FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

How Venezuela Ended Up Becoming an “Extraordinary Security Threat” and Got Sanctioned For It

In 2015, the Obama administration announced that Venezuela had thrown the United States into a “national emergency” because Venezuela constituted “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” On August 25, the Trump administration cited this ongoing emergency to justify financial sanctions against Venezuela that are likely to deepen the economic crisis there and generate greater human suffering.

How does a country with a fraction of the US’s military budget and a government with no history of international aggression cause a national emergency in the most powerful state in the world? Sure, the short answer is always “politics.” But in this case, there’s a forty-year history of presidential overreach and unaccountability that calls for a closer look.

In 1976, the House and Senate, with Democratic supermajorities in both, were looking to curb executive power in the wake of the Vietnam War. On trial was the concept of the “national emergency,” a term derived from an amendment to the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act (TWEA). This World War I law gave the president authority to impose unilateral sanctions and restrict trade with warring enemy countries. Initially, it said nothing about national emergencies. But in 1933, President Roosevelt amended Trading with the Enemy to include executive authority over “any transactions in foreign exchange, transfers of credit between or payments by banking institutions as defined by the President” during a time of national emergency. Roosevelt declared the first of the US’s newly defined national emergencies, and promptly froze a majority of bank assets to prevent bank runs during the heart of the Great Depression.

This might have been well and good had Roosevelt ended his national emergency. Unfortunately, he and his successors failed to do so. The emergency would last until Congress ended it in 1976. In expanding the president’s peacetime powers to include former war powers, Roosevelt set the stage for decades of executive expansion. According to a 1973 Senate report on the issue, Roosevelt established precedent: “In time of crisis the President should utilize any statutory authority readily at hand, regardless of its original purposes, with the firm expectation of ex post facto congressional concurrence.” To be clear, that’s the US government admitting that the president can do what he wants, when he wants, and Congress will back him up later if there’s a shred of legal evidence to support his actions.

Officially, the 94th US Congress (Jan. 1975 to Jan. 1977) wanted to recalibrate its relationship with the executive branch and limit presidential power. It was aware that “section 5 (b) [of the Roosevelt national emergency amendment to the TWEA] has become essentially an unlimited grant of authority for the President to exercise, at his discretion, broad powers in both the domestic and international economic arena, without congressional review,” as a House International Relations Committee reportdetailed. However ― the two acts the Congress passed over the next two years, the National Emergencies Act (NEA) and the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) ― ended up merely formalizing the process and powers related to a national emergency.

The NEA ended the current emergencies, required yearly extensions for any new emergency, and put in place language mandating that powers exercised by the president be traceable to a written law. In doing so, the National Emergencies Act “provided for [the] statutory resolution and definition concerning … national emergencies” as a 1976 House Judiciary Committee report on the bill stated, but the act did not “provide for orderly implementation and termination of future national emergencies,” which the same House report also called for. This fact becomes clear when examining the history of national emergencies since the passage of the two laws. The yearly extensions have been formalities, shown by the fact that so far 28 of them have lasted for more than a decade. Of the 54 total emergencies declared since 1976, 28 are still active. With the passage of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act in 1977, Congress explicitly gave the president the right to impose sanctions during a national emergency, circumventing their own attempt to limit presidential authority to powers written into law … by writing the power into law for him.

Presidents took that power and ran with it. The national emergency Jimmy Carter declared against Iran immediately after the passage of the NEA and IEEPA is still going today, as are the accompanying sanctions. The sanctions against Nicaragua in the 1980s were the product of a national emergency. The sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s have been estimated to have left at hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children dead. These sanctions also stemmed from a so-called “national emergency”. Currently, 18 countries are causing “national emergencies” in the US, and are therefore sanctioned. If that sounds silly, it should. The list includes Venezuela, which analysts believe will suffer greatly from sanctions targeting Venezuelan debt and oil profits.

Congress passed the National Emergency and International Emergency Economic Powers Acts to rebalance the relationship between the executive and the legislative branches of government. By codifying the process and powers surrounding a so-called national emergency, they instead gave the executive a primary vector to carry out unilateral foreign policy. Congress should consider reexamining this legislation, as it has clearly strengthened the president’s ability to carry out extraordinary and potentially destabilizing and harmful foreign policy measures, without any congressional involvement. A first step could be for Congress to set forth concrete criteria for what can be called a national emergency, particularly in cases that lead to sanctions.

Jacob Wilson writes for The America’s Blog, where this article originally appeared.

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
Alycee Lane
Trump’s Federal Government Shutdown and Unpaid Dishwashers
Martha Rosenberg
New Questions About Ritual Slaughter as Belgium Bans the Practice
Wim Laven
The Annual Whitewashing of Martin Luther King Jr.
Nicky Reid
Panarchy as Full Spectrum Intersectionality
Jill Richardson
Hollywood’s Fat Shaming is Getting Old
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Wide Sphere of Influence Within Folklore and Social Practices
Richard Klin
Dial Israel: Amos Oz, 1939-2018
Graham Peebles
A Global Battle of Values and Ideals
David Rovics
Of Triggers and Bullets
Elliot Sperber
Eddie Spaghetti’s Alphabet
January 17, 2019
Stan Cox
That Green Growth at the Heart of the Green New Deal? It’s Malignant
David Schultz
Trump vs the Constitution: Why He Cannot Invoke the Emergencies Act to Build a Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail