Abusing sanctions harms people, not governments

Abusing sanctions harms people, not governments
Sanctions are a very necessary part of international governance. According to the United Nations, sanctions seek to “support peaceful transitions, deter non-constitutional changes, constrain terrorism, protect human rights and promote non-proliferation”.  They range from “comprehensive economic and trade sanctions to more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, and financial or commodity restrictions”.  Boycotting apartheid-South African goods and products of its international investors, significantly assisted our liberation struggle. When international sanctions however, are used to undermine and replace popular governments, then it is highly problematic.

On November 7, 2019, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling for an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the USA against Cuba for the 28th time. All countries supported the resolution except the USA, Israel and Brazil. Among the motivations presented for lifting the sanctions were its incalculable humanitarian damages and the catastrophic cost to Cuba’s economy, which exceeded $4 billion in foreign trade for the period April 2018-March 2019. 

But the USA and Israel (Bolsonaro is in power because of the USA and thus cannot differ) overlooked the arguments presented. The USA is also applying sanctions against a number of other countries including Venezuela and Syria, completely undermining the UN Security Council’s sanctions criteria and processes. Companies are compelled to comply with these sanctions as non-compliance result in heavy fines eg General Electric Co. was fined $2.7 million for violating the USA Cuban Assets Control Regulation last month. Or they are excluded from the international banking system. PostFinance, the last Swiss bank to process Cuba-related transactions, stopped their services to Cuba at the end of October as they could not afford to be excluded from their existing network of correspondent banks nor be denied access to US dollar payments.

While sanctions are supposed to deter non-constitutional changes, it is a key component of the USA’s regime-change agenda. They hope that deteriorating living conditions will incite citizens to remove their governments. But regime-change is not easy when a government is rooted in and serving its people. The general populace rally behind their governments instead and suffer in silence. The only protests that occur are those led by instigators financed by the USA. For example in Venezuela, Juan Guaido recently signed a $98 million deal with Washington. The reasons behind the regime-change agendas are blatant.  Already Guaido is in negotiations with USA refinery, Citgo, regarding the purchase of state-owned oil firm PDVSA. Trump openly stated that his only reason for sending troops to Syria is oil. 

The immeasurable harm that the unlawful, USA sanctions cause to citizens is painful to observe. Minor personal inconveniences such as being compelled to do banking outside of Syria or having our dog thrown off a flight because her final destination was Syria, are insignificant compared to the tremendous suffering that the citizens of these countries experience. So too, we dare not complain about how South Africa is losing out on much-needed trade and mutual investment opportunities, for it is incomparable to the damage that sanctions are doing to the economies of the affected countries. 

The Cuban people have had to endure this imposition since 1960, along with numerous coup and destabilisation attempts. Syria was placed on the US sanctions list in 2004 and has become the site of imperialist wars. The most recent victim, Venezuela, is experiencing severe economic and social constraints, including a reversal of all gains made during the Bolivarian revolution, which placed its citizens amongst the highest in quality of life, as it adjusts to operating under conditions of sanctions.

The abuse of sanctions cause economies to underperform; deprive the ill of medical advances; and impede access to basic commodities. 

Through creating global turmoil and causing great suffering to millions of people, the governments of the USA and Israel are not only disrespectful of the multilateral platforms regulating global governance; they are also impervious to the authority bestowed upon them by their citizens. This decade, 2019-2028, is the “Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace”, emphasising the pursuit of international peace and security, development and human rights.  An important priority during this period should be to stop countries from unilaterally imposing sanctions to enforce regime-change against governments that refuse to relinquish their resources.

* Reneva Fourie is a policy analyst specialising in governance, development and security. She is a PhD candidate at Wits University and currently resides in Damascus, Syria.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.