It was recently confirmed that the former president of Bolivia, Evo Morales, won the last presidential election in October. He was forced to resign in a US-assisted coup that has brought a violent and fascist government into power. We speak with Alfred de Zayas, a legal expert on civil and political rights and an independent expert to the United Nations, about the legal implications of the coup and interference by the United States in other countries besides Bolivia. Mr. de Zayas describes the US government’s history of flouting international law and why the international legal system is unable to enforce those laws. He also discusses the COVID-19 pandemic and what the world needs in this time of crisis.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas studied history and law at Harvard, where he obtained his J.D. He practiced corporate law with the New York law firm Simpson Thacher and Bartlett and is a retired member of the New York and Florida Bar. He obtained a doctorate in history for the University of Göttingen in Germany.
Mr. de Zayas has been visiting professor of law at numerous universities including the University of British Columbia in Canada, the Graduate Institute of the University of Geneva, the DePaul University Law School (Chicago), the Human Rights Institute at the Irish National University (Galway)and the University of Trier (Germany). At present he teaches international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy.
In 2009 de Zayas was a member of the UN workshop that drafted a report on the human right to peace, which was subsequently discussed and further elaborated by the Advisory Committee of the Human Rights Council. He is also a signatory of the Declaración de Bilbao and Declaración de Santiago de Compostela on the Human Right to Peace. He served as a consultant to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the issue of mercenaries. De Zayas is an expert for civil and political rights and has published nine books on a variety of legal and historical issues, including “United Nations Human Rights Committee Case Law” (together with Jakob th. Möller, N.P. Engel 2009), and has been co-author and co-editor of numerous other books, including “International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms” (together with Gudmundur Alfredsson and Bertrand Ramcharan). His scholarly articles in the Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Oxford Encyclopedia of Human Rights and Macmillan Encyclopedia of Genocide, encompass the prohibition of aggression, universal jurisdiction, the right to the homeland, mass population transfers, minority rights, refugee law, repatriation, legal aspects of the Spanish Civil War, indefinite detention, Guantanamo and the right to peace. He is fluent in six languages and has published a book of Rilke translations with commentary (“Larenopfer”, Red Hen Press 2008) and is completing the translation of Hermann Hesse’s “Das Lied des Lebens”.
From 2002-2006 he was Secretary-General, from 2006-2010 President of PEN International, Centre Suisse romand. He was member of several advisory boards, including of the International Society of Human Rights (Frankfurt a.M.), Zentrum gegen Vertreibungen (Berlin), the International Human Rights Association of American Minorities (Canada) and of the conseil scientifique of the Académie International de droit constitutionnel (Tunis).
He has received several awards, most recently the “Educators Award 2011” of Canadians for Genocide Education.
Margaret Flowers (MF): So this week we interviewed the United Nations independent expert on. And political rights Alfred de Zayas.
Kevin Zeese (KZ): I’ve admired him for a long time. He’s really taken strong position on lots of issues and especially on the issues of
MF: sanctions. Mr. de Zayas was born in Cuba, but he is a citizen of the United States and he went to law school at Harvard. He was a senior lawyer for the United Nations and now he lives in Geneva and he’s visited all kinds of countries and done reports. So he really gives us an interesting perspective on the lawlessness of the United States and how it acts with impunity.
Before we get to that interview, let’s talk about some things that are in the news. This week at Popular Resistance, our newsletter focused on the 2020s as a decade of opportunity because of all the crises were facing, although nobody expected the crises to really peak the way they are so quickly.
KZ: We were predicting the 2020s as a decade of opportunity before the coronavirus and the current economic collapse because there are so many other crisis situations that are peaking. Climate change, homelessness, poverty healthcare, debt. All these issues are just incredible. And movements are growing with each of them. And so we looked at that this week, around the coronavirus and healthcare.
MF: So what we’re working on right now is kind of a series of articles about the opportunities that come out of these crises that we face. And this week we focused on healthcare and both kind of a short-term and a long-term vision. So, you know in the short term we delineate some immediate steps that should be taken in the United States to try to get the virus under control.Also to provide jobs to people who are now losing their jobs from the service sector. But we could be employing so many people right now to work on the coronavirus crisis, people to be on the phones on hotlines to answer questions and get people to resources that they need. People to be trained to be conducting screening for the virus or testing or following up on cases. In Wuhan China alone they had 1,800 teams of infectious disease investigators. Each team had about five people and they were tasked with finding out who had the virus, tracing their contacts, reaching out to them, making sure people are isolated. I mean that’s a huge number of people and then think about how many people could be employed in disinfecting public areas, transportation and things like that. There’s a lot that could come out of this crisis in the Short term and then in long term. Of course, there are structural changes we need to make, like a healthcare system in the United States. So that this type of situation doesn’t happen again.
