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In Venezuela, Trump Administration Content to Support a Military Coup But Not Nation's Refugees

"What this administration has demonstrated again and again over the last several years is that crises and vulnerability … have not been the factors that have moved them."

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó—who attempted to spark a military coup last week with expressed U.S. backing—speaks during a press conference at the headquarters of political party Un Nuevo Tiempo on May 03, 2019 in Caracas, Venezuela. (Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Getty Images)

For all its bluster about "standing with the Venezuelan people," the Trump administration is under fire for refusing to give protected status to asylum-seekers from that nation even as the State Department and White House have worked overtime to support a coup and impose sanctions – both of which have served to further destabilize a country in the midst of a political and economic crisis.

As the Guardian reports on Sunday:

The United Nations estimated 5.3 million Venezuelans will have fled by the end of 2019, but the Trump administration has resisted calls – including those from Republicans – to put in place immigration programs that would let a tiny portion of them seek protection in the US. 

Instead, its efforts have been focused on pushing for opposition leader, Juan Guaidó, to replace Nicolás Maduro, and repeating calls for the "freedom" of Venezuelans, who face chronic food and medicine shortages in the collapsing country.

A report released late last month by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, authored by economists Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs, warned that U.S.-imposed economic sanctions against  Venezuela have been "a death sentence for tens of thousands of people" and that the nation's humanitarian crisis—and the associated political turmoil—will worsen as long as the sanctions are kept in place.

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So while U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security advisor John Bolton have repeatedly gone in front of U.S. television cameras to proclaim that the Trump administration is operating on behalf of the Venezuelan people and for their benefit, Weisbrot and Sachs argue the evidence shows that U.S. sanctions have "exacerbated Venezuela's economic crisis and made it nearly impossible to stabilize the economy, contributing further to excess deaths." The impacts of the sanctions regime, they said, "disproportionately harmed the poorest and most vulnerable Venezuelans."

The fact that the administration is openly pushing for a coup by right-wing forces in Venezuela while simultaneously refusing to provide asylum status to Venezuelans who are fleeing the violence or economic hardship, say critics, is just further evidence that Trump, vice president Mike Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton should not be simply taken at their word when it comes to their motivations.

"Here you have the administration standing with Venezuelans seeking freedom – and banning them from seeking that freedom in the United States," Nazanin Ash, the International Rescue Committee’s (IRC's) vice-president of policy and advocacy, told the Guardian.

"What this administration has demonstrated again and again over the last several years," Ash added, "is that crises and vulnerability … have not been the factors that have moved them."

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