sanctions

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New Great Game: Can Venezuela Negotiate an End to Deadly US Sanctions?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 22/03/2022 - 4:27am in

How the tables have turned. A high-level US delegation visited Venezuela on March 5, hoping to repair economic ties with Caracas. Venezuela, one of the world’s poorest countries partly due to US-Western sanctions is, for once, in the driving seat, capable of alleviating an impending US energy crisis if dialogue with Washington continues to move forward.

Technically, Venezuela is not a poor country. In 1998, it was one of the leading OPEC members, producing 3.5 million barrels of oil a day (bpd). Though Caracas largely failed to take advantage of its former oil boom by diversifying its oil-dependent economy, it was the combination of lower oil prices and US-led sanctions that pushed the once relatively thriving South American country down to its knees.

In December 2018, former US President Donald Trump imposed severe sanctions on Venezuela, cutting off oil imports from the country. Though Caracas provided the US with about 200,000 bpd, the US managed to quickly replace Venezuelan oil as crude oil prices reached as low as $40 per barrel.

Indeed, the timing of Trump’s move was meant to ravage, if not entirely destroy, the Venezuelan economy in order to exact political concessions, or worse. The decision to further choke off Venezuela in December of that year was perfectly timed as the global oil crisis had reached its zenith in November.

Venezuela was already struggling with US-led sanctions, regional isolation, political instability, hyperinflation and, subsequently, extreme poverty. The US government’s move, then, was meant to be the final push that surely, as many US Republicans and some Democrats concluded, would end the reign of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

Venezuela has long accused the US of pursuing a regime change in Caracas, based on allegations that the socialist Maduro government had won the 2018 elections through fraud. And, just like that, it was determined that Juan Guaidò, then Venezuela’s opposition leader and president of the National Assembly, should be installed as the country’s new president.

Since then, US foreign policy in South America centered largely on isolating Venezuela and, by extension, weakening the socialist governments in Cuba and elsewhere. In 2017, for example, the US had evacuated its embassy in the Cuban capital, Havana, claiming that its staff was being targeted by “sonic attacks” – a supposed high-frequency microwave radiation. Though such claims were never substantiated, they allowed Washington to walk back on the positive diplomatic gestures towards Cuba that were carried out by the Barack Obama administration, starting in 2016.

For years, Venezuela’s inflation continued to worsen, reaching 686.4 percent last year, according to statistics provided by Bloomberg. As a result, the majority of Venezuelans continue to live below the extreme poverty line.

The government in Caracas, however, somehow survived for reasons that differ, depending on the political position of the analysts. In Venezuela, much credence is being given to the country’s socialist values, the resilience of the people and to the Bolivarian movement. The anti-Maduro forces in the US, centered mostly in Florida, blame Maduro’s survival on Washington’s lack of resolve. A third factor, which is often overlooked, is Russia.

In 2019, Russia sent hundreds of military specialists, technicians and soldiers to Caracas under various official explanations. The presence of the Russian military helped ease fears that pro-Washington forces in Venezuela were preparing a military coup. Equally important, Russia’s strong trade ties, loans and more, were instrumental in helping Venezuela escape complete bankruptcy and circumvent some of the US sanctions.

Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union decades ago, Russia remained largely committed to the USSR’s geopolitical legacy. Moscow’s strong relations with socialist nations in South America are a testament to such a fact. The US, on the other hand, has done little to redefine its troubled relationships with South America as if little has changed since the time of the hegemonic Monroe Doctrine of 1823.

Now, it seems that the US is about to pay for its past miscalculations. Unsurprisingly, the pro-Russia bloc in South America is expressing strong solidarity with Moscow following the latter’s intervention in Ukraine and the subsequent US and Western sanctions. Wary of the developing energy crisis and the danger of having Russian allies within a largely US-dominated region, Washington is attempting, though clumsily, to reverse some of its previous missteps. On March 3, Washington decided to re-open its Havana embassy and two days later, a US delegation arrived in Venezuela.