KZ: Well, the coronavirus is really showing the US was not prepared. Even though it knew this kind of epidemic or Global pandemic was possible. We can’t do the kind of things you described they were happening in China, because we don’t have the personnel. We don’t have the people. We don’t have the ability to train the personnel, even though there are many people who would do the jobs and who could use the income. At work we’re doing nothing to prepare for that or put that kind of program place. But really the the virus has shown how our system does not really work to protect Public Health. Countries that have single-payer systems, which would be like an improved Medicare for all United States, are better prepared to handle this kind of crisis. In fact, the only part of our health system… and really the United States is divided into several health systems. That’s one of the problems. Being very divided. It’s very fragmented. You have the insurance-based part. You have the Medicaid part for poor people. You have the Medicare Part 4. Elderly and chronically ill. And then you have the Veterans Administration for veterans really? It’s only the VA that’s prepared to respond to this kind of a crisis and that’s because it is the socialized system. It’s not just a Single Payer system. It goes further than that, its government run hospitals and government paid doctors and other health professionals. They’re the ones who are most capable of responding to this kind of an epidemic.
MF: That’s right. They already have Telehealth in place so they can continue to be in touch with their patients without requiring them to come into the Medical Centers. They have a Communication Network, they are coordinating with the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. They’re running these emergency coordination centers around the country. They’re making sure that supplies are getting to their hospitals in the areas that are hardest hit they’ve set up a website with information. They’ve set up nurses who are going out and screening members of the military who are returning to the country. So they’re able to because they are a public entity and their mission is health. They’re able to be really agile. And shift resources and people where they need to go and that’s the same thing that you saw in China. They mobilized 40,000 health professionals to come into areas that were hardest hit and so I think one of the long-term things that I hope comes out of this, because I think the awareness is really growing, is that the United States finally needs to create a universal publicly financed healthcare system a national healthcare system, whether it’s a national improve Medicare for all, which would be like a national health insurance, or whether here’s a National Health Service like expanding the VA system to everyone. Either of those would be more effective, more efficient and protect our health better than what we have right now.
KZ: And it’s interesting the VA can do that because of the reasons you described. And it’s so underfunded. I mean the VA struggles because the Republicans and Democrats have both not funded it adequately, but it’s still capable of doing that kind of activity. The other thing that I think the virus is showing us is the pharmaceutical problem. The pharmaceutical industry. Is looking for profits. They’re one of the highest profit making sectors of our economy. But they charge outrageous prices for medicines often on no basis other than making profit. They can get away with it. And then you have the Secretary of Health saying that he can’t guarantee everybody have access to the vaccine when it’s developed. Even though the United States is going to spend a billion dollars lot create that vaccine. That shows a real sickness in our healthcare system. Of course he comes from the Pharmaceutical industry so he thinks like a pharmaceutical executive, and he’s thinking about how to make profit for his former industry, that they have to make profit or they won’t produce what we need. The fundamental flaws in our healthcare system. Those are being exposed more clearly during this virus and I think we not only have to act from the short term but we really have to act in the long run. It’s really a shame that Sanders is kind of out of the running now because it has to be perfect time for him to be making the case for Medicare for all. Of course, Joe Biden’s not going to do that. Donald Trump’s not to do that. So it’s not really a spokesperson in either. Who’s out there doing it? So it’s up to the movement to take advantage of this opportunity and really make the case for national improved Medicare for all, or a National Health Service.
MF: Right. And I wanted to comment on one thing you said because you mentioned how the Veterans Health Administration is struggling because it’s being underfunded and I think that’s a fear that people have is that if we move to a national publicly financed system that maybe it wouldn’t be funded. But this is where a universal system is so critical because what we find is in countries where they have a universal system, every person from the poorest person to the wealthiest person is in that same system. It creates this social solidarity where everybody relies on that system and they want to protect it. And so there’s a very powerful force there that prevents governments from underfunding it and we see this in countries that have these systems are very popular. e
KZ: The VA is underfunded for two reasons. One, never-ending wars since 9/11 resulted in a lot more veterans needing health services and funding has not kept up, and secondly, really the two parties want to get rid of the VA. They want it privatized. They want to become another profit sector for the industry and not be a public service. And so probably the very open about that. The Democrats are less open about it, but both parties underfunded so underperforms and things I look it doesn’t work. Well you don’t give it money. So it’s starved. That’s why you get rid of it. That’s the strategy. So if it was universal and everyone was in it, and that’s really the slogan. Everybody in. Nobody out. If everybody’s in it, we would all advocate for it, not trying to get rid of it. We would probably be trying to enhance it.
MF: And that’s what other countries do as well. They try to improve their system all the time. The covid-19 and economic crises are bringing out actually some positive changes. Over 500, almost 600 groups came out calling for a moratorium on water shut offs and electricity shut off. About half of states have implemented that and a number of large cities have implemented that ,but saying that not only do we need to stop shutting them down. We need to move even beyond that to developing more distributed solar energy. So buildings around the country, people on houses on schools are creating solar renewable energy as well as moving to a system of water making. It’s an income-based payment rather than a flat payment that really hurts people at the lower end of the income Spectrum
KZ: Water is a problem throughout the country right now. It’s again another flaw being highlighted by the current crisis. Water shut offs in many cities because of the price of water and some places privatized. And people without water can’t do the basics that are needed to prevent the virus like washing their hands. And so turning people’s water back on, stopping any more shut offs is an essential step now, but really need a whole different water policy.
