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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 6/18/19

U.S. Sanctions: Economic Sabotage That Is Deadly, Illegal, and Ineffective

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From Common Dreams

Whether in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea or one of the 20 countries under the boot of U.S. sanctions, the Trump administration is using its economic weight to try to exact regime change or major policy changes in countries around the globe

By Medea Benjamin , Nicolas J S Davies

While the mystery of who is responsible for sabotaging the two tankers in the Gulf of Oman remains unsolved, it is clear that the Trump administration has been sabotaging Iranian oil shipments since May 2, when it announced its intention to "bring Iran's oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue." The move was aimed at China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey, all nations that purchase Iranian oil and now face U.S. threats if they continue to do so. The U.S. military might not have physically blown up tankers carrying Iranian crude, but its actions have the same effect and should be considered acts of economic terrorists.

The Trump administration is also committing a massive oil heist by seizing $7 billion in Venezuela's oil assets -- keeping the Maduro government from getting access to its own money. According to John Bolton, the sanctions on Venezuela will affect $11 billion worth of oil exports in 2019. The Trump administration also threatens shipping companies that carry Venezuelan oil. Two companies -- one based in Liberia and the other in Greece -- have already been slapped with penalties for shipping Venezuelan oil to Cuba. No gaping holes in their ships, but economic sabotage nonetheless.

Whether in Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea or one of the 20 countries under the boot of U.S. sanctions, the Trump administration is using its economic weight to try to exact regime change or major policy changes in countries around the globe.


The U.S. sanctions against Iran are particularly brutal. While they have utterly failed to advance U.S. regime change goals, they have provoked growing tensions with U.S. trading partners across the world, and inflicted terrible pain on the ordinary people of Iran. Although food and medicines are technically exempt from sanctions, U.S. sanctions against Iranian banks like Parsian Bank, Iran's largest non-state-owned bank, make it nearly impossible to process payments for imported goods, and that includes food and medicine. The resulting shortage of medicines is sure to cause thousands of preventable deaths in Iran, and the victims will be ordinary working people, not Ayatollahs or government ministers.

U.S. corporate media have been complicit in the pretense that U.S. sanctions are a non-violent tool to inflict pressure on targeted governments in order to force some kind of democratic regime change. U.S. reports rarely mention their deadly impact on ordinary people, instead blaming the resulting economic crises solely on the governments being targeted.

The deadly impact of sanctions is all too clear in Venezuela, where crippling economic sanctions have decimated an economy already reeling from the drop in oil prices, opposition sabotage, corruption and bad government policies. A joint annual report on mortality in Venezuela in 2018 by t hree Venezuelan universities found that U.S. sanctions were largely responsible for at least 40,000 additional deaths that year. The Venezuela Pharmaceutical Association reported an 85% shortage of essential medicines in 2018.

Absent U.S. sanctions, the rebound in global oil prices in 2018 should have led to at least a small rebound in Venezuela's economy and more adequate imports of food and medicine. Instead, U.S. financial sanctions prevented Venezuela from rolling over its debts and deprived the oil industry of cash for parts, repairs and new investment, leading to an even more dramatic fall in oil production than in the previous years of low oil prices and economic depression. The oil industry provides 95% of Venezuela's foreign earnings, so by strangling its oil industry and cutting Venezuela off from international borrowing, the sanctions have predictably -- and intentionally -- trapped the people of Venezuela in a deadly economic downward spiral.

A study by Jeffrey Sachs and Mark Weisbrot for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, titled "Sanctions as Collective Punishment: the Case of Venezuela," reported that the combined effect of the 2017 and 2019 U.S. sanctions are projected to lead to an astounding 37.4% decline in Venezuela's real GDP in 2019, on the heels of a 16.7% decline in 2018 and the over 60% drop in oil prices between 2012 and 2016.

In North Korea, many decades of sanctions, coupled with extended periods of drought, have left millions of the nation's 25 million people malnourished and impoverished. Rural areas in particular lack medicine and clean water. Even more stringent sanctions imposed in 2018 banned most of the country's exports, reducing the government's ability to pay for imported food to alleviate the shortages.


One of the most egregious elements of U.S. sanctions is their extraterritorial reach. The U.S. slaps third-country businesses with penalties for "violating" U.S. sanctions. When the U.S. unilaterally left the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions, the U.S. Treasury Department bragged that in just one day, November 5, 2018, it sanctioned more than 700 individuals, entities, aircraft, and vessels doing business with Iran. Regarding Venezuela, Reuters reported that in March 2019 the State Department had "instructed oil trading houses and refiners around the world to further cut dealings with Venezuela or face sanctions themselves, even if the trades made are not prohibited by published U.S. sanctions."

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Medea Benjamin is the cofounder of Global Exchange and CODEPINK: Women for Peace and author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection. 

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