Now that Russia’s moves in Eastern Europe have re-ignited the ‘Great Game’ of a previous era, Venezuela, Cuba and others, though thousands of miles away, are finding themselves at the heart of the budding new Great Game. Though some in Washington are willing to reconsider their long-standing policy against the socialist bloc of South America, the US mission is rife with obstacles. Oddly, the biggest stumbling block on the US path towards South America is neither Caracas, Havana or even Moscow, but the powerful and influential lobbies and pressure groups in Washington and Florida.

A Republican Senator, Rick Scott from Illinois, was quoted in Politico as saying “the only thing the Biden admin should be discussing with Maduro is the time of his resignation.” While Scott’s views are shared by many top US officials, US politics this time around may have little impact on their country’s foreign policy. For once, the Venezuelan government has the stage.

Feature photo | Gas prices are seen in front of a billboard advertising HBO’s Last Week Tonight in Los Angeles, March 7, 2022. Jae C. Hong | AP

Dr. Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of six books. His latest book, co-edited with Ilan Pappé, is “Our Vision for Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders and Intellectuals Speak out”. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

The post New Great Game: Can Venezuela Negotiate an End to Deadly US Sanctions? appeared first on MintPress News.

Sanctions: The Blowback

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/03/2022 - 10:48pm in

Whatever the outcome in Ukraine, one thing is for sure the economic reverberations will be felt by everyone for years to come as the world divides between the West and a rapidly reshaping Eurasia.

The post Sanctions: The Blowback appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/03/2022 - 3:31am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

March 17, 2022 Lily Geismer, author of Left Behindon the market-friendly New Democrats, from the 1970s into the 1990s and beyond • Barry Eichengreen on the role of the dollar and threats to its pre-eminence.

Weaponising Our Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/03/2022 - 5:01pm in

Former UN independent expert on international order, Alfred de Zayas, outlines why we need to build a just world order.

The post Weaponising Our Rights appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Weaponising Our Rights

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/03/2022 - 5:01pm in

Former UN independent expert on international order, Alfred de Zayas, outlines why we need to build a just world order.

The post Weaponising Our Rights appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Fresh audio product

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/03/2022 - 6:22am in

Just added to my radio archive (click on date for link):

March 10, 2022 Alexander Zaitchik, author of Owning the Sun, on how the pharmaceutical industry became such a high-priced racket • Zongyuan Zoe Liu, co-author of this article, on sanctions and the global pre-eminence of the US dollar

Is gold safe from sanctions?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/03/2022 - 1:35am in

Tags 

gold, sanctions


As Russia is progressively cut off from U.S. and European payments systems thanks to an ever tightening wave of sanctions, the idea of using gold as a sanctions buster is being discussed. Russia has some $130 billion worth of the yellow metal. Might these gold bars be packed into planes and used to buy vital goods & services from other countries? To complete this monetary circuit, why doesn't Russia start accepting gold bars as payment for Russian oil and gas exports?

Gold seems like an ideal way to evade sanctions. Thanks to its high value-to-weight ratio, it is good at condensing value. This makes transport easier. Gold is also a bearer instrument. Unlike a dollar, it can't be frozen at the click of a button.

But that doesn't mean that gold can't be stopped by sanctions. Here's how a putative Russian gold payments rail gets shut down.

As of now, the only sanctions that have been announced by the U.S. are primary banking sanctions. That is, the U.S. government has decreed that U.S. financial institutions cannot provide banking services to named Russian banks (like Sberbank), certain individuals (like Putin), and Russia's central bank.

But there is harsher type of sanction that remains to be implemented: secondary sanctions. With secondary sanctions, the U.S. government announces that U.S. banks must cut off not just named Russian entities; they must also stop doing business with any foreign bank (Indian, Chinese, etc) that provides banking services to named Russian entities.

