Another Unintended Consequence of Sanctions: Migration

Photograph Source: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed – CC BY-SA 3.0

People usually migrate en masse to escape war, famine, despotism or poverty. They migrate from Central and South America to the United States mostly, these days, because staying home means surviving on a very frayed shoestring. That’s the result of two idiotic North American economic policies: exporting slash and burn, wild west capitalism, which quickly degenerates into gangsterism, to places like Honduras, as the U.S. did for many years. Or, arguably worse, imposing economic sanctions, which bleed the populace white, on governments that Washington doesn’t like, such as Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua. Not surprisingly, loads of Venezuelans arrive at the U.S. border with little besides the clothes on their back. They hope to live in a place where a hegemonic bully doesn’t make poor people skip meals or diabetics ration their insulin. Good luck with that.

So how do these twin fiascos, masquerading as actual economic policies, work? Well, take Honduras. Currently, the very pleasantly sane socialist leadership of Xiomara Castro has a full plate. Full of thistles inherited from the previous ruler turned drug dealer, Juan Hernandez, who, with Donald “Migrant Lepers Are Coming” Trump’s blessing, ran the country like his personal fiefdom or private piggybank, thus landing most Hondurans in poverty. So, they fled to the promised land, that is, bizarrely, Texas, and promptly caused a right-wing hissy fit about migration. Well, if Washington GOP bozos hadn’t assisted in dispossessing these people in the first place, they would have stayed home.

Take the U.S. policy of exporting gangster capitalism throughout Latin America and guess what? Lots of people pulled up stakes, joined migrant caravans and headed to the Rio Grande. More recently, however, the culprit is U.S. sanctions. In early October, Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador specifically cited U.S. sanctions causing 10,000 migrants per day to crowd Mexico’s northern border. “Think human rights over ideology,” AMLO said. “Sanctions and blockades cannot be maintained.” But Washington remains fixated on sanctions. With an election coming and migration sure to be a hot-button topic for far-right Republicans, reconsidering how dreadful U.S. policies push people to migrate would be wise.

Under Trump, Washington slapped loads of economic sanctions on Venezuela, some still in place. Indeed, sanctions have killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans and economically pulverized more. So people with no hope for a decent life in Caracas trek to the U.S. border – hundreds of thousands of them. Right-wingers who loathe these so-called “invaders” might want to reconsider the high price of economically besieging a country because they dislike its political system or want to punish its leaders for socialism. Because it’s not government officials who pay the price. It’s ordinary people, who can’t afford food and medicine and decide to relocate to a country where maybe they can.

Washington’s mess is even worse concerning Cuba, which it has blockaded and thus impoverished for 60 years for reasons of purely political ideological dogma. Barak “Evict the Homeowners” Obama changed that, but Trump undid his efforts, and Joe “Shot Himself in the Foot with Sanctions” Biden has only lifted some of Trump’s restrictions. Back in May, Washington partially undid the sanctions – Biden’s first step toward fulfilling a campaign promise. Among the changes: loosening the ban on remittances, which benefits many Cubans, reunifying Cuban families in the U.S. and expanding flights beyond Havanna. As the New York Times reported on May 16, Biden’s alterations to sanctions “go into effect at a time when food and medicine shortages have created new waves of Cubans trying to reach U.S. shores.” Predictably, the now very indicted New Jersey senator Bob “Googling Gold Ingots” Menendez denounced these improvements, preferring to double down on what hasn’t worked for 60 years, namely starving the island of revenue.

Biden also revived the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program. Under Obama, this “allowed up to 20,000 immigration visas to the United States each year.” This somewhat betters life for people remaining on the island, because they get remittances, and at least it limits the criminalization of those trying to ditch a desperate situation. It also enflames the far right, whose misanthropy blinds it to Washington’s culpability in creating this debacle in the first place. You don’t want migrants from Cuba and Venezuela? Fine. Drop all economic sanctions on those nations.

The miracle is how well over-bullied Cuba has done in certain fields, like health care. The Cuban infant and maternal mortality rates are better than those in the Northern Exceptional Empire, while numerous other health outcomes are also superior. This speaks very poorly for American private-equity- and insurance mega-conglomerate-dominated medicine. Indeed, Cuban health care is an advertisement for socialism, which doubtless only aggravates U.S. plutocrats’ blistering hatred of the island’s holdout against capitalism. That shameful hostility persists regardless of who’s in power in Washington, as does pandering to the rabidly far-right Cuban exile community in Florida. Obama’s policies were the exception that proves the rule, and to this day, that assassin-in-chief’s humanity toward Cuba remains a puzzle.

 Meanwhile, on October 10, the Mexican president refused Washington’s request for local migrant processing centers. “We don’t want to set up places in our country,” AMLO said, “for them [migrants] to wait to be given temporary [U.S.] visas. We want this to be where the migration originates, where the migrants come from, so they don’t need to come to Mexico.” That makes sense, given that 6000 migrants arrive on Mexico’s southern border each day. Lotsa those migrants are Cubans, driven to despair by the U.S. economic embargo. In fact, last year 313,488 Cubans arrived in the northern Empire’s homeland, representing almost three percent of the island’s 2021 population. Many thousands sought refuge in Mexico.

As recently as October 16 in the Washington Post and also earlier, there’s been news that Biden relaxed some sanctions on Venezuela – the unstated or glossed-over purpose is to ease American access to Venezuelan oil. Loosening sanctions is the first frail shot of sanity in the barren loam of U.S. foreign economic policy, and one can only hope for more. Indeed, Biden should drop ALL sanctions on Venezuela, pronto, for reasons of self-interest, if nothing else. After all, Biden’s the one who emptied the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to depress gasoline prices, which had skyrocketed due to his imbecilic sanctions on Russian energy, but now a wider Mideast war could be coming. If it does, bye-bye to Iranian oil and likely that of other Persian Gulf countries, too. Caracas will remain the only capital able to satisfy North America’s oil gluttony. But Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro may want his country’s gold back first, which was stolen, ahem “seized,” years ago by the U.K. And he may want the sanctions gone. I would be surprised if he didn’t.

So without an about-face on Venezuela tout de suite, Washington may have cooked its own goose, which seems, alas for us proles who dwell in the heart of the Empire, to be what the imperial capital has been engaged in at least for the last seven years. Before the goose cooking’s done, Biden may want to reconsider and drop those idiotic sanctions.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Busybody. She can be reached at her website.