Neoliberalism or Death: The U.S. Economic War Against Venezuela

Venezuela's Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Ron, former U.N. rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, and journalist Sam Husseini are this week's guests.

Photo illustration: Elise Swain/The Intercept, Getty Images

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The U.S. is weaponizing humanitarian aid in an effort to sell its regime change campaign against Venezuela. This week on Intercepted: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially endorses the attempted coup in Venezuela, joining forces with Donald Trump and his posse of neoconservatives. Venezuela’s Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Ron responds to the threats of military action and the reports about covert U.S. activity in the country. He also discusses the impact of the sanctions on Venezuela. Former United Nations rapporteur Alfred de Zayas is accusing the U.S. of attempting to “asphyxiate” Venezuela with economic warfare and says the U.S. should be investigated by the International Criminal Court. Zayas wrote a U.N. report on Venezuela in late 2018 that was scathing in its assessment of U.S. policy toward Venezuela under both Obama and Trump. He talks about what he found during his investigation. And we go inside the mind of journalist Sam Husseini, who tried to ask convicted criminal Elliott Abrams about his past and the present U.S. lies about Venezuela.

Donald J. Trump: Thank you very much, El Paso. Thank you very much.

[Crowd cheers.]

DJT: Rio Grande, where by the — Well, I don’t know, you heard, right?

Bill Mitchell: Donald Trump is not only smarter than most people think he is, I think Donald Trump is smarter than he thinks he is.

DJT: You’re not allowed to own cows anymore. You know, a lot of problems.

BM: I think Donald Trump has got like some kind of modeling computer in his mind.

DJT: Whoa! I told you so. That’s what I do. You’ll never have it. You need the magic wand. That’s what they said.

BM: And it sends a signal to his brain that says, “Go this way. Go that way.”

DJT: By the way, we, I, we — Let’s spend $100 trillion. Let’s rip down every building in New York City. And I want to see somebody try and imitate Michael Jackson.

BM: He has this modeling computer that’s better than any climate computer that guesses what a hurricane or something’s going to be. And it just sends this information to his mind.

DJT: Execute the baby. Hey, look, did you ever see anything radical? Murders! Murders. Murders. Killings. Murders.

BM: Donald Trump’s an idiot, what are you talking about? It’s like, no, he’s not.

DJT: How about the word caravan? Caravan. How does it compare to a German Shepard?

BM: He’s a stable genius.

DJT: What’s taking him so long? I heard one of our great geniuses. I got to go. I don’t even want to hear about it.

[Crowd chants “USA! USA! USA!”]

[Music interlude.]

Jeremy Scahill: This is Intercepted.

[Music interlude.]

JS: I’m Jeremy Scahill, coming to you from the offices of The Intercept in New York City. And this is episode 82 of Intercepted.

DJT: And last month the United States recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela and condemned the socialist brutality of the Maduro regime.

[Mixed applause and boos from crowd.]

DJT: Everywhere socialism has been, everywhere it’s been implemented, it’s produced poverty, misery, repression, and despair. You take a look no matter where.

JS: Make no mistake about it, we are at this moment witnessing a concerted, coordinated, bipartisan campaign to overthrow the government of Venezuela. This campaign has, at its center, a vicious, well-funded propaganda machine and its intent is to bring down a government that — with all of its flaws, faults, mistakes, problems — has tried to build an alternative economic system to neoliberalism. There is a raging debate in Venezuela right now about the policies and actions of President Nicolás  Maduro and the opposition to Maduro is not just right-wing puppets of Washington. There are former allies of Hugo Chávez who oppose the Maduro government. And Venezuelans have an undeniable right to choose their elected leaders. But that is not the right of the United States government. It’s not the right of Nancy Pelosi any more than it is the right of John Bolton. Or the Canadian government. Or the German government. Or the Colombian government. This is a matter for the Venezuelan people to resolve.

Nick Schifrin: It was just two weeks ago, Maduro was inaugurated and swore to build what he called 21st century socialism. But he’s built an economic catastrophe.

Rich Edson: Maduro refuses to acknowledge the dozens of countries that recognize opposition leader Juan Guaidó, his country’s severe economic crisis, nor its desperate need of humanitarian aid.

Elizabeth Palmer: Nicolás Maduro responded today with a show of force. State TV broadcast pictures of him with his military.

JS: The way this story has been portrayed in major U.S. media is that Maduro is a dictator, governing an undemocratic regime. He’s starving his own people, depriving them of medicine, repressing them with the military, blocking humanitarian aid. This is how propaganda works. This is cut from the same cloth as the machinations leading up to the Iraq invasion. The broader context of why the Venezuelan economy is in the state that it’s in, what actually happened in the 2018 presidential election there, the actual agenda of the major U.S.-backed right wing opposition, none of this is discussed seriously in the United States. We don’t even hear about the advancements made in Venezuela over the past 20 years that have overwhelmingly benefitted the poorest and most disenfranchised people. Once Washington declares you a dictator, it’s over. Facts no longer matter. Context no longer matters. History gets rewritten.

This regime change campaign is not about freeing the Venezuelan people. It’s about crushing an effort to organize society in a different way. It’s about ensuring that free market capitalism and neoliberal agendas are enforced. None of this is to dispute that Venezuelans have an inherent right to challenge their government or to fight democratically to unseat Maduro. There are serious and legitimate debates in Venezuela right now about Maduro’s policies and his government. What I’m saying is that the real questions for people in the United States should center around the role of their government, of Washington’s true agenda here and the way that public opinion is being intentionally manipulated in order to support an imperial economic and possibly military war.

Bianna Golodryga: The government of Nicolas Maduro used a fuel tanker and cargo trailers yesterday to block a bridge that connects Venezuela to Colombia. The standoff came as the U.S. sent supplies to the border area.

JS: This so-called standoff is being portrayed as Maduro blocking humanitarian aid, it’s meant to be an inciting incident. It’s meant to make us believe Maduro is a heartless tyrant. But here are the facts: The U.S. is screaming about how Venezuela responded to a reported $20 million in aid. It is being portrayed as though Maduro is intentionally starving his own people by depriving them of this urgently-needed American aid. This so-called aid from the U.S. and the way that this has unfolded, it’s a provocation aimed at justifying whatever moves come next.

