00:30 GMT +322 January 2020
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    On Thursday, the US Treasury announced a new round of sanctions targeting 10 individuals and 13 entities allegedly linked to the operation of Venezuela's food subsidy program, the Local Committees for Supply and Production (CLAP).

    Paul Dobson, a writer for VenezuelAnalysis.com, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear Friday that the new sanctions reveal that the US is upping its ante against the Venezuelan people by targeting third-party businessmen and firms collaborating with the Latin American country, intensifying the US’ economic warfare against the nation. 

    “I think the first thing we have to point out is when the US Treasury Department announced these sanctions, or any sanctions, they provide no evidence to back their claims,” Dobson told Loud & Clear hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    “They make their claims that so-and-so is corrupt and so-and-so is not, and that may be the case, or it may not be the case. But for the general public, there is no bank account statement, there are no photos, there are no videos, WhatsApp messages or phone messages. Nothing to back up these claims whatsoever, so it’s really a Pandora’s Box. We either have to take their word for it or not,” Dobson added.

    According to a Thursday press release by the Treasury, Colombian national Alex Nain Saab was behind a corruption network in Venezuela that allowed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro to “significantly profit from food imports and distribution in Venezuela.”

    “Alex Saab engaged with Maduro insiders to run a wide scale corruption network they callously used to exploit Venezuela’s starving population. Treasury is targeting those behind Maduro’s sophisticated corruption schemes, as well as the global network of shell companies that profit from the former regime’s military-controlled food distribution program,” said US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Thursday. 

    “The corruption network that operates the CLAP program has allowed Maduro and his family members to steal from the Venezuelan people. They use food as a form of social control, to reward political supporters and punish opponents, all the while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars through a number of fraudulent schemes,” Mnuchin added.

    Around 6 million families receive a CLAP box at least once a month - a large majority of Venezuela's 30 million people - and are also able to purchase heavily subsidized food at local markets managed by the program, Sputnik reported. By sanctioning individuals and businesses connected to Venezuela's food sector, the US is threatening the Venezuelan people’s access to food. 

    “The CLAP program itself is heavily, massively dependent on imports. The initial idea of the program when it was launched in 2016 by the Maduro government was that it would stimulate communities to start producing and distributing on a very micro, local level. This effectively hasn't happened, and well over 90% of the products that people receive in their CLAP bags are imported,” Dobson noted. 

    “So obviously, any sanctions on third parties ... [are] obviously going to have a fairly serious impact on the distribution and the imports of the products we see in the CLAP boxes here, which will have a knock-on impact on Venezuela's nutritional health effectively, the amount of food Venezuelans have access to … and [affecting Venezuelan access to food] will utterly have political consequences.”

    “According to the little information the US Treasury Department has given us in the statement published last week, they are accusing businessmen and firms of giving kickbacks to Venezuelan state officials in return for overvalued state contracts. So, a very typical case of corruption, should it be true,” Dobson explained.

    The Venezuelan government states that the goal of the US in sanctioning the CLAP program is to prevent sanctioned companies from importing consumer goods and thereby escalate the economic war against Venezuela. The US, on the other hand, has long claimed that the CLAP program is used by Maduro to maintain the loyalty of Venezuelans.

    “Without this program - it would have a devastating impact on the political stability in the country and thus make the Maduro government extremely vulnerable to regime change operations,” Becker noted.

    In a change from previous sanctions, this is the first time that the US has directly attacked the food sector in Venezuela, Dobson noted. 

    “You have seen sanctions which indirectly affect the [food] sector through limiting import access and freezing bank accounts, but this is the first time they have directly hit the sector. And this is a very delicate issue,” he said. “This is not oil sales. This is not arms sales. This is people’s stomachs. Across the board in Venezuela, pro-government and anti-government citizens, people rely on these CLAP programs to keep their weight up, to be well fed, to feed their children.” 

    “This sort of attack against the program will be seen very negatively in Venezuela by most citizens regardless of their political alliance, and it really shows that the US government is not looking to help solve any sort of problems in the Venezulan economy,” Dobson told Sputnik.

    “The US is now starting to up the ante with third parties … who do business with Venezuela. And this is extremely worrying, because when they start applying this formula to other sectors, typically the oil sectors and other imports and exports sectors, it will have a very severe impact on the economy. But in terms of the CLAP  … I think the government has plenty of options on who to buy their food from in terms of international allies,” Dobson explained.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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