MF: So the Federal Reserve in St. Louis put out a statement that they’re expecting as much as a 30% unemployment rate in the first quarter of 2020. They’re also saying that we may have as much as a 25 to 50 percent decrease in our gross domestic product or GDP in the United States. Those are depression levels.
KZ: Those are higher than depression levels. The Depression had a 24.9 peak as far as unemployment goes and so if you’re talking about 30%, you’re already above depression levels. And as far as the shrinkage of the GDP, again a 25 percent shrinkage is equal to the Great Depression. We don’t have 50 percent you are talking a major. Just unfathomable numbers, and the real issue with this is how long will it last. Because that’s really one of the key distinctions between a depression or recession is length of time the Great Depression lasted multiple years. If this virus goes on for six months or a year, a year and a half until a vaccine is developed and we have a shutdown of our economy or shrinkage of our economic activity… that could lead to a multi-year depression and people are talking about that now. It’s not just me as a commentator. This is Bank of America saying it. This is a real threat. And so it’s so important. Remember, I think when we talk about this threat that we were heading as a nation to a recession. Anyway, there were very serious flaws in our economy before the coronavirus, before the oil war going on, that’s dropping all prices that we had a very high consumer debt. That was unsustainable.We had very high corporate debt that could lead to a credit crisis and corporations were going bankrupt. We had our fracking industry already having multiple bankruptcies for the last couple of years, multiple bankruptcies each year. We had the climate crisis bearing down on the fossil fuel industry. There are many flaws in our economy. And of course massive government debt as well massive wealth divide. These were all leading to an economic crisis. What you have to look at the coronavirus and the oil war as triggers. They aren’t the real cause. There are fundamental flaws in our economy and we can’t let the virus and the oil work cloud our vision. So we don’t we forget about the fundamental flaws that need to be fixed.
MF: That’s right. And we know right now Congress is struggling to come up with a second stimulus package because so many small and medium-sized businesses are at risk. Large Industries are complaining that they need to get bailed out again, and it’s interesting that one we’re hearing politicians talk about policies that people have been wanting for a long time. Like a universal basic income where people would get a monthly check so that nobody would be in poverty anymore.
KZ: That’s come from Mitt Romney of all people. Lindsey Graham of all people, saying we needed to have money in the hands of people throughout the country.
MF: But that goes back to… I mean Milton Friedman talked about helicopter money and you know dropping money from Hawk helicopters as an economic stimulus because people who don’t have money… when they get it they spend it right into the economy, because they have needs that they haven’t met.
KZ: And that’s true. In the United States for a long time people have been living on the edge of economic insecurity and we’re seeing that particularly the workers who are now essential workers, who handle food, who handle deliveries, who do cleaning… tasks that we think of as menial tasks are now in this crisis labeled essential workers. But they’re not treated like essential workers. They’ve been impoverished and economically insecure. Their kids can’t afford to go to school. This is part of the fundamental flaws I was talking about earlier. This is being highlighted and so on, like Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham… pretty arch-conservative members of the Republican party calling for money to people to keep them afloat is a pretty interesting. And then of course all the corporations want socialism all of a sudden. They want the government to fund them. I think the key about all this is when we put these kind of programs in place, we hav to be talking about restructuring the economy. We can’t just be giving money to these big corporations. The absurdity of the Republican tax changes, allowing this number of stock buy-backs that artificially inflated and created a bubble in the stock market and gave great wealth to shareholders and executives whose pay is tied to the stock price… That can’t be allowed. We can’t allow this wide discrepancy between CEO salary and worker salary. There’s got to be some shrinkage in that. So there are some fundamental changes in our economy that need to occur. I can tell you what’s brewing now, and it’s been brewing for a while because we talked about 2020s as being a decade of change, but it’s really igniting now. Because of the various crises we are facing is economic populist revolt. This decade could be a decade of economic populist revolt that will make Bernie Sanders look like a conservative.
MF: Right. Well, it’s interesting because you know, there were corporate and bank bailouts back in the crisis in 2008 and Main Street didn’t get bailed out and people were hurt. They lost their homes. They lost their pensions their jobs. And so workers this time around are saying we’re not going to tolerate that and you know, for instance the airline industry has been hit really hard. United has now shut down most of their international flights. The airline companies are calling for a bailout and the airline unions are saying you don’t get bailed out unless we actually get bailed out, unless the workers are protected. They are calling for things like a cap on executive salaries, making sure that the workers are paid a fair wage and have benefits and the things that they need. So, you know, there’s been this kind of sense, the Occupy Movement, the workers movement has really taken off in the last few years. We’ve also seen wildcat strikes where they’re not sanctioned by the union. Record strikes. Workers are not even paying attention to when their unions tell them to stop striking. They don’t stop. And so I think that there has been this worker revolt growing and that’s what we need in this time to make sure that these industries just don’t get a free pass. If the government is investing in an industry. It needs to have an equity share of that industry and get a return from that investment that then can be used in the future for social programs that we need.