Here is the fact: The sanctions that the U.S. has slapped on Venezuela cost the country an estimated $30 million a day. That should be the scandal. The U.S. is depriving the Venezuelan people of $30 million a day and then turning around and declaring Maduro one of the great monsters of history for blocking a shipment that the U.S. tried to drive into Venezuela without any coordination with the government or with major aid agencies.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has refused to participate in Washington’s aid stunt with its spokesperson in Colombia saying “We will not be participating in what is, for us, not humanitarian aid.” Another senior Red Cross official said the U.S. aid had a “political tone.”

Francesco Rocca: At the moment, this is the big challenge. The humanitarian aid has been politicized. It’s dividing the political debate which it shouldn’t be.

JS: The United Nations also threw shade on Washington’s motives and warned against using aid as a pawn in Venezuela with the U.N. spokesperson saying “Humanitarian action needs to be independent of political, military or other objectives.”

And let us remember that the U.S. has used the cover of humanitarian aid to actually conduct covert weapons shipments and to aid right-wing rebels in Latin America. Don’t forget that it was Trump’s point man on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams who was a direct part of this covert program in the 1980s to cynically foment war in Central America while calling it aid. What we are witnessing now is a totally cooked up propaganda campaign aimed at obliterating any discussion of the harsh, anti-humanitarian, economic warfare that the U.S. is waging against ordinary Venezuelans. And that’s what these sanctions are intended to do: strangle, starve, torture ordinary Venezuelans into bowing down before Washington and supporting the overthrow of a government that the U.S. doesn’t like.

At the same time, the U.S. is reportedly meeting with members of the Venezuelan armed forces — no doubt discussing efforts to overthrow or bring down the government of Venezuela. We have reports of flights from Miami, Flordia being used in an attempt to smuggle weapons into Venezuela.

Amy Goodman: McClatchy is reporting Venezuelan authorities have uncovered 19 assault weapons, 118 ammunition cartridges, and 90 military-grade radio antennas on board a U.S.-owned plane that had flown from Miami into Valencia, Venezuela’s third-largest city.

JS: We have seen this story play out repeatedly throughout history and now we’re watching it unfold in real time. Washington has chosen a pliant puppet, Juan Guaidó, to pretend to be president and they plotted with him to create this mirage of legitimacy.

DJT: Two weeks ago, the United States officially recognized the legitimate government of Venezuela and its new president, Juan Guaidó.

[Crowds cheer.]

JS: Anyone who believes that Donald Trump has the best intentions for the people and nation of Venezuela at heart is willingly participating in a grand lie.

DJT: We stand with the Venezuelan people in their noble quest for freedom. And we condemn the brutality of the Maduro regime whose socialist policies have turned that nation from being the wealthiest in South America into a state of abject poverty and despair.

JS: But this isn’t just Trump. The highest ranking Democrat in the United States, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is openly backing this coup d’etat.

AG: On Capitol Hill, the Democratic establishment has largely supported President Trump’s efforts to oust Maduro. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tweeted Thursday “America stands by the people of Venezuela as they rise up against authoritarian rule and demand respect for human rights and democracy.”

JS: In this campaign, the true history of U.S. interventionism must be disregarded. All of the coups, the dirty wars, the election interference, the invasions and occupations, the support for terrorism, the arming and backing of so-called rebels, all of this must be ignored or explained away. This, we are told, this is actually a good regime change operation. Let’s be honest the U.S. never intervenes for humanitarian reasons. There is always some nefarious plot or motive at the center. And in this case, the Trump people are all saying the quiet parts out loud.

John Bolton: Venezuela’s one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It’ll make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of Venezuela. It’d be good for the people of the United States. We both have a lot at stake here.

JS: Where are the calls to overthrow General Sisi, the actual dictator of Egypt? You know, the guy who is now trying to make himself basically president for life? How many votes did Mohammed bin Salman receive in the Saudi elections? The Israeli government is running a massive open air prison in Palestine where it regularly guns down, bombs and assassinates the prisoners, yet Bibi Netanyahu is a prized guest in the U.S. Congress, warmly embraced by Democrats and Republicans. So let’s stop with this utter lie that any of these moves being made by the powerful in Washington against Venezuela have anything to do with humanitarianism. This is a classic model for manufacturing consent. You appeal to the humanitarian instincts of people by flooding them with lies, half truths, exaggerations. You sell the war. U.S. history is replete with this very same process done over and over. And it almost always has that bipartisan stamp of approval.

George W. Bush: We come to Iraq with respect for its citizens, for their great civilization, and for the religious faiths they practice. We have no ambition in Iraq except to remove a threat and restore control of that country to its own people.

JS: So today we are going to focus the entire show on offering different perspectives on Venezuela. Ones that you are not likely to see on cable news or written about in any depth in the so-called important newspapers of our society. We’re going to talk about issues that Trump and Pelosi don’t want you to examine. We’re going to talk about the 2018 elections in Venezuela. We’re going to talk about the state of the humanitarian situation in Venezuela, the economic situation. And we’re going to talk about the economic warfare unleashed against Venezuela and who is really being harmed by these U.S.-led economic sanctions. And we’re going to discuss the direct interference by the United States in the domestic affairs of Venezuela and what international law says about Washington’s operations.

[Music interlude.]

Vice Foreign Minister Carlos Ron Responds to Sanctions, Reports of Covert U.S. Activity, and Threats of Military Action

We begin today by getting the Venezuelan government’s response to a deluge of allegations leveled against the Maduro government by the Trump administration, by top Democrats including Pelosi, by the corporate media and by Venezuelan opposition figures who have asserted that they represent the legitimate voice of the Venezuelan people. Joining me now is Venezuela’s Vice Foreign Minister, Carlos Ron. He was named to his post by President Nicolás Maduro following the May 2018 elections. Vice Minister Ron, welcome to Intercepted.

Carlos Ron: Thank you. Pleasure being here.

JS: Let’s start with the way that the humanitarian crisis is being portrayed right now in Venezuela with U.S. politicians ranging from Nancy Pelosi right up to Donald Trump and U.S. media saying that Nicolás Maduro is blocking U.S. aid from entering Venezuela and therefore contributing to starvation and a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country. What’s your response?

CR: By definition, humanitarian crisis usually occurs after either a natural disaster or war where you know, people are cut off from food supplies and other important things that they need for basic survival. And this is not the case. I mean, in Venezuela, we do have an economic crisis, you know, but a country having economic problems doesn’t mean it’s in the middle of a humanitarian crisis. You see in other parts of the region, there are countries that have even more troubling problems with their economies and you don’t see a whole movement towards getting them aid and coming into the countries. There’s definitely a political intent into having some sort of PR stunt attack President Maduro by saying that he’s blocking something that we don’t even know what it is. I mean, nobody has talked to us directly and say “We’re bringing this type of aid.” I mean, you know, there’s usually protocols to do this. What type of aid are you bringing?