Think of secondary sanctions as a strategy of the friend of my enemy is my enemy. Foreign banks cannot afford to be enemies of the U.S. banking system. That would mean no more access to the massive U.S. economy. And so they will comply and cut off designated Russian entities. Where primary sanctions sever Russian entities from access to the U.S., secondary sanctions attempt to remove them from the global banking system.

To close Russia's gold window, a few additional steps must be taken.

The wording of secondary sanctions must extend to non-banks and into markets like gold. The U.S. might simply say something to the effect that "any foreign individual, corporation, or institution that facilitates gold transactions with designated Russian entities will be shut off from the U.S. banking system." If a foreign buyer of Russian crude oil, say an Indian refiner, had previously accepted Russian gold as payment, they may not be so willing anymore. Touching Russian gold could jeopardize their entire refining business, which will inevitably have a U.S. nexus (say a U.S. parts supplier or technical consultant.)

To enforce sanctions, the U.S. would have to rely on whistle-blowers, snitches, and intelligence gathering. The sanctions would not entirely close the gold window. There would be rule breakers. But the sanctions would do a sufficient job.

The best example of the yellow metal being shut down comes from Iran in the early half of the 2010s.

In 2010, a harsh round of U.S. secondary sanctions came into effect. As these were tightened over the ensuing years, Iranian trade plummeted, as did the Iranian rial. Iran's difficulties were compounded in March 2012 when a set of Iranian banks were banned from SWIFT, a global financial messaging network.

The sanctions did not make it illegal for foreign entities to deal with Iran using gold. And so a gold window emerged. This was most apparent in Turkey with the so-called "gold-for-gas" market. (I wrote about this market here and here). In brief, Turkey relies on Iranian natural gas. A quid pro quo was achieved between the two nations by sending gold bars back to Iran. No need for U.S. dollar correspondent banking accounts. No need for SWIFT.

In July 2012, the U.S. began to close the gold loophole. First it issued an executive order extending sanctions to sales of gold to Iranian Government entities (EO 13622). It was still possible for Turkish institutions to sell gold to Iranian individuals, however, so in January 2013 additional legislation was passed sanctioning the sale of gold to any Iranian entity. (See Benjamin Fraser Scott's Halkbank and OFAC: a sanctions evasion case study for an account of the closure of Iran's gold-for-gas trade.)

And thus Iran's gold loophole was cutoff. 

Russia's gold hasn't been sanctioned yet. But it is eminently sanctionable. 

PS: Yes, this applies to bitcoin. (Bitcoin is traceable, which makes it arguably worse than gold.)
PPS: Sanctions could put an end to a nascent Russian gold payments rail. But just because sanctions can do damage doesn't mean that the target will change its course of action.

Russia: A Recent History Lesson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 5:02pm in

Is the Wests triumphalist anti-Russian rhetoric based on historical delusions?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Professor of Slavic Studies, Vladimir Golstein, and Writer and Film director, Andrei Nekrasov, to discuss.

The post Russia: A Recent History Lesson appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Russia: A Recent History Lesson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 5:02pm in

Is the Wests triumphalist anti-Russian rhetoric based on historical delusions?

Ross Ashcroft met up with Professor of Slavic Studies, Vladimir Golstein, and Writer and Film director, Andrei Nekrasov, to discuss.

The post Russia: A Recent History Lesson appeared first on Renegade Inc.

Death of Elderly Wisconsin Man in Israeli Army Custody Could Trigger Leahy Law and US Sanctions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 5:08am in

OCCUPIED WEST BANK — Around 3 a.m. on January 12, Omar As’ad was driving back to his home in the village of Jiljilya in the Occupied West Bank when he was stopped at a temporary Israeli military checkpoint. Israeli soldiers dragged the 78-year-old man out of his vehicle, bound his hands with zip ties, blindfolded him, gagged him, and left him in the courtyard of a construction site with one zip tie still wrapped around his left wrist.

According to an autopsy conducted by the Palestinian Authority, As’ad suffered a stress-induced heart attack and died during detention.