KZ: When taxpayer dollars are invested and taxpayers have a say in how those companies are, so they are run for the public interest. All these crashes are showing that we need to move toward much more of a collective approach to our economy, much more of a planned approach to the economy, actually much more of an eco-socialist approach. And the neoliberal, financialized capitalism has been a failure for most people. In the United States now, it’s being shown in these crises. And I don’t think we’re going to get what we want in the initial response to the crisis. But in this decade we have to fight for it, and I think people are going to see that. Hey, we could have done a guaranteed national income. So we did it for during the coronavirus. We could fund business make sure they’re successful, because we did during the economic collapse, right? So we could pay for health care.
MF: You know, suddenly the Covid-19 tests are free.
KZ: That’s right. And so people are seeing these are really not crazy ideas. These are actually possible to put in place and even Republicans will support them when the pressure hits hard. So it’s up to us to build that pressure.
MF: Another area that people are really pushing on is prison reform because of course prisoners are at a very high risk for Covid-19. They’re stuck in a facility where they really can’t isolate themselves. They’re in groups. There’s a big flux of people coming and going from the outside, and there are calls right now and some places are responding to release prisoners who are elderly, who have underlying health problems, who are in for nonviolent crimes or short sentences. There’s been already a reduction in the number of people who are being arrested for the level of crimes that prosecutors are prosecuting. They’re focusing more on violent crimes, which is kind of what we should have been doing all along. We shouldn’t be arresting people for these minor nonviolent crimes.
KZ: Like every other issue were talking about, prisons are a crisis now because of the virus. But in fact, they’ve been a crisis for decades. I’ve been working on prison reform and ending the drug war since the early 1980s and it has been a crisis for families, for Individuals, for the last 40 years. And so we finally began to face up to it. You already start to see movement, obviously medical marijuana is winning. We’re winning legal adult use for marijuana. We’re winning harm reduction as an alternative to incarceration. We’re seeing prosecutors say I’m not going to prosecute these low-level drug offenses anymore. I’m going to put our resources into violent crime. So we’re starting to see the beginning of a spiral downward trend. I’d say the prison population… for the first time, you know, the United States, with five percent of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s prisoners, we have more people in solitary confinement than most countries have as their total prison population. So this is a crisis of incarceration. And again, this current coronavirus issue is forcing people to face up to this prison crisis. And we have to recognize beyond the coronavirus. It’s not just the prison crisis. It really starts from policing, racist policing, violent policing. Unfair judges making racially unfair decisions… probation, parole, every step of the way. You see unfair decisions often that look racially unfair which makes it hard to say they’re not racist. We have a crisis in our criminal justice system. And the coronavirus is helping bring that out as well.
MF: There’s a one thing that we need to mention because it’s not being talked about in the news, but in Palestine the Israeli Defense Forces police killed ten thousand Palestinians since 2000. I don’t think that there’s much awareness in the United States of the number of Palestinians that are killed as well as injured. There are Israeli Defense Force soldiers who count how many Palestinians they’ve shot in their knees. There’s so many Palestinians that are missing parts of their legs. And so what we often hear about is there is Israel complaining about the Palestinians threatening or injuring them, but it’s generally always started by the Israelis and there’s disproportionately a huge factor that impacts the Palestinians.
KZ: It’s such a disproportionate level of violence coming from Israel toward the Palestinians, and Palestinians are basically nonviolent. Throwing a rock is about it…
MF: … when you’ve got snipers surrounding you. That’s not my opinion…
KZ: You mentioned shooting kneecaps of Palestinians. As long as they got a target, it’s sport for IDF soldiers.There’s a horrible article about that. One IDF Soldier said when he shoots a knee, he saves the shell and has them on his bookshelf so he can keep a count of how many knees. It’s just real sick behavior
MF: And of course this wouldn’t be happening without the political cover and financing from the United States. So we should be pushing our politicians to stop funding the Israeli State until this ends, until the apartheid and violence against Palestinians ends.
KZ: Well, that is the root of it. If the United States did not provide financial and political cover for Israel that behavior would not be happening. It’s obvious that the activities are going to continue… land theft and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. You’re not going to ever have a fair treatment. Palestinians and human rights are not being protected. The only way I can be protected is, as we’ve talked about and interviewed people on this show, One Democratic State, where there’s a constitution that gives every person of adult age the right to vote equally, protects the rights of all religions and non-religion so people are protected. Minority religions are protected. Deism would be a minority religion if the Palestinians were all counted as the part of the voting population. So it’s not even a democracy now. It’s a fake democracy that is designed really to be a Jewish State and we need to move to one Democratic State.
MF: And then finally, I want to mention that the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced this past week that they are imposing more sanctions on the country of Iran, targeting three more entities for the crime of trading oil, which is a major export of Iran that they rely on in order to get revenue to pay for the medications, food and other necessities. And United States’ unilateral coercive measures, which are illegal, and our interviewee, Mr. Alfred Zayas will explain that more, are really hampering Iran’s ability to deal with the covid-19 epidemic.