JS: Who blockaded the road?

CR: That’s an interesting case because there’s pictures running around and everybody seeing this huge bridge and then you see some sort of containers kind of blocking them. Well, that bridge has never been open. That bridge was actually built recently between Colombia and Venezuela. There’s another bridge that exists around the same place, which is open and it’s the bridge that’s being currently used and every day there’s flows coming in and out of Venezuela and Colombia. But they took the picture and again, trying to show that this is something that the government’s doing in order to block foreign aid from coming in.

JS: So just to be clear here because it’s being shown all over American media all the time — your position, what you’re saying the fact is is that that blockade on that bridge pre-existed. It was not a response to an aid convoy —

CR: That’s right.

JS: — And the bridge itself is not even in operation right now.

CR: It hasn’t been put to use yet and it was something that was already closed because it has an opened.

JS: But what was the position of your government, of the Maduro government, the government of Venezuela on what the U.S. says is $20 million in aid that they want to reach the Venezuelan people?

CR: When they started the conversation talking about $20 million in aid we lose sight of, that we are under our current blockade that at least every year, it has — you know, since maybe 2017 when the sanctions started being put into place — has, you know, taken about $23 billion per year of Venezuelan money. You know, it’s either frozen in some banks. It’s either, you know assets have been frozen from PDVSA. We can’t repatriate assets from Citgo which is a Venezuelan-owned company here in the United States. You know, it doesn’t make sense that you’re blocking 23 billion per year, but then you’re offering to help me with 20 million. I mean, how is that even possible?

JS: Right. Even some conservative estimates say that Venezuela is losing roughly $30 million a day in potential revenue because of the sanctions and we’re talking about a one shot, $20 million convoy that we don’t even know what’s in it.

CR: I mean we have to remember there’s historical precedence in here in our region of how you know, this movement plays out. In 1965, for example, there was a progressive government in the Dominican Republic. The United States didn’t like that government at the time. There was talk at the OAS —

JS: The Organization of American States.

CR: Organization of American States that you know, the Dominican Republic needed humanitarian intervention. And yes, you know, they brought some boxes with some food and 8,000 marines behind them and they took over and then, you know overthrew President Juan Bosch and occupied the Dominican Republic for years.

Newscaster: A three-man Junta has been named to rule the Dominican Republic as a rebel movement collapses. It was an attempt to reinstate exile President Juan Bosch and U.S. Marines were ordered into the country to protect American lives.

CR: So we know how this plays out. First thing they do, they talk about aid which is always insufficient and trying to create some chaos. And then after that, then you argue that you need an intervention, a military presence because you have to protect the aid and you have to protect the people that the aid is going to. And then at the end of the day, you end up invading and taking over the country. I mean, this is something we’ve seen play out.

JS: And Elliott Abrams himself, was a part of this in the 1980s. Abrams, of course, now the Trump administration’s point man, but he and Oliver North — and this is now a publicly-accepted fact — used the cover of humanitarian aid to smuggle weapons and other supplies to the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s. No one is denying that now.

CR: That’s why you have to pay attention about you know, organizations that actually take care of humanitarian aid around the world like the United Nations, like the Red Cross and they’re questioning this. The Red Cross says, you know humanitarian aid is something that needs to be impartial, neutral, universal, independent not politicized. And they said you know, this is not humanitarian aid and they made that distinction because they know there’s something else going on here. And that something else is every time the U.S. government speaks about this humanitarian aid, they make sure they send a message to the Venezuelan military and say, you know, the Venezuelan military should turn against Maduro and you know, get this aid to the people. So it’s actually a call for the military to turn against a constitutionally-elected president.

JS: There’s been reports and it seems that most of them are based on anonymous U.S. officials. But there are reports that U.S. representatives have been meeting with members of the Venezuelan military clandestinely. What information do you have about that?

CR: I wouldn’t be surprised too because you know ever since President Chávez came in in late 1990s. There has always been attempts to overthrow the government and there’s always been attempts from military to try to coordinate with outside interests and do this. There was an attempt, assassination attempt, back in August against President Maduro.

[Bomb blast.]

CR: Some of the people that were at least involved are either living in the United States, you know, we send the paperwork to see if they could get extradited and we can have a trial on some of these people. We’re still waiting for a response on that.

JS: Are you referring to the attempt to kill Maduro with a drone?

CR: Yes.

JS: You’re saying that Venezuela has identified suspects that it wants extradited from the United States?

CR: There were people caught around these events and that told us these people were involved. And so we’ve requested investigations on these people and to see if they could be extradited and put to trial in Venezuela. We’re still waiting to hear from them.

JS: So the U.S. has not responded at all to those requests?

CR: Nobody has been sent over for investigations. Nobody has been put into jail for any of these or at least questioned, as far as my knowledge.

JS: What about the appointment of Elliott Abrams as the point man right now? I mean, what’s the perspective of the Venezuelan government on Elliott Abrams being the lead party assigned to deal with Venezuela now?

CR: We’ve always maintained that we are willing to dialogue with anyone in the U.S. government. I mean President Maduro has repeatedly asked President Trump, you know, for a conversation. And we’re always open to dialogue as long as it’s respectful of our sovereignty and our self-determination. Anything, you know, pointing to another direction obviously is of concern. And you know, you have officials such as John Bolton as secretary of state, vice president, you know, saying very interventionist — using a lot of interventions rhetoric, calling for the military to rise against President Maduro, calling our elections, our political system illegitimate and it’s something very difficult to deal with. And that’s why President Maduro was faced with the option of breaking relations because it’s something that’s unacceptable.

JS: What can you tell us about the announcement by Venezuelan authorities that they had confiscated this cache of illegal weapons that were allegedly, according to the government, smuggled into Venezuela from Miami — There were assault rifles, explosive charges, radio antennas, latest generation smart phones that came in on a Boeing 767 cargo flight from the 21 Air company to Valencia airport?

CR: Well again, this is the sort of thing that tells you that there’s some intent of producing violence in Venezuela, of violent overthrow of the government. I mean investigations have to you know, run their course, but why would these weapons be you know coming into the country in a time such as this? We need to protect our people. We need to maintain our peace and you know, we’ll do whatever we need to do to be able to you know, to prevent these things from happening.

JS: What’s your position on Juan Guaidó? Right now, you have the United States, Canada, Germany, many Western countries are recognizing Guaidó and also, some of your neighbors in Latin America are saying “No, Juan Guadió right now is the legitimate president of Venezuela and he had the constitutional authority to be sworn in as the president.”