As’ad was both Palestinian and American, and this dual nationality has garnered his story significant media coverage and created an international rift as U.S. lawmakers call for greater accountability over his death.

 

Israeli army investigating itself

Eyewitness accounts, provided to Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq, documented how As’ad passed out during detention and medical aid was not provided to him. As’ad suffered from several chronic health problems including ischemic heart disease, diabetes and obesity, and had undergone open-heart surgery.

Abdel Rahman, 52, who was detained with As’ad, gave this testimony to Al-Haq:

He was not sitting but was on his face on the right side, that is, his right cheek was on the tile. I could not call him because I was scared of the soldiers, but I did not hear a breath from him and did not feel any movement. Then a soldier approached him and sat down on one knee at his head… I saw the soldier after he touched his head, he stood and … cut the plastic zip-tie. After a few seconds, I saw the soldiers moving away, and I heard them whispering between each other, then a soldier pointed his weapon towards us and then they left.”

Islam Abu Zaher, a local doctor, examined As’ad after the soldiers left at around 4 a.m. He tried to resuscitate him, but estimated As’ad had died between 15 to 20 minutes before he arrived at the scene.

The Israeli military conducted an internal probe and dismissed two officers and censured a third over As’ad’s death. A Military Police investigation is ongoing and may result in criminal charges. The internal investigation found the group of soldiers left As’ad on the ground because they assumed he was sleeping and chose not to wake him. The head of the military’s Central Command, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, condemned the soldiers’ actions, but said their actions weren’t motivated by hatred but rather were taken because “they cared more about completing their mission” than about As’ad’s wellbeing.

A photo obtained by Israeli media showed As’ad in his final moments, bound on the floor. The officers involved are hoping the image will exonerate them, claiming he was still alive because his head is lifted in the picture.

Omar As'ad Israel

A photo shows As’ad, circled in red, in his final moments, bound on the floor

As’ad’s family has dismissed the military probe as insufficient and is working with an attorney to file a case against the Israeli military. “We don’t think that the army made a simple mistake in killing a senior person, and we’re not happy by only dismissing two officers,” As’ad’s niece, Enas Sehweil, told MintPress News. The family hopes for fair trial proceedings, to have the officers involved imprisoned, and to receive financial compensation.

The family is also requesting the right of family reunification and for his American relatives to visit Palestine. “His sons and daughters have no Palestinian documentation with them because they live in the [United States] and due to the refusal of the Israeli government,” Sehweil said. “Israel declines their visas all the time.”

Issa Amro, co-founder of the nonviolent Palestinian resistance group Youth Against Settlements, also rejected the Israeli army’s investigation and labeled As’ad’s death “a kind of extra-judicial execution.” “The Israeli army can’t investigate itself,” Amro said. “Dismissing someone for a few months or a few weeks — that’s not accountability.”

Al-Haq’s analysis of As’ad’s death determined the Israeli army’s treatment of As’ad may amount to war crimes. The organization wrote:

The detention and treatment of Mr. Omar Abdul Majeed As’ad by the IOF, which may have caused his death, amounts to an arbitrary deprivation of liberty and inhuman treatment, in violation of Mr. As’ad’s rights to life and health, and an inhuman treatment amounting to a grave breach of the GCIV [Fourth Geneva Convention].

 Omar Assad

Mourners pray over the body of Palestanian American Omarac Assad during his funeral in Jiljiliya, Jan. 13, 2022. Nasser Nasser | AP

 

Demands for US probe grow

The case of As’ad, who lived in the U.S. for 40 years and was a Wisconsin resident, has caught the attention of American congressional representatives.

Wisconsin lawmakers Sen. Tammy Baldiwn (D) and Rep. Gwen Moore (D), sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Jan. 31, demanding the State Department launch an investigation into As’ad’s death and into “whether any equipment procured by United States funds were used by Israeli forces involved in his detention” and “whether any U.S. laws protecting Mr. Assad (sic), an American citizen, were violated.”

