The Grayzone reports from the 2019 Non-Aligned Movement, where delegates from over 120 nations offered a crucial endorsement of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and strategized on countering US financial hegemony
By Anya Parampil
Late in the evening on July 19, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif stepped out of a plane and met his Venezuelan counterpart, Jorge Arreaza, on the tarmac outside Caracas with an enthusiastic embrace. Zarif was in town to participate in the ministerial conference of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).
“Today in the Middle East and the regions of South America and Latin America, the US is creating instability and insecurity,” Zarif declared to reporters gathered for his arrival. “The resistance of the people of Venezuela against the United States is very important for all the countries of the world.”
Iran & Venezuela are the primary targets of empire under Trump, subject to economic terrorism & constant threats of war. Both have faced down US aggression in recent months & still stand w pride. pic.twitter.com/qBtiCY6OYS
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 20, 2019
A day later, the two embattled foreign ministers appeared alongside an assortment of high-level delegates from around the world, from Africa to Latin America to Asia. Zarif and Arreaza’s position at the front and center of the group sent an undeniable message about the Non-Aligned Movement’s purpose in 2019.
Officially founded in 1961 by post-colonial icons like Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, and Yugoslavian leader Josef Tito, NAM was originally conceived as an alliance between countries seeking independence from both the US and Soviet power blocs during the height of the Cold War.
Yet the end of the USSR’s collapse did not negate NAM’s relevance. Nearly 30 years since the end of the Cold War, the US is still attempting regime change operations or carrying out unparalleled economic aggression against NAM member states, as well as Russia and China. With participation from Moscow and Beijing, the group is now experiencing renewed significance as it prepares to confront US financial tyranny like never before.
For decades, the US has aimed to intimidate independent states through unilateral coercive measures like economic sanctions. Of the twenty-one nations currently named on the Treasury Department’s sanctions list all except South Sudan are either official members of NAM or enjoy observer status.
The conference in Caracas was focused on uniting NAM member states against US unilateralism. Despite their diverse and often conflicting political agendas and ideologies, the delegates unanimously affirmed their pursuit of a multipolar world and a desire to construct an international financial system independent of US control.
At the conclusion of the meeting, The Non-Aligned Movement unanimously adopted a final document which officially established a NAM Working Group on sanctions to be led by Venezuela. The Caracas declaration stated that NAM members will explore plans to sue the US at the International Court of Justice over its ham-fisted application of economic sanctions.
Sensing a threat from the NAM summit’s agenda, Venezuelan FM Arreaza told The Grayzone that US officials had tried to pressure diplomats not to fly to Caracas. But they were rebuked across the board.
According to Arreaza, the successful convocation of the summit represented “a failure of US diplomacy” driven home by “120 countries [that] are not aligned with the US… they want to be free, they want to be independent.”
“We are the vaccine against unilateralism,” the foreign minister emphasized. “The Non-Aligned Movement is the vaccine to the cancer that represents the infliction, the domination of this powerful government to control men and women who believe in humanity.”
A global endorsement of Maduro’s legitimacy
NAM’s gathering in Caracas took place a mere six months after the US attempted to install the opposition politician Juan Guaido as president of Venezuela. Fifty-four European and US-aligned governments around the world joined Washington in recognizing Guaido despite the fact that he had failed to establish control over a single institution of governance.
“We have the support of the world,” Guaido insisted on July 18.
But the NAM summit provided a clear rebuke to Guaido’s claim of international approval. Representatives from over 120 nations as well as international organizations like the African Union, the United Nations, and The National Hostosian Movement for the Independence of Puerto Rico descended on Caracas in an explicit endorsement of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s authority.
Venezuelan UN Ambassador Samuel Moncada noted the irony behind Guaido’s assertions of legitimacy. “In the world there are 193 countries and the United States cites only 54,” Moncada said, referencing the delegates that filled the summit hall before him. “Here there are 120 nations. Two-thirds of the United Nations believes that the government of Nicolas Maduro is the legitimate government of Venezuela.”
The NAM summit’s success was particularly relevant to Ambassador Moncada’s fight to maintain Venezuela’s UN status. This June, US Vice President Mike Pence delivered a condescending tirade at a General Assembly meeting in which he demanded Mocada “go home” while admonishing other states to revoke his government’s credentials. But at the NAM meeting, the UN’s largest member bloc implicitly rebuked Pence.
Delegates at the NAM summit unanimously approved a document that denounced US efforts to carry out regime change in Venezuela. It went on to thank Maduro for his work as NAM’s Chairperson and announced support for his country’s candidacy to serve on the UN Human Rights Council.
As delegates arrived for the NAM summit on July 18, photos of a swimsuit-clad Guaido diving into the Carribean surfaced in local media. Guaido had been visiting Venezuela’s Margarita Island, where he publicly thanked the European Union’s parliament for requesting even more crushing sanctions on the country.