CR: Mr. Guaidó is a member of the National Assembly by the way, he was elected with the same electoral council that President Maduro was elected. And look, this is a part of the opposition that has seen their popularity deteriorate in the last couple months. And I think that they realized there was no way they could move forward but to attempt something very crazy as this — you know, proclaiming himself president, distorting, you know, Article 233 of the constitution. Article 233 of the constitution, basically it gives you like the order of succession when the president is somehow prohibited from assuming office because of death, because he resigns, because the Supreme Court impeaches him basically, because he’s medically or physically prohibited from carrying his duty, because he abandons the office of the presidency, or because his mandate is revoked by a recall referendum.

None of these things have taken place. And by the way, it’s unconstitutional just because the fact that, by constitution, the only body that interprets legally the constitution is the Constitutional Court of the Supreme Court. You know, we have five branches of government under our constitution and there’s one branch that is disputing the rest of them and that’s the National Assembly where Mr. Guaidó is. But also, I think it’s a huge mistake by other countries of recognizing this. I mean, there’s no precedent in history of such a move.

JS: Has Guaidó been able to effectively take control of any of Venezuela’s assets by having monies that are owed to the Venezuelan government deposited in other accounts? Do you have information about this?

CR: My understanding so far that hasn’t — I mean, it’s been talked and there’s been talk from the U.S. on that and that would obviously be theft to the Venezuelan people. That’s what it really would be because there’s no condition by the law, by the constitution where Guaidó would have any control over these assets so that would be illegal. It’s like being president of a country that doesn’t exist, you know and all these other right-wing conservative governments — pressured by the way, by the United States — are falling into line of this recognition where you know, again recognizing a non-existent government and being blind to a reality of you know, that affects 30 million Venezuelans.

JS: The United Nations estimates somewhere around 3 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015. Your position — you meaning the Venezuelan government’s position — is that there is not a humanitarian crisis in the country that this is something that has been manufactured by policy. Why are these people fleeing the country?

CR: Like I said before and you know, we’ve had an economic crisis in the last couple years and that we’re not denying. I mean, that’s something that’s a reality.

JS: Entirely the fault of U.S. sanctions and intervention?

CR: And other things. I mean, the problem started with low prices of oil, for example in you know, around 2014. And you know, there are sanctions that are on paper that are very clear said, like for example, we can’t renegotiate debt which many other countries do and we can’t do that because of the sanctions. But there are other sanctions that actually take place without being on paper. I mean, for example, OFAC has issued warnings to the financial system in the U.S. that any money coming from the Venezuelan government may be money coming from corruption, money laundering, all these —

JS: This is the Office of Foreign Assets Control, just for people that don’t understand, which is a division of the Treasury Department that enforces sanctions including prosecuting American citizens, U.S. citizens, if they violate sanctions or blockades.

CR: Correct. And basically once you tell the banks to you know, to be careful Venezuela money, the result has been that you know, they don’t want to deal with money or they  over comply is the term. So, those sanctions are really, you know, not only the ones that are written down that are clear-cut but though, you know, the over compliance — all of these issues are making everyday life for Venezuela much more difficult. So, going back to the issue of migration. Yes, some people have left because some of these conditions but again, you know, the numbers is something that we have to dispute. Because you know, you have people for example that leave you know by road and then they all go into Colombian and get counted once. Then they’ll go into Ecuador, and get counted again and then in Peru, and then you know, the same person gets counted three, four times —

JS: Do you dispute that number then?

CR: Yeah.

JS: Wait, wait, wait, so you dispute the 3 million number?

CR: I think it’s something that we have to look at because we’ve asked many of these countries and this is why there’s a sort of hypocrisy in many of these conservative governments with regards to these issues because we’ve asked many of them to give us their data to try to see how we can find the solutions as well as, how we can help our citizens there because they have necessities too. I mean there’s consular attention that they need to get. I mean, there’s all these issues that we have to take care of and we’ve flown, you know over I think over 10,000 people back home already. So, we wanted to have the numbers and see you know, the information of what is it that’s out there and these countries won’t share them with us.

JS: The issue of U.S. military threat, is Venezuela prepared militarily for any kind of U.S. military incursion or financing or arming of groups that could try to stage an uprising against the Maduro government?

CR: Obviously, there’s a history here and especially it’s a history related to the people that are in charge of making these decisions. I mean, these are people that were tied to the Iraq war. I mean, when you see John Bolton coming out and speaking and saying it would be really important for American companies to go back to Venezuela and increase production and retake production, that mentality obviously is something that we’re concerned. Look, we don’t want war. I think, again, we believe in diplomacy. We’ll talk to whoever we need to talk to to avoid a war. I think our people are counting on — I mean I’m a diplomat and that’s our duty. I think we have a lot of pressure right now because I think it’s up to us to make diplomacy win, and that’s what we’re here after. But at the end of the day, you know, Venezuela has an armed force and besides the armed force Venezuela has, Venezuela has its people and they’re very proud people. They are very proud of their history. We’re not going to give in to any threat and we hope it never comes to that because we don’t want to see our people go through that suffering. But if we have to defend ourselves, we’re ready to do so.

JS: Every time the opposition or these various opposition groups hold a demonstration, we’re shown the images, but there also have been massive pro-government demonstrations, massive Chavista demonstrations, Bolivarian demonstrations that are not shown on the news. I bring this up because I want to ask you clearly there are significant numbers of Venezuelans that want you guys gone. It is not the case that there’s just like a handful of people in a corner. What is your strategy — you meaning the government — in reconciling? This isn’t about Leopoldo López or Juan Guaidó. Ordinary People are divided on this and I don’t mean to make it sort of like a both sides thing because I do think that the propaganda campaign is being waged against the Maduro crowd and against the Chavistas. But how do you reconcile — because it is a divided country — how can you possibly find a way forward given the way the gauntlet is thrown down now that it’s you’re either with Guaidó or you’re with Maduro?

CR: It’s a lively democracy. I mean, you have disagreements and that we have. So I think part of the way of reaching out is making things available for everyone without discriminating and the other thing is calling for dialogue. President Maduro has been a president that has called for dialogue with the opposition at least 400 times in you know, public television. And you know, and he’s sincere about this. The problem is that sometimes we don’t know which opposition to talk to because there’s many oppositions because they, you know, they don’t — it is difficult for them also, because they have different views, you know, to sit down and find a common voice. They’re encouraging proposals from other countries like Mexico, Uruguay and recently —

JS: The Vatican also.

