Trump Threatens Venezuela With New Sanctions Even as It Faces Economic and Humanitarian Crisis

President Nicolás Maduro addressed the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday in a surprise visit, just one day after Donald Trump accused him of corruption and announced new sanctions against his wife Cilia Flores and other members of his inner circle. “Despite all of the differences… I am willing to reach out my hand to the President of the United States and sit down to talk about the issues of bilateral differences and the issues of our region,” Maduro said. Trump said Wednesday that he would be willing to meet with Maduro, and that all options are on the table to help end the political, economic and humanitarian chaos in Venezuela. We speak with Vijay Prashad, director of the Tricontinental Institute for Social Research and chief editor of LeftWord Books. He’s also the chief correspondent of Globetrotter.


NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end the hour with Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro addressed the United Nations General Assembly, Wednesday, just one day after Trump accused him of corruption and announced new sanctions against members of his inner circle, including Maduro’s wife Cilia Flores. This is Trump speaking to the UN General Assembly, Tuesday.

PRES. TRUMP: Not long ago, Venezuela was one of the richest countries on earth. Today, socialism has bankrupted the oil-rich nation and driven its people into abject poverty. In that spirit, we ask the nations gathered here to join us in calling for the restoration of democracy in Venezuela. Today we’re announcing additional sanctions against the repressive regime, targeting Maduro’s inner circle and close advisers.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Trump said Wednesday that he would be willing to meet with President Maduro and that all options are on the table to help end the political, economic and humanitarian chaos in Venezuela. This is Maduro responding to Trump Wednesday night.

PRES. NICOLÁS MADURO: [translated] Despite all the differences, which could be considered abysmal, the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro Moros, would be willing — I am willing to reach out my hand to the president of the United States and sit down to talk about the issues of bilateral differences and the issues of our region.

AMY GOODMAN: The UN visit comes nearly two months after Maduro survived a coup attempt when two drones, loaded with explosives, detonated above him as he gave a national televised speech at a military event in Caracas. It was the first known attempted assassination by drone strike against a sitting head of state. Earlier this month, The New York Times reported Trump administration officials held multiple secret meetings with rebel Venezuelan military officers last year to discuss plans to overthrow Venezuelan President Maduro. The secret meetings about a possible coup included a Venezuelan military commander who’s on a US government sanctions list of corrupt Venezuelan officials. The Times reports the discussions stalled after Trump administration officials reportedly decided not to assist in a military coup in Venezuela. Well, for more, we’re joined by Vijay Prashad here in the studio, Director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. He’s also the Chief Correspondent of Globetrotter. Author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, and co-editor of Land of Blue Helmets: The United Nations and the Arab World. Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. So, Vijay, you were, last time, at an event at Riverside Church. Thousands of people packed in. Frankly, I couldn’t get in, I was right there. You were inside, though. And there was a surprise appearance by President Maduro. He had just addressed the United Nations and said what we heard him say. Trump was there earlier and said he’s imposing more sanctions against Venezuela. And this all comes after this coup attempt. Talk about the significance of what is happening, why the US is taking the approach it does to Venezuela and Maduro’s response.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, let’s bring Iran into the conversation, Amy. And it’s great to be back. There have been two attacks on two military parades. In August in Venezuela and this month in Iran. And the United States government has not said anything of sympathy, even though about thirty people were killed in the attack in Iran. In fact, on the day of the attack in Iran, Trump’s advisor, Rudy Giuliani, reiterated a call for the overthrow of the Iranian government. I mean what we’re seeing is quite curious. At the United Nations, Mr. Trump apparently suggested that state sovereignty, in other words, the integrity of a state, a member state of the United Nations, should be the main principle by which governments take care of their policies. In other words, he was defending what some call economic internationalism. But, when it comes to places like Iran or Venezuela, the principle of state sovereignty is not respected at all. What we see instead is a kind of gunboat diplomacy, but really without diplomacy. I mean, it’s mainly gunboat. And that’s been the attitude towards Venezuela. It’s been so harsh, the economic war against Venezuela, that Nicolás Maduro has not been able to come and address the UN General Assembly since 2015. So, this is the first time that Maduro, under immense pressure from the United States, was able to come to the opening of the UN General Assembly and speak to the parliament of nations, as it were.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And so, can you talk about, Vijay, what are the conditions in Venezuela today?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, the conditions are quite difficult for lots of people. It has been under immense sanctions. Sanctions that are as harsh as they have been on Cuba at the worst time. Plus, of course, commodity prices have decreased dramatically. In other words, particularly oil prices. And in this situation, the Venezuelan government has had much of its options reduced. So, the situation is bad. I mean, there is inflation and so on. But, it’s highly exaggerated in the media, particularly in the United States. I mean, just two months ago, there was a March of farmers, for instance, from around the country to Caracas. They had come with a set of domains. The government met the farmers. They made some provisions about how to tackle the agricultural crisis inside Venezuela. By the way, an agricultural crisis that is global. I mean, after all, there was a march of farmers in India at the same time. The government was not able to act upon the proposals. Farmers went on hunger strike. Government met with them again and then they came to an agreement. What I’m just trying to say is of course there’s difficulty. Let’s not duck that. But, this difficulty is not entirely endogamous. It’s not coming from inside Venezuela, as if Venezuelan socialism is the culprit, as Trump said.

