LAS VEGAS — On Saturday, MintPress News’ Ben Rubinstein ran into Senator Ted Cruz at Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport. Recognizing the senator’s long-standing support for economic warfare on the Global South via unilateral coercive measures, or sanctions, Rubinstein jumped at the chance to confront Cruz.
“Senator, can you tell me how you feel about the sanctions on Venezuela that have killed 40,000 people?” he asked. But Cruz refused to address the question, telling Rubinstein that “it’s good to see you.”
“How many more deaths are you willing to justify?” Rubinstein continued to press.
Deflecting again, Cruz responded that “it’s interesting you’re defending [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro and socialists.”
Asked about the deaths of children due to U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, Cruz red-baited again, accusing Rubinstein of defending communism.
— Ben Rubinstein (@BlekingBen) August 21, 2021
It was clear that the senator had no actual defense of the murderous policies for which he has advocated; he didn’t even bother to defend them, opting instead to echo a predecessor of his: Senator Joseph McCarthy.
While confronting Cruz, Rubinstein wasn’t just making up numbers. His figure that 40,000 people have died from U.S. sanctions on Venezuela comes from a 2019 study by the economics think tank Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), which found that “sanctions have inflicted, and increasingly inflict, very serious harm to human life and health, including an estimated more than 40,000 deaths from 2017 to 2018; and that these sanctions would fit the definition of collective punishment of the civilian population as described in both the Geneva and Hague international conventions, to which the U.S. is a signatory.”
The sanctions “are also illegal under international law and treaties that the U.S. has signed, and would appear to violate U.S. law as well,” the study continues.
Hitting the ground running for imperialism
Ted Cruz was sworn into the Senate in January 2013 and a little more than a year later was already promoting a hawkish stance against Venezuela and other State Department-designated enemies via economic warfare.
One press release from his office from February 2014, featuring video of him on the Senate floor attacking the Venezeulan government was entitled, “To Save Venezuela, Sanction Iran, and Starve the Castros.”
“The United States should do all it can to help the people of Venezuela as they choose a different path, a path of freedom and prosperity, that will return this one-time enemy to its traditional role of our partner and friend,” Cruz said.
At the time, Venezuela was attempting to stave off hordes of violent insurrectionists, led by Juan Guaido’s political mentor Leopoldo Lopez, attempting to shut down the country and overthrow the government. Lopez was later convicted for inciting violence.
These riots featured the shutting down of traffic via barricades; gangs of right-wing, upper-class Venezuelan youth overtaking the streets, burning down government buildings and property, with targets including socialist food programs; and the six-day besieging of a Venezuelan news channel.
“Brave protesters persist in crowding the streets in Caracas, in San Cristobal, in Valencia,” Cruz said on the Senate floor as the violence was unfolding. Just over a week prior, protesters in Valencia had attacked the Socialist Party’s headquarters there and shot a supporter of the government. Cruz went on to accuse the Middle East resistance movement Hezbollah of partaking, in Venezuela, in the supposed crackdown on the brave, freedom-fighting coup foot soldiers.
Claiming that coup plot leader Leopoldo Lopez’s only crime was “to propose a free-market alternative to the repressive socialist policies,” Cruz called for his release.
Cruz later praised an App called Zello, which, his office’s press release said, “created an application to successfully bypass Venezuela’s heavy censorship.” It continued: “Recalling the proud tradition of Radio Free Europe during the Cold War, the Senator lauded Zello’s work as an example of how we can use technology to support those fighting for economic and political freedom around the globe.”
As Venezuelan journalist Erica Ortega Sanoja has reported, coup plotters used Zello to “teach how to assassinate policemen and make weapons.” Zello has since been blamed for helping to facilitate protests at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th by Diet Insurrectionists.
In other words, a weapon in the arsenal of U.S. information warfare has been used by, in the words of The Guardian, U.S. citizen “insurrectionists,” who “communicated via the app, which has avoided proactive content moderation.” It’s difficult to imagine better examples of imperial blowback than the App Cruz once commended.