CR: The Vatican. A couple days ago, there was the mechanismsin Montevideo was established to see if we can see both sides. And then talk about you know, how we could move forward, how we can end a divide, how we can you know, sort of solve the problems that we’re having in the country’s economic situation and other things.

JS: One of the points that people from the Venezuelan opposition or let’s just say opponents of Maduro’s government will make, they’ll say “Yeah, we realize most of the world and most Venezuelans never heard of Juan Guaidó before all of this happened, but everyone knows who Leopoldo López is and you, the government have had him either locked up or on house arrest and he would have been the person we wanted to rally behind but you have persecuted him. So we’re not going to participate in this because the man that Venezuelans most closely link to being the main face of opposition against Maduro is basically under either an imprisonment or house arrest.”

CR: Well, I think —

JS: Why is Leopoldo — where is Leopoldo López right now?

CR: He’s under house arrest and —

JS: Why?

CR: Well because he led, he had a trial and on trial, he was condemned about, because of leading protests in 2014 that led to the death of at least 43 Venezuelans and it was incitement of violence. And if you would have had anybody here do the same thing, you know, there’s laws, the RICO laws and there’s other legislation here in the United States that does the same thing. I think it’s people that have always opted for violence instead of you know, playing the Democratic game because they know they don’t reach the average Venezuelan. That’s the thing. I mean people understand that the continent changed in the last 20 years. You know, people want more participation. People want to take — they want to take be taken seriously. People, you know that were excluded historically for the first time you know, were enfranchised and felt represented by people that govern them.

And so, now, you won’t — it’s very hard to find anyone who will willingly vote for the agenda, the neoliberal agenda that called for privatization, no public support for you know, welfare support for the communities. These are people that want to privatize higher education. These are people that want to privatize the health sector. These are people that don’t even want to have public schools, you know grammar schools, they can’t sell that anymore. So, once your project is not something you can sell on an election, then you have to find other ways and they go and they turn to violence and that’s what historically has been happening since 2014 from Venezuela. These people have been trying to obtain power by producing violence, by producing a coup, by having somebody assassinate the President, by having the United States intervene and take over and then make a mess.

Mr. Guaidó was elected to the National Assembly with 97,000 votes, I believe and in a party that is only represented by 14 members of the National Assembly. How is that more legitimate? How is that possibly more legitimate than a president who was re-elected in May of last year with over 6 million votes in an election of 9 million, where nine million people voted, I mean, 67 percent of the vote. I mean, we can’t let — it’s not even something that can be compared. That’s the thing, these are people whose political projects are not viable anymore and they’re trying to impose themselves by violence or by having somebody outside come in and put them in the government.

JS: We’re going to leave it there. Carlos Ron, thank you very much for joining us.

CR: Thank you. Pleasure.

JS: Carlos Ron is the vice foreign minister of Venezuela.

[Music interlude.]

UN Independent Expert Alfred de Zayas Talks About U.S. Policy Toward Venezuela Under Obama and Trump

JS: To fully understand the danger of the growing uniform response in the United States, from political leaders to the media, and the gravity of what’s playing out on the world stage when it comes to Venezuela, I’m joined by Alfred de Zayas. He is an American lawyer, writer, historian, and leading expert in the field of human rights and international law.

As an independent U.N. expert, de Zayas visited Venezuela in 2017, the first such visit by a U.N. expert since the mid-1990s. His report on Venezuela was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council in September of 2018. The report contained a scathing denunciation of U.S.-led economic sanctions against Venezuela. In the report, Zayas writes, “The effects of sanctions imposed by Presidents Obama and Trump and unilateral measures by Canada and the European Union have directly and indirectly aggravated the shortages in medicines such as insulin and anti-retroviral drugs.” He charged that the sanctions contributed to many deaths and that the sanctions contravene the human rights obligations of the countries imposing them. He added that “sanctions can amount to crimes against humanity” and he recommended that the International Criminal Court open an investigation into the nations imposing the sanctions. De Zayas also wrote a piece for The Independent newspaper in London where he compared the drumbeat for regime change in oil-rich Venezuela to the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

During his U.N. investigation in Venezuela, de Zayas spoke with stakeholders from across the political spectrum, ranging from opposition figures to the government as well as with professors, churches, and non-governmental organizations. And Alfred de Zayas joins me now. Alfred, welcome to Intercepted.

Alfred de Zayas: Thank you very much.

JS: So, I wanted to begin with the most recent developments and that is that according to the way it’s being portrayed in the United States and by most of the U.S media, particularly powerful media, Nicolás Maduro has made a decision to block humanitarian aid from the United States from entering Venezuela. What is your assessment of this situation right now?

AdZ: Well, I spoke in Venezuela in November/December 2017 with a dozen ministers including the foreign minister. They’re all welcoming whatever humanitarian aid is given in good faith, but there’s a question of honor and there’s a question of intellectual honesty here. If the country that is causing the asphyxiation of the Venezuelan economy, the country that has imposed illegal sanctions on Venezuela, the country that has been waging an economic war on Venezuela for 20 years, should Trump be then the savior who delivers humanitarian aid to Venezuela? Here you have the classical example of ex injuria jus non oritur.The United States has caused the problem and then wants to depict itself as the savior.

JS: You know when we’re talking about the allegation from the United States that Maduro is blocking this aid. I want to remind people that Elliott Abrams who now is the Trump administration’s point person on Venezuela, a notorious war criminal, was part of covering up the Iran-Contra scandal, was also one of the major figures involved with covering up numerous massacres throughout Central America in the 1980s, and I want to just read from the Los Angeles Times May 19th, 1987. This was a story about how humanitarian aid “was used as a pretext to arm the Contra death squads” and this is what the L.A. Times reported, this is from 1987 — Oliver North and other Reagan administration aides deliberately used a 1986 program of “humanitarian aid for Nicaraguan rebels to help support the secret effort to deliver military aid to the contras. The aid was administered by the state department’s Nicaraguan humanitarian assistance office, but officials said that all significant decisions were made by a restricted inter-agency group consisting of Oliver North, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, and the chief of the CIA Central America task-force.” So there is a historical context for this exact individual, Elliott Abrams being involved with using the cover of humanitarian aid to covertly attempt to arm rebels in an effort to ensure that U.S. hegemony is protected and that the U.S. has puppets in power.

