Sanctions have long been indefensible; now in the time of Covid-19, more so than ever. Nor are they some minor phenomena. Over a quarter of humanity lives under U.S. economic sanctions. That means millions of people lack untroubled access to food and medicines during a lethal pestilence. Thus in Iran, where the government fears millions of deaths from Covid-19, sanctions amount to genocide. Under ordinary circumstances, these embargoes are economic warfare. By putting Iran and Venezuela under economic siege even before the pandemic, the U.S. had murdered tens of thousands of those countries’ citizens. Yet most Americans seem unaware or unconcerned about this sadistic, criminal and murderous policy inflicted on millions in their name.
It’s important to understand where the U.S. corporate and political elite is coming from. To them, Covid-19 is an opportunity. An opportunity to loot the U.S. government via bailouts for ill-run corporations. An opportunity to attack a beleaguered country like Venezuela or even start a war. An opportunity to crush perceived enemies like Iran. To Trump and his advisers, the deadly plague does not demand charity or humanity. It does not entail saving lives in Iran or Nicaragua. And it means the barest minimum of help for U.S. workers. In times of pandemic, we see what people are made of and who they truly are. Our rulers are killers.
The U.S. sanctions countries, individuals and companies. The six countries sanctioned are Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Cuba and Venezuela, while in 23 countries, the U.S. sanctions presidents, military officials, powerful businessmen and companies. By sanctioning these leaders, the U.S. impedes normal international trade for their countries. One country thus embargoed, Russia, has leverage against the U.S. In the current oil price war, Russia and Saudi Arabia have pulled the plug on the U.S. fracking industry. As one journalist noted, Trump – who sanctioned Russian firms but then phoned Putin about stabilizing oil prices – “can dish it out, but he can’t take it.” Iran, Venezuela and Cuba, however, have no such leverage.
During a plague, like now, Cuba is perhaps safest from U.S. sanctions brutality, having weathered it for decades, by means of its sensibly market-unfriendly policies. Cuba also has the medical resources to cope with Covid-19. Indeed Cuba has sent its doctors and medicines around the world to help with this disease. The contrast between Cuban solidarity with humanity and the haughty cruelty of U.S. sanctions could not be plainer.
Cuba has over 22 anti-viral medicines that may have some efficacy against Covid-19. One of them, Interferon alpha 2b shows real promise, and over 45 countries have requested it from Cuba. The U.S. is not among them. Though the epicenter of the pestilence, the U.S. political elite is so blinded by the ideology of aggressive, militaristic capitalism, that it won’t allow its citizens access to potentially life-saving medicines. This is beyond arrogant prejudice – it is rank, doctrinaire stupidity.
For Iran, one way around U.S. sanctions is Instex, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchanges created by European countries in response to Trump’s illegal rupture with the Iran nuclear deal. On March 31, Europe used Instex for the first time to send Iran badly needed medicines. Originally Iran hoped Instex could broadly facilitate trade. It waited over a year for Instex’s launch. Now it is clear that Instex will only serve humanitarian assistance. This is less than Iran had hoped for, but still better than nothing.
Meanwhile, Italy asked for medical help from China and Cuba, and many other countries have followed suit. They don’t care about U.S. sanctions, or their dubious rationale – that they will lead Iranians or Venezuelans to rise up and overthrow their governments. Sanctions have no such effect anyway. And in reality, they are the reverse of such imaginary liberation – they are collective punishment of countries the U.S. considers enemies. Such collective punishment is a war crime under the 1949 Geneva conventions. In a better world, the U.S. politicians responsible for this wanton murder would be put on trial for this crime. But this is not a better world. War criminals are in charge.