Remind me again, who is the President of Venezuela? pic.twitter.com/YquNdKsPYx
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 21, 2019
Maduro’s appearance at the summit two days later provided a stark contrast to Guaido’s daffy photo op. Clad in a dark suit and projecting confidence before hundreds of diplomats and foreign ministers from around the globe, the president reflected on the challenges his government had to confront throughout its three year term as chair of the movement.
“During these three years we have not lacked, and we have not failed the Non-Aligned Movement,” President Maduro asserted during his address before delegates and ministers on July 20. “And these three years are three years in which we have faced our greatest internal political tests in Venezuela.”
Maduro’s tenure as president has seen Venezuela’s US-backed opposition attempt to overthrow him through numerous violent destabilization campaigns, most notably through the guarimba protests in 2014 and 2017. After just a few months in office, the Obama Administration categorized Maduro’s administration as a “national security threat,” setting the stage for sanctions that drastically reduced its ability to access credit on the international market. Last year, Maduro survived an attempt to assassinate him with explosives strapped to drones at a military parade. Then came this year’s coup attempt.
Before his audience at NAM, Maduro struck a tone of optimism. “This 21st century is our century,” he proclaimed. “It is the century of freedom, it is the century of the end of empires, and it is just beginning in 2019. Although the battle is hard… no matter how bloody or criminal the attacks are, if we are determined to be free, nothing, nor anyone will stop us. Brothers and sisters of the world, nothing, no one can stop the course of the new story that is making its way!”
“This is economic terrorism”
At the NAM summit, countries took the floor one by one to describe the horrific impact that sanctions have had on their own populations. The dramatic scene was the byproduct of an effort undertaken by Venezuelan FM Arreaza last February to unite as many nations together as possible around a mutual defense of national sovereignty, self-determination, and territorial integrity – the founding principles of the UN and an inspiration for the 1955 Bandung founding charter that guides NAM today.
In July, the US imposed onerous limits on the movement of Iran’s UN mission, restricting diplomats and their families to several blocks in New York City, John F. Kennedy Airport, and travel routes pre-approved by the State Department. The severity of the constraints were unprecedented.
At the NAM summit, Zarif delivered perhaps the most forceful denunciation of US sanctions. “Just Google ‘terrorism,’” Iranian FM Zarif urged. “This is the definition that the dictionary will give you: ‘unlawful use of violence or intimidation, especially against civilians, in pursuit of political gains’… so please friends, stop using [the term] ‘sanctions’… sanctions have a legal connotation. This is economic terrorism… we have to say it again and again.”
Iranian Foreign Minister @JZarif says sanctions are terrorism, an act of war employed by the US to encourage regime change in nations which resist US hegemony. Says the policy will fail in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, & Syria.
“They do not negotiate with terrorists and neither do we.” pic.twitter.com/8Eqndadf2J
— Anya Parampil (@anyaparampil) July 21, 2019
Turkey, a NATO member which has been threatened with sanctions by the Trump Administration over its plans to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defense system, also spoke up against US unilateralism during the discussion.
“Power is not a zero-sum game,” Ankara’s envoy insisted, asserting his government’s firm rejection of US efforts to overthrow Venezuela’s government.
Speaking on behalf of the Syrian Arab Republic, Ambassador Khalil Biar reiterated “the full and compelling solidarity” of his government with Maduro’s administration, “in thwarting aggressive plans to forcibly change the legitimate Government of this fraternal country.”
China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Namibia, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Surinam were just a few of the other countries that spoke up against sanctions at the meeting.
Though Russia was not an official member of the Non-Aligned Movement, it sent its second most powerful diplomat, Vice Minister Sergey Ryabkov, to observe the summit and hold bilateral meetings in the Venezuelan capital. Ryabkov accused the US of strangling Venezuela with one hand through its imposition of sanctions while pickpocketing it with the other by freezing its assets held in Western banks.
To counter Washington’s increasing reliance on economic sabotage against independent nations, Ryabkov emphasized the need to decrease international reliance on the US dollar with alternatives to the US-controlled financial system.
“Let’s turn dependence into independence,” he suggested.
In an interview with The Grayzone, Ryabkov reflected that “in recent times, the culture of negotiation, the pattern of compromise, became almost completely absent from the toolbox of US diplomacy.”
“After the end of the Cold War, it took particularly long for the US to realize there is no such thing like everyone agreeing to what the US asks or demands,” he explained, “in absence of these sophisticated tools, the next cost efficient one would be sanctions, before restoring to military force.”
Ryabkov told the Grayzone that according Russian government analysis, the US has sanctioned almost 70 countries in recent decades, impacting the lives of over one-third of the world’s population.