AdZ: U.S. aid and the DEA, the Drug Enforcement Agency and the National Endowment for Democracy are notorious as Trojan horses. They are notorious as tools used by the state department to subvert governments that we do not like. So it is understandable that Maduro has his concerns, his suspicions, about any kind of humanitarian aid coming to Venezuela from Colombia or from Brazil or from the United States. On the other hand, I would recommend to the government of Maduro to accept whatever aid is offered and that aid should be delivered and distributed only through neutral channels be it the International Committee of the Red Cross, be it certain non-governmental organizations that have remained neutral in this issue. In any event, the government has a right to monitor what enters the country because it’s not impossible that together with humanitarian aid, together with food and medicines that also weapons, drugs, or other kind of contraband would be brought into the country. So, this is a complex issue but for the media, of course, it is a bonanza.

JS: It’s not just the media coverage. You see this love fest going on between Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and notorious neo-cons like John Bolton, who — Bolton was praising Nancy Pelosi the other day on Twitter because she released a statement saying that she supports the recognition of Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela. And then she goes on to say and this is quoting Nancy Pelosi “Nicolás Maduro’s regime of repression and impoverishment for his personal enrichment continues to gravely violate human rights and must be condemned swiftly by the full international community.” And then she goes on to slam Maduro for his “decision to block bridges and cut off channels of food and supplies saying that it imperils the health and futures of the Venezuelan people and must be immediately reversed.” What about this issue of the U.S. sanctions and the way that it’s being portrayed as somehow an alternative to the use of military force? You were on the ground you did the first serious investigation in many years in Venezuela. What has the impact of U.S. sanctions been on the Venezuelan people?

AdZ: Well, the beginning of the problems with the Venezuelan economy goes back to 2013-14 when the oil prices fell dramatically. For a country like Venezuela that depends 90-95 percent on the sale of oil obviously, this is a major disaster when you end up having 50 percent of what you used to have. Now normally, a country as wealthy as Venezuela would be able to issue bonds to increase its sovereign debt — which was actually very low in comparison to the sovereign debt of most countries — should be able to borrow money to bridge the gap. What the United States did and what the United States had been doing for 20 years is increasing the pressure, increasing the economic war and then applying sanctions.

Steven Mnuchin: Today’s action is focused on restricting the regimes access to American debt and equity markets. Maduro may no longer take advantage of the American financial system.

AdZ: What bothers me with this whole media campaign is that they have weaponized human rights, but we already saw it back in the year 2003. In 2003, George W. Bush decided he wanted to destroy Iraq, and he wanted to take the oil in Iraq. I mean there was no danger at all emanating from Saddam Hussein to the United States or to its neighbors. On the other hand, they invented the myth of weapons of mass destruction. It was carried by the mainstream media. The ocean of lies, Colin Powell lying to the American people, lying to the world, lying to the United Nations, saying that there are weapons of mass destruction.

Colin Powell: Saddam Hussein and his regime have made no effort, no effort to disarm as required by the international community. Indeed the facts and Iraq’s behavior show that Saddam Hussein and his regime are concealing their efforts to produce more weapons of mass destruction.

AdZ: I mean it is so shocking. We have learned nothing from it. I mean the kind of manipulation of public opinion that occurred in 2003 is very similar to the manipulation of public opinion that we witness today with regard to Venezuela. It is shocking that whenever Trump commits a major violation of international law by imposing sanctions on the poor people of Maduro, sanctions kill. People tend to forget that. People think that “Oh, the malnutrition is just the result of the socialist system that always fails.” It’s not that the socialist system necessarily fails. We are making sure that it fails. We’re making sure that it fails by asphyxiating the economy through sanctions and through a financial blockade. Going back to Nancy Pelosi applauding the president when he violates international law, now that is a direct violation of Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations Charter. That is a prohibited interference in the internal affairs of other states. That is also a violation of chapter four, Article 19 of the charter of the Organization of American States, but that makes Trump suddenly presidential and why is he doing that? Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. It has huge gold reserves, and bauxite reserves, and coltan reserves. There is an enormous market there. There are trillions of dollars in profit to be made and that is what Trump and here there’s no difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. They are both in favor of looting Latin America.

JS: The underlying statement that precedes all of their criticism or the support that they throw behind Juan Guaidó — they’ll say, “Look, Maduro is an illegitimate president. The election in 2018 was illegitimate. The leading opposition figures were put in prison. The vote was rigged. People did not participate in large numbers because the opposition boycotted it.” What is your response to the political figures in the United States that run the gamut from Nancy Pelosi to John Bolton who say those elections were fraudulent and that is why we’re in this crisis right now?

AdZ: Well, they are wrong, number one. Number two, they are spreading fake news. A narrative that has very little to do with what transpired in Venezuela. The former prime minister of Spain José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero hosted in the years 2016, 17, 18 negotiations between the opposition and the government. It was supported by the Vatican. It was supported by the president of the Dominican Republic. Three Latin American states were advising the government of Venezuela and three were advising the opposition led by Julio Borges. Now, one of the principle demands of the opposition was to advance the presidential elections and the agreement that was reached on the 6th of February 2018 provided for advanced presidential elections in April of 2018. So that as a concession to the opposition, that as a satisfaction of the demands of the opposition to have elections. Now the opposition knew very well that they could not win the elections. Knowing that, they decided to boycott them.

News Anchor: After days of deliberations, Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Coalition had stood united saying it would boycott the early presidential race.

AdZ: Now the system — and I spent hours with the electoral commission in Venezuela — their system of security for any election is nearly full proof as confirmed repeatedly by The Carter Center.

JS: The Carter Center, of course is run by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and actually is a U.S. funded entity that praised the integrity of Venezuela’s electoral system.

AdZ: Well, I saw it myself. I spent time studying it so I have no doubt whatever that indeed 47 percent of the population voted and that 68 percent of that vote went to Maduro. Now obviously, Leopoldo López was in house arrest. Why? Because he had been calling for violence. I mean, in any country if you are inciting violence, that is a criminal offense under any penal code. There are many other opposition leaders who could have run in those elections, but decided, simply strategically, not to participate. So, they are trying to wage war from outside the country. They are asking the United States to increase the sanctions although they know themselves that sanctions kill. And these are the leaders that the mainstream media in the United States are applauding.

JS: You have argued that as the heads of government, Chávez and Maduro ultimately bear overall responsibility for the economic crisis, but then you go on to talk about their failure to understand what forces will strike back at you when you go after the biggest hegemon in the world. Talk a little bit about the mistakes you think Maduro and Chávez made as they explored this socialist economic model and taking on such a powerful entity as the United States government.

