Billionaire-backed Human Rights Watch lobbies for lethal US sanctions on leftist governments as COVID-19 crisis rages
Regime change-hungry HRW is proudly taking credit for crushing new US sanctions on Nicaragua while pushing to escalate Washington’s economic war on Venezuela. The Grayzone presents a deep dive into the “human rights” arm of US empire.
by Ben Norton
Part 7 - HRW and Vivanco lobby for more sanctions on Venezuela
Nicaragua is not the only country where Human Rights Watch has lobbied for economic warfare.
HRW also has a long history of extreme bias against Venezuela and its leftist Chavista government.
Executive director Kenneth Roth frequently condemns President Nicolás Maduro as “autocratic,” while Americas director José Miguel Vivanco calls routinely for expanding sanctions on Venezuela and its officials.
When the Trump administration expanded its already suffocating sanctions on Venezuela in September 2018, Vivanco cheered. “Today’s sanctions against the Maduro regime are very revealing of the political isolation of the government and its lack of legitimacy,” he wrote.
In June 2019, two months after a report by leading economists found that at least 40,000 Venezuelan civilians had already died due to the US sanctions, Vivanco turned up the heat.
Repeating much of the same neoconservative rhetoric he employed against Nicaragua, the HRW Americas director called for European governments to follow Trump’s lead.
“Targeted sanctions is the only language Maduro seems to understand. Time for European nations to impose them,” Vivanco tweeted.
Back in July 2017, the Trump administration cracked down aggressively on Venezuela, hitting it with severe sanctions.
Vivanco welcomed the economic assault, demonizing Venezuela’s democratically elected President Nicolás Maduro as a “dictator.”
Vivanco has even used Venezuela to attack prominent left-wing intellectuals, such as Noam Chomsky. Taking a hardline neoconservative position, Vivanco tweeted, “Ideology has made Chomsky and friends say some nonsense about Venezuela.”
“There’s no democracy in [Venezuela],” Vivanco declared. “The problem in [Venezuela] is not ‘polarization’ (it’s that the regime oppresses dissent).”
The leading “human rights” official also doubled down on his staunch support for sanctions, declaring, “US/Canada sanctions do not harm the poor (but are targeted to specific officials).”
This demonstrably false claim has been debunked by credible international human rights experts, who have warned that the international sanctions on Venezuela prevent the country from importing medicine and medical equipment, because the government is locked out of the financial system and cannot do business with companies that fear being hit with secondary sanctions by Washington.
But Vivanco’s thirst for the destruction of Venezuela’s government is so extreme he has attacked United Nations human rights experts for refusing to toe the line on sanctions.
When the Trump administration hit Venezuela with suffocating sanctions in July 2017, the action was so severe that it led to a response from the UN special rapporteur on on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures, Idriss Jazairy.
Jazairy released an official statement in his capacity as the UN’s top experts on sanctions, stating, “Sanctions would worsen the situation of the people in Venezuela, who are already suffering from crippling inflation and a lack of access to adequate food and medicine.”
These sanctions “can have a particularly devastating impact” of civilians, Jazairy warned.
HRW’s Americas director threw a tantrum in response, attacking the UN special rapporteur and defending the US sanctions.
“Nonsense,” Vivanco tweeted. He claimed the UN expert “fails to distinguish [between] targeted and general sanctions.”
This concern for Venezuelan civilians is “helping Maduro,” the right-wing HRW official declared.
In the process, Vivanco revealed his blatant double standards.
When the Venezuelan government imprisoned the right-wing opposition leader Leopoldo López, who had presided directly over a wave of violence and numerous US-backed coup attempts against the elected Chavista administration, HRW portrayed López as a noble freedom fighter.
Referring to Venezuela’s attorney general, Tarek William Saab, as “just another bureaucrat,” Vivanco harshly condemned the punitive action.
For HRW’s Americas director, Venezuela’s sovereign government does not have the right to crack down on coup-plotters inside its own territory — but the US government and European nations have every right to hit Venezuela with all forms of economic warfare.