Experts pointed out that if U.S. laws were violated in the death of As’ad then it may lead to sanctions under the Leahy Law — meaning U.S. military aid, Israel’s greatest source of foreign assistance, could be cut off.

Several members of Congress echoed calls for a State Department investigation, including the only Palestinian-American in Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).

In a tweet, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) described As’ad as “another victim of this cruel occupation.” Her communications department told MintPress that the congresswoman “supports calls for a comprehensive investigation into this tragic death.”

Six other members of Congress, who also called for a thorough investigation — including Tlaib, García, Carson, and Moore — were contacted for comment but did not respond.

Several advocacy organizations are also demanding a U.S. investigation. Americans for Justice in Palestine (AJP) Action created an action alert so constituents can urge their representatives to demand a U.S. investigation into As’ad’s death. “The U.S. plays a very large role in the issue of enabling and embedding a lot of the ethnic cleansing and unlawful killings, and this stems from the money that comes and is approved from Congress,” Ayah Ziyadeh, AJP Action’s advocacy director, told MintPress. “The only investigation that was being urged by the U.S. was by the same forces that murdered Omar As’ad, which makes no sense.”

In response to a MintPress inquiry, the State Department reiterated its previous statement on As’ad’s death:

The United States expects a thorough criminal investigation and full accountability in this case, and we welcome receiving additional information on these efforts as soon as possible. We continue to discuss this troubling incident with the Israeli government.

The State Department did not address queries as to whether the agency will launch its own investigation.

 

Settlers turned soldiers

Netzah Yehuda Battalion, the ultra-orthodox military unit that detained As’ad, has a notorious history of violence against Palestinians, specifically of abusing detainees. The army division is driven by a settler ideology and made up of “formerly Haredi [ultra-orthodox] youth who have left school, Haredim who rebelled against their parents, hilltop youth, religious nationalist Haredi youth who have been assured a female-free environment during their service, youth from impoverished families, and others from across the country’s faithful.”

Religiously homogeneous, the battalion also shares a common political goal of believing policing Palestinians is a sacred duty. The group’s rebellious origins and shared colonialist thinking has created a culture where violence and aggression are magnified. A 2014 internal study conducted by the Israeli military found the Kfir Brigade, of which Netzah Yehuda Battalion is a part, places a strong emphasis on aggression leading to a greater use of excessive violence than other army units.

Soldiers from this battalion have not only engaged in abuse but also in flagrant displays of racism. One member was part of the “wedding of hate” held in 2015, in which a rifle was waved at a picture of infant Ali Dawabshe who had been burned to death in a Jewish terrorist attack.

Given its dealings with Palestinians, the military has decided to move the force out of the West Bank. When reached for comment about whether the unit would be disbanded following As’ad’s death, the Israeli army just referred MintPress to its statement on its internal probe.

Before As’ad’s family hired a lawyer, the Israeli government was in frequent contact with the family. His niece, Sehweil, believes this was because the U.S. embassy intensified pressure over As’ad’s death.

AJP Action’s Ziyadeh stressed, though, that the U.S. should not exert pressure only when the situation involves an American. “That shouldn’t be the only reason the U.S. ever cares, if somebody’s an American citizen,” Ziyadeh said. “Especially being a leader of the world, so to speak, you should care about human rights, period. Whether he was an American citizen or not, the killing was unlawful.”

Feature photo | Mourners carry the body of Palestanian American Omar Assad, 80, during his funeral in Jiljiliya, north of Ramallah, Jan. 13, 2022. Nasser Nasser | AP

Jessica Buxbaum is a Jerusalem-based journalist for MintPress News covering Palestine, Israel, and Syria. Her work has been featured in Middle East Eye, The New Arab and Gulf News.

The post Death of Elderly Wisconsin Man in Israeli Army Custody Could Trigger Leahy Law and US Sanctions appeared first on MintPress News.

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