AdZ: These people are committed to an ideology and what I told them, “Look, you have too many ideologues in the government. You don’t have enough technocrats. So, you absolutely must rely on the technocrats. You must sit down with Fedecámaras [Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Production]. You must sit down with the private sector. You must sit down with the entrepreneurs in Venezuela and make sure that they make money.” The problem — and I felt it speaking with members of Fedecámaras — is that they felt that the government didn’t want to take them into account and that they were not being consulted. I am convinced that that’s true. That is a major, major mistake, political mistake on the part of both Chávez and Maduro, but that in no way justifies a coup d’état. That in no way justifies what the United States is doing.

But going back to the larger picture: The recognition of Juan Guaidó by a number of ostensibly democratic states like Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, etcetera. I ask myself “Don’t they have lawyers? Have they not read Article 233 of the Venezuelan Constitution?” The Venezuelan Constitution in case that Maduro dies or is killed, provides that the vice president will exercise the function of the president not the National Assembly. Article 233 does not, in this particular circumstance, allow the National Assembly to name an interim president. Besides the legitimacy of the National Assembly — you hear again and again in the press that the National Assembly is the only legitimate authority in Venezuela, ridiculous, ludicrous.

I mean, the fact is that in any country with separation of powers and with checks and balances, you have an executive, you have a legislature, and you have a judiciary. Now, the legislature arrogated to itself in 2015 the policy of exiting the president. What they wanted was to do an illegal parliamentary coup as was done in Brazil against Dilma Rousseff.

Dilma Rousseff [translated from Portuguese]: It wasn’t just a single coup. It’s a whole process. Don’t think it started and finished the day I was removed from office. It started before when they didn’t have a way to get to power through direct Democratic elections. Democracy wasn’t viable from their point of view.

AdZ: And that is not legal. It’s not constitutional under the Venezuelan Constitution. They went way beyond their powers and then there was an additional problem that during those elections in 2015 at least three parliamentarians in the Amazon region had been elected fraudulently. I mean, there’s no question about it. That was challenged. It went to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court told the National Assembly, “Fix it.” But the National Assembly, they refused. So the Supreme Court declared the National Assembly in contempt. That is what it’s called in Spanish “en desacato.” Now, I don’t read anywhere in the mainstream press that there are major constitutional issues about the legitimacy of the National Assembly. Nowhere will you read that in the mainstream press. That is a problem of manipulation of public opinion. It is no accident. It is clearly deliberate.

JS: On February 8th, Reuters news agency reported that the United States is holding direct talks with members of Venezuela’s military to try to blackmail, bribe, cajole, encourage them into abandoning Maduro and his government. And you had a senior White House official of course, quoted anonymously saying that more sanctions may be coming. What do you make of this two-track approach where there’s these sanctions that are being portrayed as targeting Maduro and his inner circle and Maduro blocking humanitarian aid — that’s one part of the narrative — and then the other part is you had John Bolton — and this may have been a provocation — walking into a press briefing with 5,000 troops to Columbia written on his notepad? But this notion that while all of this is going on, the United States is clandestinely meeting with members of Venezuela’s military?

AdZ: Well, the United States is trying anything to bring him down and the United States has miscalculated often enough. I mean, they thought that the economic war and the asphyxiation of the Chilean economy would bring Allende down. It didn’t so they needed a General Pinochet. Now they’re looking for a General Pinochet in Venezuela. Maybe they find him and obviously, they would love to have some Venezuelan general do the dirty work. They’d much rather do that than to use troops to invade Venezuela. But what I also told the Venezuelan opposition when I was there whether you like it or not, there are 8 or 9 million Venezuelans who are committed Chavistas. If you succeed with a coup d’etat, they’re not simply going to roll over. You may find yourself in a situation of Civil War. You may find yourself in a situation that a part of the army is going to fight those who participated in the coup. You’re going to find that a large part of the police is going to fight those who organized the coup and they’re not going to take orders from Juan Guaidó or from anybody who has no legitimacy. And there’s nothing, nothing more undemocratic and more corrosive of the rule of law than a coup d’etat. And it is shocking to see this revolt against international law and against the rule of law when not only President Trump does what he does, but he drags in Canada and the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

Melissa Bell: That pressure on the Venezuelan authorities, on the government of Nicolás Maduro really gathering steam with an unusual level of unity between the United States, Canada and Western Europe. I mean, we really had forgotten what it was like for them to agree so profoundly on a foreign policy matter and yet —

AdZ: The United Nations Charter is very clear on this issue. Article 2, Paragraph 3 requires mediation, requires that all disputes among countries be solved by peaceful means. That is the purpose of the invitation of Mexico and Uruguay to the Montevideo talks, to the Montevideo Mechanism that is trying to mediate between the opposition and the government.

I told the opposition, those of the opposition who I met and also several opposition nongovernmental organizations every human being in Venezuela has human dignity including the Chavistas, including those who support Maduro and there are 9 million of them. You cannot simply ignore what these people want and what their vision for the future of Venezuela is. And the future of Venezuela would be entirely different the moment that you lift the sanctions, the moment that you stop the economic war. It is shocking that the Bank of England is sitting on 31 tons of Venezuelan gold worth about $1.3 billion that Venezuela needs to buy food and medicine and they don’t release it. It is shocking that the United States has frozen something like $9 billion of profits of Citgo in the United States again, monies that Venezuela needs for buying food and medicines. I have argued that this deliberate homicide, this premeditated homicide of Venezuelan people constitute a crime against humanity. It’s certainly falls within the mandate of the International Criminal Court and I would call on the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to start an investigation into this issue.

JS: What can Maduro do right now that would bring a resolution? Because it seems like the United States and its allies are pretty intent on overthrowing him, bringing him down or fomenting a coup.

AdZ: What I would recommend the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations in New York and for the Venezuelan government is to get the non-aligned movement and to get other important groupings in the United Nations to adopt a resolution first of all, condemning the sanctions and condemning the adverse human rights impacts of the sanctions.

JS: That did nothing in Iraq. It does nothing in Palestine.

AdZ: That is true. But you have to have some arguments on the other side. International law will support the legitimacy of Maduro as the only legitimate president.

JS: And then it gets vetoed by the United States if it ever comes in front of it, of the Security Council.

AdZ: Of course in the Security Council, you can count on a veto against any resolution favoring Venezuela, but there is another avenue. Article 96 of the United Nations Charter provides for the International Court of Justice taking legal questions, refer to it by the general assembly, and issuing advisory opinions. I think an advisory opinion on the situation now in Venezuela on the kind of flagrant violation of Article 2, Paragraph 4 of the U.N. Charter that would help in the argument that Maduro has that it’s not just Venezuela that is at stake. International law is at stake. International order is at stake. We have here a frontal attack on international law, on principles of customary international law. It is prohibited to do what the United States is doing in Venezuela and a reminder from the International Court of Justice in the form of an advisory opinion would be at this moment, I think crucial.

JS: Alfred de Zayas, thank you very much for joining us and for your analysis.

AdZ: Thank you very much.

JS: Alfred de Zayas is an American lawyer, writer, historian, and a leading expert in the field of human rights and international law. From 2012 until April of 2018, he was the United Nations Independent Expert on the Promotion of a Democratic and Equitable International Order. He was appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council. At the moment, he’s teaching international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy. You can find him on Twitter @Alfreddezayas. We will link his official U.N. report on Venezuela on our episode page.

[Music interlude.]

Journalist Sam Husseini Talks About Questioning Elliott Abrams

Well, to end today’s show, we are going to take a trip into the mind of a journalist who recently attended a U.S. State Department briefing where convicted Iran-Contra criminal and war monger turned U.S. envoy on Venezuela, Elliott Abrams made a surprise appearance. That journalist is Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington D.C. At this press conference, Sam tried repeatedly to ask Abrams about his criminal past, his involvement in dirty wars in Central America, and about the open plotting to overthrow the government of Venezuela. Abrams pretended to not hear Sam’s questions or simply to just ignore them. The State Department minder with Abrams definitely did not want Sam asking these questions and tried to shut him down. But what Sam was trying to ask Abrams are the very questions that journalists should be asking this notorious figure who is now running a U.S. campaign of regime change. Here’s how it all went down, according to Sam.

Sam Husseini: I’m sitting there waiting, reading a piece in the British Independent by Alfred de Zayas, former U.N. expert who visited Venezuela issued a long report.

New spokesperson is coming out. I don’t even remember his name. See if I can — Oh my God, it’s Abrams. I can’t believe that they’re bringing him out. Maybe I should have seen it coming.

Robert Palladino: We have a special guest today, Special Representative for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams. Elliot, please. Thank you.

Elliott Abrams: Thanks.

SH: Elliott Abrams, you know, it’s one of these people, it’s like Richard Nixon or Henry Kissinger. You don’t know if it’s really him or if it’s somebody with a mask.

EA: A few comments to start. Two weeks ago, Juan Guaidó and the democratically elected National Assembly took the courageous and constitutional step of declaring Guaidó interim president, and forming a transitional government while working toward free and fair elections. We, the United States, recognized Guaido as the interim president on January 23rd. As of today —

SH: Elliott Abrams, specialty of ensuring death squads and faction fighting. My God, I can’t believe it’s come to this. Make America great again. No matter which way the American public votes, they get some version of non-stop interventionism, some flavor of it. Elliott Abrams.

Matt Lee: Thanks, Robert. Just on the contact group, you mentioned at the beginning that 23 European countries now recognize Guaidó.

SH: Matt Lee, Matt Lee. God, gets the first question. That’s good, they tried to take away — they did take away his first question the last time. If you ask questions that are too tough, Matt, you’re not going to get the first question any more like the AP reporter traditionally does.

ML: — The time for dialogue is past. And secondly, if 23 European countries have already de-recognized Maduro, how do you think that the contact group was – try to get to dialogue?

EA: Well, I hope they’re going to follow the position of the United States, which is that the only worthwhile message to the Maduro regime is it’s time to end the dictatorship in Venezuela.

SH: This question seems disappointing to me and the next question, Bloomberg seems tepid. I got to do something. What am I gonna sit here like a potted plant holding my hand up in the air? They’re not going to call on me. They’re not going to call on anybody who asks a tough question around here. I mean, it’s Abrams. He’s got a rap sheet a mile long and he’s being questioned like it’s a normal news conference or something, which is bad enough as it is with a normal spokesperson.  Gotta go for it.

SH [At press conference]: Mr. Abrams, isn’t it rather rich given your background —

RP: Excuse me, sir, no. No. Give order. No, no, no, no.

SH: So I asked in turn. I mean, it’s really something for you to be out here talking about human rights when given your rap sheet, you’re convicted felon, arguable war criminal. He cut me off — spokesperson, that’s his function up there. I ask about them refusing to take tough questions, about Abrams talking about human rights while having back death squads. They refuse to take all my questions.

RP: Excuse me, sir. Fox —

Reporter: How long can you say that —

RP: Fox.

Reporter: When did the, when did the administration —

SH: I don’t over-talk the other reporters. I try to get my question in. They drown me out. Halfway through, I think, “God I better turn on my iPhone and record what I’m asking because they’re not going to put it on their audio feed.” I turn it on.

SH [At press conference]: Haven’t the sanctions had a crushing effect? The U.N. special repertoire says the sanctions are crushing the Venezuelan people.

SH: I keep asking my questions.

SH [At press conference]: So you’re claiming the U.S. isn’t interfering in any way? Did the U.S. scuttle the compromise brokered by the Spanish?

SH: I ask about U.S. interference in Venezuela. Abrams is talking. It’s like, it’s Cuba that’s interfering illegitimately, illegally making a coup or something in Venezuela. I ask about the U.N. expert and his report saying that sanctions were crushing the Venezuelan people. They don’t talk about that when they’re talking about how bad the Venezuelan people got it — don’t have medicine. They don’t take a single one.

RP: I appreciate it. Thanks for coming today.

SH: Abrams walks off. I get my last question in, out as he’s leaving. The spokesperson takes over, the deputy spokesperson, whoever he is. On my way out one of the State Department officials said she hoped that I wouldn’t call out questions like that. I say if we’re going to bring back the bad parts in the 1980s. We should bring back the good parts.

JS: That, again, was Sam Husseini of the Institute for Public Accuracy in Washington D.C. You can find him on Twitter @samhusseini.

[Music interlude.]

JS: And that does it for this week’s show. If you are not yet a sustaining member of Intercepted, you can log onto to join to join the more than 3,000 other people who are already sustaining members of this program. Intercepted is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. You can find us on Twitter @Intercepted. Our producer is Jack D’Isidoro and our executive producer is Leital Molad. Laura Flynn is associate producer. Elise Swain is our assistant producer and graphic designer. Rick Kwan mixed the show. Transcription is done by Nuria Marquez Martinez. Our music, as always, was composed by DJ Spooky. Until next week, I’m Jeremy Scahill.

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