KZ: And the same is true for Venezuela, where the US continues to increase sanctions as well during this epidemic, while Cuba is sending doctors to Italy and China and Russia. And in other countries the US is escalating sanctions, which shows a real sickness in our foreign policy and that needs radical change.
MF: Well, let’s get to that interview. We will take a short musical break and then we’ll be right back. You’re listening to Clearing the FOG, speaking truth to expose the Forces Of Greed, with Margaret flowers and Kevin Zeese.
KZ: So let’s start with the upcoming election in Bolivia. You’ve made some comments recently about the last election and what should be done to correct the situation. Give us your sense of what’s going on in Bolivia..
AZ: It’s a coup d’etat I mean, this is almost tradition in Latin America. You have right-wing coups against democratically elected governments. And here, as everybody knows, the United States was involved in bribing, influencing the military in Bolivia. And it’s quite clear after the investigations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and its study, that the so-called OAS analytical report on the October election in Bolivia were deeply flawed, and that essentially Who Morales had won the polls substantially. And it’s scandalous how the OAS has been manipulated has been hijacked by the United States and has been used for strategic American economic and geopolitical interests. Now, it’s not the first time that the OAS has as a Secretary General who is a puppet of Washington. There have been exceptions. I mean, you may remember at the time of the coup in Honduras, the coup against Jose Manuel Zelaya, which was of course financed by the United States, etc. The then Secretary General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza strongly condemned the right wing coup. But of course in this case of Bolivia, the OAS got itself involved and is =responsible for this, and what is particularly shocking… I coined the turned to have “moral vertigo.” Maybe you remember Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo with Kim Novak. But in any event, it is breathtaking how the OAS has been corrupted, how the OAS is just a mere tool of US Foreign policy. And what is really disgusting… countries that ostensibly support the rule of law… countries that ostensibly support democracy… countries that give lip service to Human Rights and of course proper elections procedures, etc, etc… That they didn’t condemn the coup against Morales. That they played the game with the OAS. I mean there was this big Shadow over the legitimacy of Evo Morales, but there has been here a series of violations of the constitution and also of international law. And when there’s been a violation of international law, the rule is that you are supposed to make reparations. And reparations on the international law entails a return to the status quo, the presidency of Evo Morales, and that would be a reinstatement of Evo Morales. Now the violations of human rights since ever Morales’ departure, has been been lethal, and there has been very little of condemnation in the so-called mainstream media. The York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CNN… Even the BBC Etc. I think they’re all happy that ever Morales is gone. And why are they happy? Because they see the time the hour of the great gu thing is at hand. They see if the right-wing actually wins the elections in May, that then there’s going to be a privatization of everything and the multinationals will be able to march in. The American speculators and investors will march in. So everything that has been done by way of social legislation by Morales will be thrown out.
And one of the things that the press is not informing the people about, is that Evo Morales actually was enormously successful on the economic plain, meaning the GDP of Bolivia quadrupled and the standard of living of the population improved by a factor of three. Morales, like Chavez and Maduro in Venezuela, like the Castro Brothers in Cuba, had different priorities. Their priorities were education, doing away with an alphaetism. Healthcare and making it possible to have a level playing field so that everybody has the same opportunity to play a role in a democratic Bolivia or a democratic Venezuela, or Cuba for that matter… that is ignored. The fact that Bolivia was the fastest growing economy in Latin America, that is ignored by the mainstream media because they don’t want people to know that. When the dogmatism Washington, of the Heritage Foundation, of the Brookings and those parallel Republican or Democratic think tanks… both of them are committed to corporate America. Both are committed to the dollar, the almighty dollar. So these so-called think tanks have tried to convince the world that socialism is a failed system. But again the kind of Market-based socialism that we know from Sweden, Norway, from Denmark, from the Netherlands, from China has not been a failure. Quite the contrary. It has been a success and that is the problem. The problem is that that constitutes a model. That constitutes an alternative economic approach, and it that alternative economic approach can be successful and can be shown to be successful, then maybe other countries in Latin America would prefer that. Maybe even in the United States, a person like Bernie Sanders will have a greater chance of being elected, or Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom. But the mainstream media is committed to denigrating any model that is not the capitalistic neoliberal model, And the way the story goes, socialism is a failed system and we will make sure that it stays that way. We will put as many monkey wrenches in the wheels of Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia, etc., so that they fail. And this is of course ideology, but not just ideology. It’s money. The elites, the 1%, want to retain their power. Once they have achieved dominance… You probably know the famous book by the South Korean economist, picking the ladder. That is exactly what’s happened. I mean the United States, the United Kingdom, those rich countries that have reached economic dominance… They don’t want any competition. It will take the ladder. and that is exactly what these ideologues intend to do. They don’t tell you in so many words. Actually Trump actually sometimes does tell you in so many words, I mean me he doesn’t try to hide it, doesn’t try to sugarcoat it like Obama would sugar-coated it, or Bill Clinton would sugar cod it. I mean Trump is a bit rough about it, same as John Bolton or as Mike pompeo.
