The United States government preaches that economic sanctions are the humane, non-military way to enforce its imperial power. That’s a lie. Such bans make war on civilians, and the poorest and most oppressed bear the brunt. Starvation, homelessness, and death from preventable illness are just a few of the horrors people face when food, trade and medicines are blockaded at borders.
Sanctions profoundly weaken the economic power of governments that defy the U.S. They force nations to capitulate to capitalism. They also motivate civilians to rebel against their own dictators and the USA.
Currently U.S. embargoes plague nearly 200 million people in 30 countries. Five nations suffer almost-total embargoes — Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea and Sudan. Other penalties are against individuals or vital parts of the economy. As the wealthiest and best-armed nation on earth, the U.S. uses its power to make other capitalist countries join in these dispossessions.
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been growing pressure to lift all sanctions, because they paralyze global efforts to combat this virus. The Center for Economic and Policy Research and the United Nations General Secretary have rightly called for halting all boycotts, including heavily-sanctioned Iran, Venezuela and Cuba.
Iran. The U.S. has had an economic embargo against oil-rich Iran since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. These sanctions were lifted after the nuclear deal was signed in 2015. But in 2018 Trump reinstated them, targeting the critical energy, shipping and financial sectors. This crippled foreign investment, banned foreign banks and companies from dealing with Iran, and acutely impaired oil exports and medical imports. Almost $1.973 billion of Iran’s money and assets are frozen in U.S. banks.
Iran was hit hard by the Covid-19 crisis — one person was dying every ten minutes. The U.S. response? More sanctions. And Trump has repeatedly jeopardized Iran’s request for a $5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.
Today, 90 percent of Iran’s workers live under the poverty line. Unemployment is 61 percent, inflation is 80 percent. Ninety-seven percent of the country faces water and electricity shortages. Poverty-stricken ethnic regions such as Baluchistan, Ahwaz, Kurdistan and Azerbaijan get no help. Nor do Afghan refugees. And of course, women get little protection in this Islamic theocracy.
Iran’s notoriously crooked politicians and militarized law and order system have infuriated its people. Over the past winter, massive protests erupted nationwide, calling for an end to the Islamic Republic and the downfall of its leaders, and chanting, “They live like kings, people get poorer.” The regime murdered 1,500 protesters, including 400 women, and arrested thousands. As Iranian leftist Sina Zekavat urges, “It’s not enough to call for halting sanctions. We need international support against Iran’s military apparatus.”
Venezuela. Once the richest country in South America, oil-rich Venezuela is now the poorest. This is mostly due to plummeting oil prices, the global capitalist crisis, and government corruption. But since 2017 the U.S. has been sanctioning government and politician’s assets, preventing crucial oil exports and life-saving food and medicine imports. Recent embargoes on Venezuela’s airline and oil industry are decimating food and medicine supplies and blocking aid for Covid-19.
What’s the excuse for sanctions? The United States “is saving Americans from socialism,” says Trump, even though Hugo Chávez’s falsely named “21st century socialism” was never that. For a time, it provided healthcare, but under sanction siege that service collapsed well before this pandemic.
Five million Venezuelans have fled their homeland since late 2015. “Current sanctions are a death sentence for tens of thousands of people who cannot leave the country,” reports the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Women are the most vulnerable; sexual violence and discrimination is commonplace; starvation is greatest among them and their children. Racism further deprives Black and brown communities and indigenous peoples.
Now, in the midst of a pandemic, destitution escalates. Current embargoes keep most global banks from doing any business with Venezuela. The International Monetary Fund denied an emergency $5 billion loan to Venezuela, because the U.S. and many other nations do not recognize Maduro’s presidency. Only UNICEF, China, Cuba and Russia send aid. (See “Trump sends warships in bid to unseat Maduro.”)
Cuba. This island nation has been besieged by U.S. trade blockades since 1960 — one of the longest-running embargoes in modern history. The Cuban revolution made enormous improvements in people’s lives in literacy, healthcare and education. But this workers state raised the specter of socialism close to the United States, hence the sanctions.
Factories are idle because of lack of parts and production materials. Food crops rot in the fields and in warehouses for lack of gas for transport and storage. All this has intensified since Covid-19. Cuban agriculture produces only about 20 percent of foodstuffs, and now all international imports are halted. Closed tourist hotels have put more than 120,000 people out of work. Reported one messenger to The New York Times, “Pretty soon hunger will overtake us. There is nothing to eat.” Especially hard hit are women and children, and Afro-Cubans. All Covid-19 aid is being blocked by the USA.
U.S. embargoes and Cuba’s Stalinist bureaucracy combined to change the course of Cuba’s economic development. The Cuban Communist Party wants the impossible — to integrate the country’s nationalized economy into the world capitalist system. What’s needed now is workers democratic control of production and distribution so that food is provided regardless of income or access to U.S. dollars. (For more, read “Cuba: crossroads for a revolution.”)
Cuba has sent medical personnel to 22 countries, including Italy, Venezuela and South Africa, to fight Covid-19. This is vastly different from the Trump administration response, which threatens to cut funds to the World Health Organization. One can only wonder what Cuba could have become without six decades of deadly U.S. bullying.
Clearly, leftists and progressives in this country have a keen responsibility to expose and organize against all of our country’s sanction wars on global civilians.