WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
13 Jul 2014 | Commentary

“Sanctions, Again…”: Luis Vicente Leon Discusses Public Sentiment Toward Sanctions on Venezuela

By: Luis Vicente Leon, originally published in El Universal

To read the article in its original context, please click here.

To view a video of Luis Vicente Leon's original presentation, please click here.

I was invited by the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) to participate in a public event analyzing the possible impacts (not necessarily intended) of the potential application of sanctions on a specific group of Venezuelan public officials accused of human rights violations.

I had already made public my views on this issue. For me, unilateral sanctions are pointless and support should be channeled through other institutional mechanisms. But I also think the history of the Venezuelan conflict is much more complicated than the conventional discourses of radicals on both sides make it, which in turn gives rise to simplistic and bias interpretations abroad. Finally, any unilateral action taken by the U.S. government would not be welcome by the majority in Venezuela because it would be viewed as intervention. It would only give the government more solid arguments to demonstrate that there is a conspiracy trying to overthrow it—the perfect excuse to justify the current crisis—generating sympathy among independents, unifying Chavismo and moving the Latin American international community to react with primary solidarity.

That is still my opinion, but on his occasion I came not only to express what I think but to share what Venezuelans think about the issue and for this I used the results of the last Datanalisis poll finished on May 27.

Let’s start by saying that 70 percent of the population believes that the situation of the country is negative, but nevertheless, 73 percent disagree with the idea of the U.S. government taking unilateral action—this includes 55 percent of those who identify as government opponents and 64 percent of independents. 70 percent of respondents disagree with the idea of applying sanctions against Venezuela. Even when we did the acid test, asking about specific sanctions against officials accused of committing human rights violations, we found 54 percent against it, and 38 percent in favor.

We found the most relevant response when we asked what could be the motivations of the U.S. in applying sanctions against Venezuelan officials. The response was overwhelming. 44 percent think it would be an excuse to provoke a coup d’état in order to control Venezuela’s oil, while 16 percent think it would be a disguised mechanism to attack Maduro. Only 20 percent think it is simply a mechanism to punish public officials that have violated human rights.

I am convinced that the proposed sanctions are neither intended to take our oil nor provoke a coup. Rather they are the result of a combination of factors including the real concerns of many decent people in the U.S., over violations of human rights in Venezuela, mixed with the classic interests of electoral politics in districts with high concentration of antichavista migration (Venezuelan and Cuban) on the eve of congressional elections. But the perception in Venezuela is different and its secondary effects are contrary to the desired objectives of those who are doing this with a genuine interest in helping.

It is important for these issues to be brought to multilateral organizations specializing in human rights, seeking to get them to declare and denounce any violation that has in fact occurred and pressure the government to punish and rectify. Taking the individual route of Big Brother usually ends up being a Big Mistake, or as Marino Alvarado of Provea says, an own goal from midfield.


Follow Luis Vicente Leon on Twitter at @luisvicenteleon

Translated by David Smilde