“I think it will backfire, it cannot be sustained in this way,” he predicted, adding “people will bypass [the measures] in literal terms and people will find ways to defend themselves and to protect themselves.”
Challenging the dollar, sending the US into a frenzy
US unilateral sanctions are only effective because the world economic system relies so heavily on the dollar and Western financial structures. As even Foreign Policy, a favorite outlet of the US diplomatic establishment, acknowledged this June, “All this bullying is made possible because the US dollar remains the world’s reserve currency.” The over-reliance on economic intimidation has accelerated the birth of an alternative system that allows nations outside the Western sphere of influence to conduct business on their own terms.
“China, Russia, others– we at the moment create alternatives [to the US-controlled international economy],” Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov informed The Grayzone, “then we will probably move to [use] not just national currencies, but baskets of currencies… we will use ways that will diminish the role of the dollar and US banking system.”
In recent years, NAM participants including Russia, India, Turkey, China, and Venezuela, have sold off significant holdings of their US debt while simultaneously increasing their stockpiles of gold.
In September 2018, Russia, Turkey, and Iran committed to trade in local currencies, including for gas and oil. In April, Moscow and Ankara created a joint-investment fund bankrolled entirely in euros. The following month, Venezuela sold $570 million worth of gold to the United Arab Emirates which was paid for in cash, and in euros.
During the St. Petersburg Economic Forum this June, Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that it was time to “rethink the role of the dollar, which has become an instrument of pressure for its issuers on the whole world.”
Following the NAM summit, Venezuelan Economy Minister Tareck El Aissami announced his country’s establishment of a payment system to meet obligations to Russia that will be covered with rubles.
The developments have sent the US establishment into a frenzy.
In January, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton issued a veiled threat on Twitter:
My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia. We stand ready to continue to take action.
— John Bolton (@AmbJohnBolton) January 30, 2019
Five months later, the US dollar experienced a sharp decline. This July, Credit Suisse predicted it would continue to fall while JP Morgan’s private bank advised clients to diversify currency holdings because “the US dollar could lose its status as the world’s dominant currency.”
One day after JP Morgan released that report, it was up to President Donald Trump’s unusually active thumbs to revive confidence in the dollar.
On his Twitter account, Trump insisted, “We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!”
…and International. We have only one real currency in the USA, and it is stronger than ever, both dependable and reliable. It is by far the most dominant currency anywhere in the World, and it will always stay that way. It is called the United States Dollar!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 12, 2019
The birth of an alternative financial structure
Yet it is not just US currency that is facing a challenge unlike any other since World War II, but the financial architecture of Wall Street and Washington that provides the basis for Western empire. At the heart of this structure is the SWIFT system, the global network which has processed all international banking transactions since it was established in 1973.
Bloomberg reported this July that Venezuela had taken steps to join Russia’s alternative to SWIFT. Russia began developing its own System for Transfer of Financial Messages (SPFS) in 2014 after the US threatened to block Moscow’s access to SWIFT as punishment for Putin’s refusal to cede eastern Ukraine to NATO-aligned forces.
Over the years, SWIFT has faithfully abided by US sanctions demands. Last November, the institution announced it would disconnect from Iranian financial institutions including the country’s central bank in order to comply with sanctions, prompting European nations to construct their own payment system in order to maintain business relationships with Tehran.
The development underscored the extremism of the Trump Administration’s sanctions policy, which threatens to alienate even traditional allies of US capital.
“It’s of deep concern that the more the US pushes Europe away from a common policy, the more they push Europe into finalizing true alternatives to the US financial system,” the former head of the US Treasury Department’s sanctions office, John E. Smith, commented to Foreign Policy.
Despite the malevolence of US sanctions policy, Russia’s Ryabkov is not convinced Europe will break with Washington any time soon. “Ultimately I think they will follow the US,” he commented.
Toward a new world order
NAM has historically provided a space for formerly colonized countries to act as a unified league in pursuit of common interests. And in its initial form, it was designed to be free from US or Soviet influence. But in 2019, Russia participated in NAM as an observer state. Meanwhile, North American and European nations make up the vast majority of the seventy-three states which remain excluded from the movement.
Today, the Non-Aligned Movement exists simply as a coalition of nations united in their resistance to the brute assertion of US and European economic and political supremacy.
As delegations arranged themselves for the official photo of NAM’s 2019 summit, countries typically understood to be mortal enemies like India and Pakistan or Saudi Arabia and Iran stood shoulder to shoulder in an expression of unity. For these nations, the image was an acknowledgment that their individual survival as sovereign states, regardless of ideology, would require more cooperation than ever before.
Western corporate media scarcely conveyed these images, but the future that they represent as the global majority may soon be impossible to ignore.
Anya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, DC. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula, Palestine, Venezuela, and Honduras.