MF: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about Venezuela because that’s another country where the US has been interfering. It’s another country where their economic model, you know, poses a threat to the United States and other capitalist Nations because it’s showing another way of organizing a society. Can you talk about the US’s economic measures that have been imposed on Venezuela and the legality of them, the impacts of them on Venezuela?
AZ: Well, let me go back to 1970, and I’ve seen the original documents because there were declassified. In 1971 Salvador Allende get selected in Chile. Nixon calls in Kissinger and tells him we are not about to tolerate an alternative economic system in Latin America. We do not want a successful model of socialism in Latin America, and we will make the economy scream, meaning we will impose all sorts of direct or indirect sanctions that will be economic war against Chile. When that is not function, it became necessary to find a general Pinochet who would get rid of Salvador Allende, who would impose 17 years of dictatorship on the Chilean people. Now moving through 1998, 1999 when ChVWS was elected in Venezuela in a wave of disgust against the neoliberal governments and the enormous difference in wealth in the population of Venezuela. So he comes in with a program that is a program very much consistent with the idea of fair distribution of wealth among all Venezuelans. All have a right to the natural resources of the Venezuela. So Chavez starts making changes gradually. It’s not a revolution like it was in Cuba in 1958 ’59. You didn’t have this, how we say, rough —- for marijuana, which went through Cuba in 1959. Chavez was a bit more careful, a bit slower, until they forced his hand, until you had the coup d’état against him in April 2002. He was supposed to be killed, but he was so popular with the Army, like Evo Morales in Bolivia. Since Chavez himself was a military person, he had the loyalty of the military with him. And they saved him. They rescued him from Pedro Carmola, and so he came back and then since the elites did not succeed in getting rid of him, then the elites did this enormously wasteful strike of the petrol industry, which caused I don’t know how many billions and billions of dollars to the economy of Venezuela in 2003.
And so after that then there was a nationalization of the Petrol industry by Chavez. Now, when shall we say, the opportunities for American investors and transnationals became narrower, then obviously the idea was to topple this man, and that was done through an economic war that started not in 2015 with the sanctions of Obama, not in 2017 with the sanctions of trump. I mean the economic war has been going since 1999. It’s like what Nixon told Kissinger about Chile. We shall make the civilian economy scream. That’s what he said in 1970 about Chile. Well, essentially that is exactly what George W Bush was doing to Venezuela. The United States shall make the Venezuelan economy Scream. Of course, while the price of oil is very , Chavez could afford to do his thing. He could afford being a sovereign country. He could afford shaping the economy of his country, and you know, building houses, you know, 3 million units of houses for Venezuelan families, who otherwise would have lived in shantytowns, etc. etc.
So, I mean these were enormous achievements, but achievements that did not bring a profit to Washington, did not bring a profit to the American investor, or to the transnational corporations. So the moment came when Chavez passed away in 2013, that everybody thought we will get mr. Caprilas elected. So Caprilas, in a way, would have been America’s puppet, would have been America’s man in Venezuela. And he failed. He did not succeed in defeating Maduro. So what happened? You have these very very violent demonstrations against Maduro in 2013, 2014, 15 16, 17, etc. etc. And Obama in 2015 has Venezuela declared to be a threat to the United States. A national security threat to the United States. I mean for someone who was editor of the Harvard Law review, someone who was a lawyer and graduate of Harvard, it is absolutely baffling, flabbergasting that he would sign such a bill. Of course he’s not the one who initiates it. I mean his cabal did so, but by making that kind of a presidential order, or presidential decree, you open the door for imposition of sanctions. Now unilateral coercive of measures everybody knows are illegal. Now the fact that governments get away with it like the United States gets away with it, United Kingdom gets away with it, European Union gets away with it. That doesn’t mean that its legal. I mean legal are the sanctions that are imposed under chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter., after there has been a finding under article 39 of the charter that there is a threat to the peace or a breach of the peace, then the first step is not smack the country military, but try to impose some economic measures that will persuade the government that it’s in its own interest to play the game. And so the sanctions against South Africa were successful. The sanctions against Rodesia and Zimbabwe were legal. In fact, these were sanctions of the Security Council. But the sanctions of the United States are like collective punishment I mean the intent is to destabilize the economy of Cuba, of Venezuela, of whatever country that dares try another economic model that is not the neoliberal American economic model. The idea is that they will create such chaos in the country that the people will will rebel against their socialist leaders. But that didn’t happen in Cuba. I mean 60 years and three trillion dollars worth of economic damage done to Cuba did not cause an internal revolt in Cuba against the government. And not because the government is oppressing them, but because and I’m sure if you were to have an election—certainly you’ve had an election in the 1960s and 70s. 80s and Cuba—the Castro brothers would have been confirmed in their positions. So it’s not like they were undemocratic, that they were unpopular. They were actually quite popular and the people of Cuba did not blame the Castro Brothers for their lack of consumer goods, their lack of luxury goods, their lack of televisions and computers and other things. They blamed the sanctions. They blamed the financial blockade. Interestingly enough the United Nations have condemned the embargo against Cuba 27 times. There have been 27 resolutions adopted by the general assembly, notably in November 2016. That one was really Universal. You had 191 state holding with the resolution ordering the lifting of the sanctions against Cuba, and two countries abstaining, the United States and Israel. So that is as universal as you can get. And of course United States did not lift the sanctions against Cuba. Now with regard to Venezuela the Human Rights Council here in Geneva has condemned repeatedly the imposition of unilateral coercive measures. I mean, not saying unilateral course of measures against Iran or against Syria or against Venezuela… just generally, saying that unilateral measures are incompatible with the UN charter, incompatible with a charter of the OAS, incompatible with customary international law, with principles of freedom of trade and freedom of the seas etcetera, etc. It’s all in the preamble or paragraphs of the resolutions. And all of that of course is the law. You have law without enforcement.
