Recently, the Obama Administration announced that it was applying sanctions against high-ranking Venezuelan officials. Few people deny that Venezuela’s government has committed human rights violations, as I’ve documented some of them in these roundups, but the main outrage over this move comes because of the hyperbole and the hypocrisy that went along with this move:
But the main object of South American ire may be the language leading off Obama’s order. It describes the situation in Venezuela as constituting an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”
The U.S. government hasn’t typically described Venezuela as a major security threat. The 2015 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, released last month by the director of national intelligence, devotes two paragraphs to Venezuela, neither of which describe the country as a threat to the United States.
But a senior U.S. administration official told reporters last week that the use of “national security” language is standard when issuing an executive order to impose sanctions. “Most of the sanctions programs that we have, from Iran to Syria, Burma, across the board, rely on these same types of national emergency declarations,” the official said.
Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at the human rights nonprofit Washington Office on Latin America, explained that under U.S. law, the executive has to declare a national emergency that threatens national security in order to freeze a foreigner’s assets by executive order.
“It has to look like a big, special thing, if you’re going to do it,” Isacson told The Huffington Post. “That’s why it has that stupid language at the beginning. I think the sanctions themselves are pretty legitimate. The United States has the right to decide who gets to do business and own property here in our country, and we should be limiting the number of human rights abusers who get to do that.”
Isacson also suggested that more people were worthy of sanctions. “Just look at New York and all the condos that are owned by Russian oligarchs,” he said. He noted as well the prevalence of human rights abuses in Mexico and Colombia, countries with which the United States enjoys good diplomatic relations.
So why is Venezuela being singled out here? Why are we so willing to damage relations with the region over a country whose record on human rights isn’t any worse than many other countries we remain strongly allied with?
I think part of the answer comes from a phenomenon that’s really well explained in Lawrence Lessig’s recent book “Republic, Lost”. One of the central insights of that book is about understanding the true nature of corruption in this country. It’s not simply a matter of the wealthy writing big checks in order to get what they want out of our lawmakers and other leaders. It’s about a system that relies on campaign funding and essentially forces lawmakers and others running for office to focus their attention and their efforts on the interests of those who can reciprocate.
The end result is that politicians end up in a bubble where they only hear and understand the issues and concerns of those wealthy enough to gain access to the bubble. This is not a phenomenon limited to either party. Democrats can become as captive to their wealthy interests as Republicans.
But the unique thing about Venezuela is that, unlike many other rights-abusing nations in the world, the victims of Maduro’s left-wing regime are often businessmen. Within the bubble of wealthy interests that politicians reside, this becomes seen as a more serious threat than when a regime targets activists or minorities or the press. In this context, the wealthy view themselves and their interests as the interests of the nation – and politicians follow suit. In reality, Venezuela is no more of a threat to U.S. interests than Saudi Arabia, Israel, or Egypt, but gets treated as if it’s far more threatening.
More stories from the past two weeks…
The Obama Administration is removing the federal requirements for its Office of Administration to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, making their already terrible record on transparency even worse.
Ed Pilkington reports that the U.S. government is still targeting Wikileaks in a criminal investigation.
Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley write about CIA efforts to hack into popular Apple products for surveillance purposes.
Lucy Steigerwald writes about how private prison corporations are just a small part of the problems caused by the drug war and our mass incarceration madness. Mark A.R. Kleiman, Angela Hawken, & Ross Halperin write about how to reduce the amount of people we have locked up. And actor Michael K. Williams writes about why he’s taking up this fight as well.
Glenn Greenwald writes about the efforts of various western governments to censor websites that they perceive as supporting or encouraging terrorism.
Julian Sanchez writes about the “right to be forgotten” in internet web searches.
The FBI has preferred to keep their cell phone tracking capabilities secret rather than allow for the information to be brought up by prosecutors in criminal trials.
Senators Gillibrand (D-NY), Booker (D-NJ), and Paul (R-KY) introduced a bill that would move marijuana to a Schedule II drug and fully legalize it for medical use in the states that have approved it so far.
Wikipedia is suing the NSA and the DOJ over internet surveillance.
Hamid Khan writes about the drawbacks of Los Angeles using helicopters for aerial surveillance.
Jordan Smith writes about a case from Las Vegas where a very questionable murder conviction is receiving new scrutiny.
In Montana, a
small-government conservative religious fundamentalist is trying to figure out how to more effectively insert government into a women’s uterus by making terrible analogies.
Radley Balko writes about what we’ve learned about the experience that Denver has had with its police body camera policies.
Protests have been happening in Aurora, near Denver, over the recent shooting of an unarmed black man.
Because Oklahoma University is a state-run school, expelling the students who sang a racist chant on a fraternity outing would be a clear violation of their first amendment rights.
Chris Geidner writes about the battle over gay marriage between religious fundamentalists in Alabama’s judicial system and federal judges who have held that their bans are unconstitutional.
Despite the resignations of several city officials in Ferguson, protestors are still fighting for more accountability. The New York Times writes about how the situation in Ferguson isn’t much different from what happens in many towns across America.
Spencer Ackerman and Zach Stafford write about two more cases where Chicago police used the Homan Square facility to hold marijuana suspects without access to counsel or proper due process.
Religious fundamentalists in the West Virginia legislature passed a 20-week abortion ban after it was vetoed by the governor.
In Virginia, liquor control cops viciously attacked a black UVA student, sparking large protests. Also in Virginia, an 11-year old was given a year suspension from school after officially mistakenly believed he was in possession of a marijuana leaf (it wasn’t).
Paul Solotaroff writes about a wrongful murder conviction in Philadelphia and attempts by city officials to retry the man whose life they’ve already destroyed.
The Brian Lehrer show recently discussed Attica prison and prisoner abuse.
Ireland is debating a gender identity bill.
The Guardian writes about the surveillance watchdog arm of the British government and its failures in providing proper oversight
A British airport employee was busted for taking pictures of the rape-scanner as his co-worker walked through it.
In Germany, Indian-born students are being discriminated against because of their home nation’s problems with rape.
IKEA has pulled some catalogs from circulation in Russia for fear that it violates anti-gay propaganda laws.
A man who was accused of the murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov claims that his confession was a result of torture and that he is innocent.
In Syria, the Assad regime is accused of using chlorine gas, a chemical weapon, in recent attacks against civilians.
Israeli soldiers are conducting night-time raids in Palestinian areas to question alleged rock-throwers as young as 9-years old.
Hamas is claiming that large numbers of recent arrests by the Palestinian Authority are politically motivated. Nicholas Kristof writes about the wretched conditions that the residents of Gaza face as a result of repeated bombing campaigns from Israel.
The Saudi government has sentenced a human rights activist to a 10 year prison sentence.
Egypt has sentenced to death political opponents of the regime.
There’s evidence of cluster bomb usage in Libya, but the government denies any role.
Chinese authorities arrested a man for trying to use Twitter to organize an anti-smog protest.
Three men in Myanmar are going to prison for posting a picture of Buddha wearing headphones.
Four men in Thailand are facing charges for leading protests against the military government.
Australian police have confirmed that they’ve been able to spy on journalists’ communication metadata.