In foreign affairs, is there anything uglier than conquest disguised as humanitarian intervention?

Just before the Star Tribune published two opinion pieces about Venezuela (“Trump is on target with Venezuela,” commentary May 5; and “Use diplomacy to back Venezuela’s Guaido,” editorial, May 7), dire news emerged that undercuts both arguments.

According to a study released April 25, U.S. sanctions are responsible for an estimated 40,000 deaths in Venezuela in 2017 and 2018. Any proposal to further squeeze the Maduro regime via additional sanctions, or to continue current policy, must address the issues in that report.

Let’s stipulate that Venezuela’s economic crisis was caused chiefly by the policies of Chavez/Maduro and the collapse of oil prices in 2014. Still, U.S. sanctions in 2017 turned this crisis into calamity. Executive Order 13808 (August 2017) restricted Venezuela from borrowing in U.S. financial markets, and had the effect of “toxifying” financial dealings with Venezuela.

The sanctions sharply limited the financial resources available to support investment or maintenance. Oil production crashed (falling at more than three times the rate of the previous 20 months) and availability of food and medicine was reduced while disease and mortality increased.

Sanctions’ effects will worsen this year due to Executive Order 13857 (January 2019), which sharply limits Venezuela’s access to its major oil markets. The reduced revenue will accelerate the humanitarian crisis and — if unchanged — devastate vulnerable populations (e.g. dialysis, HIV and cancer patients).

The report on sanctions’ effect was released April 25 by economists at the Center for Economic and Policy Research ( The 40,000 death estimate is a projection based upon increased mortality rates observed in Venezuela’s annual three-university ENCOVI survey. The CEPR report (and my summary above) also draws upon economic analyses by Francisco Rodriguez, Chief Economist for Torino Capital (and opponent of the Chavez/Maduro regimes).

In the New York Times (Feb. 8), Rodriguez estimated the 2019 sanctions could cut Venezuela’s oil exports by two-thirds, and lead to a 26% reduction in the economy. “I’m afraid that if these sanctions are implemented in their current form, we’re looking at starvation.”

Closer to home, there’s a clarification that should be made.

The “Trump is on target” commentary includes a sneering dismissal of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s statement about American “bullying and the use of sanctions to … make regime change.” Omar made her statement as a radio guest immediately following an interview with one of the authors of the CEPR study. Omar was speaking explicitly in the context of the CEPR findings of 40,000 sanctions deaths and it would have been inhuman to respond otherwise.

It’s possible the author of the commentary picked up Omar’s quote from a tabloid headline and didn’t understand the context. However, we should note the author (blandly identified by the Star Tribune as “an adviser to government and business on Latin America”) is the former acting deputy administrator for Latin America for USAID (at least through June 2013). USAID has long been accused of destabilization efforts, and the Bolivarian Alliance announced it was expelling USAID from member countries in 2012, including Venezuela.

What drives our aggression against Venezuela? Is it simply post-Cold War sleepwalking? Among web commenters, the hot buttons seem to be “fiscal responsibility” (while our debt stands at $22 trillion), or “democracy” (while ours implodes into gridlock and distraction), or “socialism” (Norway, you’re next), or “authoritarianism” (MBS, Duterte, Bolsonaro), or “electoral fraud” (where to begin?).

Meanwhile, both Trump and Bolton have said/joked that it’s about the oil. Or if our concern is truly humanitarian, then for god’s sake end punitive sanctions and give them help.

People live there, folks. Remember the 40,000 dead. Wolves should not be allowed to masquerade as shepherds.


Drew Hamre lives in Golden Valley.