KZ: That’s the key. You say everybody knows that these unilateral coercive measures are illegal and there have been reports of the UN saying these are illegal. Is there any way to hold the US accountable and stop these?
AZ: The United States in the past, say in the happy years of President Jimmy Carter… the United States had been a leader… As I say if you want to make America great again, all you have to do is to revive the legacy of Eleanor Roosevelt. But the human rights movement, and these ideas of social justice and equity… they were pushed by people like Franklin Delano Roosevelt, by Eleanor Roosevelt, by Jimmy Carter. Etc. And while I was it senior lawyer with the United Nations. I had opportunity of being in Washington on several locations and being in the state department on several occasions. I can assure you that there’s a lot of people in the state department who think like I do, who are believers in international law, believers in the importance of having a rules-based international order. But then you have the the fanatics. You have what I would call the jackals, who just want to bully everybody else, who just want to make money, and to consider the United States as above international law, and not accountable to anybody.
Back in the years of Jimmy Carter. for instance, the United States had given the declaration under article 36 of the statute of the International Court of Justice, which accepted automatically ipso facto the jurisdiction of the international court of justice vis-a-vis the United States. But Jimmy Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, withdrew that declaration when the United States got smacked a couple of times because of the Iran-Contra violations, because of the US interference in the internal affairs of Nicaragua, and it’s financing of the the contras and of the counter-revolution against Daniel Ortega; Here we have the United States deliberately saying no, we will not be accountable. No, we will not allow ourselves to be put on the dock, so they pulled out of that one.
MF: Yeah, and so the unilateral course of measures have a terrible impact on the people of the countries that they’re targeting. And you know, the Iranians are really struggling right now with the Covid-19 pandemic, and the impact of the coercive measures that are preventing them from getting the supplies that they need. They’ve been calling for other nations, particularly European nations, not to comply with the sanctions. Is there a legal basis for other countries to not comply with these illegal measures?
AZ: Well, obviously any country that is complicit in the imposition of unilateral coercive measures has violated international law, has committed what is termed an international wrongful act for which there is an obligation to make reparations. Make reparations for instance to the people of Syria. Sake reparation to the people of Iran. Sake preparation to the people of Venezuela and Cuba. But again international law is not self-executing, and many countries like the United States do not accept the jurisdiction of the international court of justice. Therefore there’s no organ that will oblige the Europeans, or obliged for the countries to observe international law. I mean, even when you have a clear position of the international court of justice as you had in the Nicaragua case, as you have in the cases of Germany against the United States, Mexico against the United States. These were several cases under the Vienna convention on consular relations, because the people who were executed in the United States were German citizens and were Mexican citizens. So even when the United States was condemned there was no enforcement, There wasn’t even an injunction. I mean the the court had issued what affirmed interim measures of protection, and ordered the United States not to execute the German brothers. And the United States happily went through and executed them.
So you have here a situation of illegality but total impunity. That is the difference. But you know, an illegality does not create new law. There is an old principle of Roman law which says X in Judea non oritur use. Out of a violation of law, you cannot derive any rights. So it’s not like the international law regime has changed. It’s just that International law regime never had an effective system of enforcement. Therefore if there is no good faith… If there is no good will on the part of the politicians, then you’re not going to have international law observed.