I mean, this is a country that is under a kind of war, and we have to see it like that. We have to understand the situation in Iran as well, as a place under siege. Again, this is not unfamiliar to what’s happening even in Argentina where the peso has collapsed against the dollar. So, there’s a focus when we talk about places like Venezuela, Iran, not seeing that there’s actually been a global hit against countries like Turkey, Argentina, South Africa, India, as the US interest rates have risen. For a series of reasons, there’s a real problem in these countries.

AMY GOODMAN: Is the US working with Latin American countries against Venezuela, like Colombia, where it’s going to be building a number of bases, like Honduras, Brazil? Are they forming a bloc?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, they have already a bloc. It’s called a lima group, and it was set up a couple of years ago in Lima, Peru. It’s interesting, though, Amy, that the United States has been pushing, not just Trump, but also Obama, for a kind of military solution. Trump is far more aggressive in his language. Again, yesterday, in the United Nations, he said that the military option is not off the table. He said that in the corridors.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, on Wednesday, five conservative Latin American governments, and Canada’s Prime Minister, met in New York, signed a complaint with the international criminal court asking to investigate Maduro on charges of crimes against humanity.

VIJAY PRASHAD: This is true. It’s the first time governments have done this. But, just to finish about the Lima Group, it is despite the fact that the United States has been pushing for a military option, the Lima group, this week, released a statement where they signed onto the statement saying they are opposed to a military intervention, even Colombia which didn’t sign the statement said it agrees with the spirit of the statement. It is, of course, true that five of these countries have approached the ICC, the International Criminal Court. Now, but, look at the hypocrisy of it. Mr. Trump has just attacked the ICC, the International Criminal Court. He’s questioned its jurisdiction, and then a couple of days later, his close Latin American allies and the Canadians put this complaint forward. You know, Amy, it’s so hard to take the word at face value these days.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, let’s go to Trump speaking about the International Criminal Court during his UN address on Tuesday.

PRES. TRUMP: The United States will provide no support and recognition to the International Criminal Court. As far as America is concerned, the ICC has no jurisdiction, no legitimacy, and no authority. The ICC claims near universal jurisdiction over the citizens of every country, violating all principles of justice, fairness, and due process. We will never surrender America’s sovereignty to an unelected, unaccountable, global bureaucracy.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, that’s Trump speaking just on Tuesday about the international criminal court, saying that he will not relinquish American sovereignty to a global bureaucracy.

VIJAY PRASHAD: I mean we are in a situation now, Nermeen, where the United States government is becoming increasingly isolated. And I think Americans need to understand that. Whether it’s the peace agreement in Korea, where the United States played honest no role, or it’s the issue of isolating Iran and Venezuela, there is immense pushback against US policy, not only from the Europeans, where I think it’s important to say, that they are very disheartened by the Iran policy, but also by other countries associated with the non-allied movement. Even close allies. Trump named Israel, India, Saudi Arabia, and Poland as the friends of the United States. This extraordinarily small list. But, even India is not entirely given to the idea that there should be harsh policy versus Iran or Venezuela.

AMY GOODMAN: And Saudi Arabia?

VIJAY PRASHAD: And Saudi Arabia, let’s not talk about Saudi Arabia, Amy. That we can go on for about — at least half an hour. It’s such a complicated place. I don’t even see why we take it so seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s good because we will do a post-show. And we will post this online in the Webex column, with Vijay Prashad, whose Director of Tricontinental Institute for Social Research, and Chief Editor of LeftWord Books. Chief Correspondent of Globetrotter. Author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global global South.