While it did not take long for Ted Cruz to use his platform in the Senate to advance an agenda of regime change in Venezuela, it’s a project he has continued to work on since. According to Congress.gov, Cruz has sponsored or co-sponsored 21 pieces of legislation that mention Venezuela, including a resolution a few weeks after his 2014 speech asburdly “deploring the violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Venezuela.”
One bill co-sponsored by Cruz in 2019 attempted to impose more sanctions on Venezuela and its trading partners, and direct the State Department to “work with nongovernmental organizations to strengthen democratic governance and defend human rights in Venezuela,” and “offer to help other countries establish legislative frameworks to impose sanctions on Maduro regime officials.”
While most reporters have failed to challenge Senator Ted Cruz on his imperialist agenda in regard to Venezuela — or most other places, for that matter — MintPress’ Ben Rubinstein was blocked while attempting to do so by a powerful GOP strategist.
A shady travel companion
As Rubinstein was attempting to ask Cruz whether he cares about people dying because of the sanctions he supports, Jeff Roe, founder of Axiom Strategies, stood in front of his camera and tried to persuade him to desist, saying “we’re hanging out now.”
“Hanging out” as children starve because of Cruz’s policies.
Since the 2016 cycle, @AxiomStrategies has made $38M+ working for several GOP candidates and state parties.
— Robbie Jaeger (@RobletoFire) August 21, 2021
Axiom Strategies has raked in $38 million from several Republican candidates since 2016, investigative finance journalist Robbie Jaeger noted in response to Rubinstein’s video. Replying to Jaeger’s tweet, Roe responded “it’s a lot more than that.” On his Twitter page, Roe claims Axiom is “the largest GOP campaign firm in the country.”
Ted Cruz’s campaigns have paid Roe’s firm more than $4.2 million over the years for their work.
As Rubinstein noted, Roe has been compared to Republican powerbroker Karl Rove and has a reputation for his savage work in the industry.
One ad Roe masterminded attacked a former mayor of Kansas City for supporting “San Francisco-style values” like “same-sex marriage” and “abortion,” over footage of a queer-coded black man dancing in a cowboy hat.
According to Rolling Stone, Roe has a reputation for trashy ads and “quickly became known for his win-at-all-costs tactics: digging through opponents’ trash cans and sending young staffers posing as journalists or volunteers into rival campaign offices to capture damning comments.”
Days after Roe and Axiom put out an attack ad against a candidate for governor in Missouri, which compared him to a “bug,” the candidate, Tom Schweich, shot himself with a gun — just a month after announcing his candidacy. Roe was widely blamed for pushing Schweich to the point of suicide, even by members of his own party.
As the Kansas City Star reported, “some of Schweich’s friends quickly concluded the ad played a role in the suicide and accused Roe of bullying the candidate.”
Schweich’s mentor, former Republican Senator John C. Danforth, accused another one of Schweich’s opponents’ consultants of “going around saying” that he was Jewish at his memorial service, and has urged Republicans to avoid working with Roe, saying they “should disassociate [themselves] from anyone who conducts this sort of campaign.”
Even Donald Trump’s campaign spokeswoman, speaking on Fox News, claimed Roe “actually caused a candidate in Missouri to commit suicide over attack ads.”
While the nature of Cruz and Roe’s travels together remains unknown, one thing is clear: whether it’s with Venezuela or in Republican primaries, these people play dirty, with little regard for human life.
Editor’s Note | The author of this article, Alex Rubinstein, is the brother of MintPress’ Ben Rubinstein
Feature photo | Screenshot | Twitter | Ben Rubinstein
Alexander Rubinstein is a former staff writer for MintPress News based in Washington, DC. He writes about police, prisons, and protests in the United States. He previously reported for RT and Sputnik News.
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