealth to radically improve the wellbeing of the people.

A statement by the Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network

May 28, 2011-- AVSN -- On May 24, the United States' State Department unilaterally imposed sanctions against Venezuela's state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), accusing it of undermining the US sanctions against Iran by sending two cargo ships delivering US$50 million worth of reformate -- a blending component used to improve the quality of gasoline. The sanctions, which will last for two years, prevent PDVSA from entering into contracts with the US government, and bar it from import-export finance programs and obtaining licences for US oil processing technology.

The Australia-Venezuela Solidarity Network (AVSN) condemns and demands an immediate end to this latest attempt by the US administration to demonise and undermine the democratically elected government of President Hugo Chavez and weaken the Venezuelan people's Bolivarian revolution. The sanctions are a desperate and dishonest attempt to link Venezuela to Iran's nuclear energy program -- part of an ongoing campaign by the US to justify further aggressive action against revolutionary Venezuela.

National sovereignty

The Venezuelan government and people have responded by asserting the right of the sovereign Venezuelan state to establish trade relations with all countries in the world. In the words of Venezuela's minister of people's power for energy and oil, Rafael Ramirez: "It is not imperialism that is going to decide which countries are our friends and business partners; that is only decided by the Venezuelan people and the government of their President Hugo Chavez."

The sanctions are undoubtedly a move by the US to punish Venezuela and undermine its ability to assert its social, economic and political independence. Throughout the 20th century, Venezuela's domestic energy policy was decided by and run in the interests of the big US and European oil companies. Oil taxes were not paid and royalties were reduced to 1%, stripping the people of the wealth they own. "Now we get what is fair since we own the natural resources. The money is for our people", Ramirez said.

The US also imposed sanctions against six smaller companies: PCCI (Jersey/Iran), the Real Oyster Group (United Arab Emirates), Speedy Ship (United Arab Emirates/Iran), Tanker Pacific (Singapore), Ofer Brothers Group (Israel) and Associated Shipbroking (Monaco) -- all accused of helping to "facilitate Iran's efforts to evade US sanctions". However, the fact that Venezuela is the US right-wing's main target was made clear by US congressman and chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Connie Mack, when he said on May 25: "The US needs to move quickly to cut off Chavez's source of revenue, and bring an end to both his influence in Latin America and his dangerous relationship with the terrorist-supporting Iranian regime before it's too late."

The support of the people

Against such lies and attacks on Venezuela, the AVSN stands proudly in solidarity with the tens of thousands of Venezuelan oil industry workers who demonstrated on May 25 in defence of PDVSA and against the sanctions. Rallies and marches were held in Anzoátegui, Carabobo, Monagas and other states, as well as at the PDVSA headquarters in Caracas. Women's and peasant organisations, alternative media, and community councils also organised a march in Caracas to condemn the sanctions.

Fernando Sabron from PDVSA explained: "We are ready to defend our homeland. This move by the US empire is an insult against Venezuela and PDVSA. All PDVSA workers are here to tell them that we are independent."

Oil wealth shared

The Chavez government has used Venezuela's oil wealth to radically improve the wellbeing of the people. Currently, more than 60% of oil industry profits are directed towards social programs in Venezuela, including free health care, education, job training, community media and subsidised food and housing. The results are that poverty in Venezuela has been reduced by more than 50% during the Chavez administration, illiteracy has been eradicated and free, universal healthcare and education are accessible to all.

On the very day that the US sanctions were imposed, Ramirez announced that one of the main beneficiaries of Venezuela's "Special Contribution Law for the Extraordinary and Exorbitant Prices of Oil", which came into effect in Venezuela on April 18 and "seeks to maintain and have strict control over natural resources in order to direct the profits to the Venezuelan people", will be the new housing mission. The mission aims to build 153,000 houses in 2011, 200,000 houses in 2012 and 350,000 houses in each subsequent year to 2017.

International solidarity

The US government's sanctions on PDVSA have been condemned by a growing number of organisations. The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of the Americas (ALBA) demanded in a statement issued on May 25 that the US "bring a definitive end to its acts of aggression against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and show an unrestricted respect for the decisions taken by our countries in the exercise of our national sovereignty".

The Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), which includes 12 Latin American countries, as well as PetroCaribe, with 19 member countries, have also unequivocally condemned the US sanctions.

In a separate statement, the government of Ecuador declared the US sanctions a violation of the United Nations' International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which states that "all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right ... all peoples may, for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law".

A group of 10 Chilean legislators has issued a statement calling the US sanctions "an aggression not only against Venezuela, but against all Latin American countries", and "just the beginning of a blockade with both political and military objectives".

In the United States itself, human rights and solidarity activists have issued a statement pointing out that Venezuela's social justice policies have extended even to the US, though programs that supply free, discounted or subsidised heating oil and fuel to low-income neighbourhoods, Indigenous peoples' communities and homeless shelters throughout the US. They point out:

More than 250,000 US citizens in 25 states and the District of Columbia have benefited to date from the Venezuelan government's subsidised heating oil program, which is run through PDVSA's subsidiary in the US, CITGO. No other oil company in the world -- including US companies -- has offered to help low-income families suffering from the inflated cost of heating oil during the past six years, except for CITGO... We find it outrageous that the United States government would attempt to demonize the one company, and country, that has been there for our neighbors, putting people before profits.

The AVSN joins with all supporters of social justice, national self-determination and democracy in demanding that the US government immediately lift the sanctions against Venezuela.