You mentioned Covid-19. Well, it’s quite clear that the United States because of its sanctions against Iran, bears responsibility for a good many of those who have perished, because not only the lack of access to medicines, but actually the healthcare infrastructure in Iran has been impacted negatively because of the sanctions already for many years. So you can say that sections kill. Sanctions kill very clearly. That has been established with regard to say to the embargo against Cuba, and every year Cuba presents a report to the general assembly in which it actually doesn’t an accounting. I mean these sanctions have had this economic impact. But it’s not only the economic impact because we have no access to replacement parts, to repair a scan machine, or to repair a dialysis machine, etc, of course many people have died. So it’s not indirect actually. Sanctions do kill and when the number of victims reaches a very high number… the study of Professor Jeffrey Sachs with regard to Venezuela, and this concerned only the year 2018, the estimate is that the consequence of the sanctions in Venezuela was the death of 40,000 people. You can do the accounting yourself. That was 2018. But how many have perished in the year 2019? And the situation was made worse than 2018. How many have perished in the course of 2020. Now beyond that come in the pandemic, come in the additional threat of Covid-19. It’s quite clear that because the healthcare system in Iran in, in Syria, in Venezuela, in Cuba have been negatively impacted by the sanctions and by the financial blockade, and by the inability, even if you have the money, the inability to actually access the medicines, to purchase the medicines, because of course, the country that was gonna sell you the medicine doesn’t want to suffer a penalty from the Department of the Treasury of the United States. So they just simply drop the client. Venezuela is a risky client so you drop them, but the consequence of dropping Venezuela is that people are going to die. When the number of deaths reaches forty thousand, a hundred thousand etc. What do you have? A clear case of a crime against humanity? It’s not just a simple crime. It’s not just a homicide. You have here a crime against humanity, with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of victims, to the international criminal court. The statute of the international criminal court is crystal clear, that they have jurisdiction over matters of the sort, of any governmental decision or activity that leads to mass dying in a particular country. So, can you bring the United States before the ICC? Actually no. The United? States withdrew its signature in 1998. That was at the time of Bill Clinton, that Bill Clinton had is representative sign the statute of Rome. But in 2002 Condoleezza Rice… actually the way it was reported in the press she “unsigned it.” Of course you cannot physically unsung something, but what you can do is to send a note to the secretary of the United Nations and say look we’re never going to ratify this, so count us out. I mean we are not longer bound by anything concerning the international criminal court,.
KZ: And so as a result of this, Alfred, the US Global gangsterism continues unchecked.
AZ: Very much so, unless people like you, unless people like Amy Goodman and democracy now, and the real news, and Jeffrey Sachs, and many many others who think like I do… If gradually there is a consciousness that we are really not the good guys. We’re actually the bad guys… That has to sink in. People have to realize that our government is committing crimes against humanity, and we actually do not benefit from it. Neither you nor I. And I’m an American citizen too. I mean, I don’t benefit from these activities of Mr. Trump. Only the super-rich, the great billionaires of the United States, the transnational corporations, military-industrial complex, etc. They are all laughing all the way down to the bank. They are making big profits as a result of these
KZ: That’s right. Well we are running out time. We really appreciate the way you’ve been raising consciousness on these issues for many years. I just wanted to thank you also when we were involved in protecting the Venezuelan Embassy in Washington DC, and on the day we were arrested by federal authorities, you had actually sent a letter urging the US government to respect our rights and uphold international law. Unfortunately that didn’t happen. And so we’re still facing federal prosecution, but we really appreciate you speaking up on our behalf.
AZ: Of course what you have here is also a breakdown of the rule of law in the United States, and I must say I am a graduate of the Harvard Law School. And when I was at Harvard, I thought that we lawyers had a certain social responsibility that we should not just be positivists, but we should try to advance an ethical view of law and to apply law to do justice As I say the so-called rule of law has to evolve into a rule of justice. We’re not just playing a mathematical game. We’re not applying lost blindly. We’re applying laws for a purpose, and certainly in a your case.
And now with regard to Covid-19, what I would like to see is that the American non-governmental organizations,that American Civil Society stand up and say to the government, stop this madness of arms race. Stop this madness of the lethal autonomous killing units, weapon systems etc. All this research that is going into war-making, we need the money in education. We need the money in healthcare. We need the money in prevention. We need the money in infrastructure. That has to be demanded by American citizens in the primary. For instance I am dismayed to see that Joe Biden is likely to be the Democratic candidate. So you have a farce of an election in which you have on the one side a corporate Democrat and on the other side you have a corporate Republican. And the question is what is the difference? The difference is one is going to be neoliberal with giving lip service to human rights, and the other guys going to be neoliberal but doesn’t bother to give lip service to human rights. So it’s not much of a choice. I think that democracy means the correlation between the needs of the population and the laws and the regulations of the government that corresponds to those needs. And that’s not what we’re having. So I’m afraid that the election in November will be as unsatisfactory as the election in November 2016.
KZ: And in 2012 and 2008. It’s been a long time problem.
MF: We certainly have an uphill battle here, but people are doing what they can to spread awareness of the reality of what the situation we face and what those alternatives could be. Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us today. Mr. de Zayas
AZ: Well. I have a blog, and your you might tell your listeners that I have a website, www.alfreddezayas.com, and then I also have a blog which is DeZayasAlfred.wordpress,vand it would be good that people read it every now and then because I put up many of my formation notes and press releases, etc. In fact the six years that I was an independent expert for the United Nations, sometimes the United Nations actually censored my press releases. They thought that I was saying something that was too politically incorrect. So they just simply refused to issue it. What I did is say well this is the press release that I intended to issue in my function as independent expert. The office refused to issue it. So here it is. Boom. And I put it in my blog and that in itself gave it a lot more visibility and then it got picked up by the Press.
MF: We will definitely share those
AZ: You guys are super important. Information information information. That is what the people need.
KZ: That’s right. We appreciate it. Then why we appreciate your work so much too. Thank you.