by Ken Livingstone
AS I write this column, news is coming through of a stunning presidential election victory in Honduras for progressive candidate Xiomara Castro.
Overcoming fierce opposition from those with wealth and power is always an impressive feat, but this is a particularly remarkable achievement for the Honduran left in the context of the conditions they have been forced to operate in.
Following the military coup against elected President Manuel Zelaya in 2009, trade unionists and social movements faced over a decade of repression from an illegitimate regime — shamefully assisted by spyware they bought from the British government.
That this coup was backed by the White House at a time when the Obama administration was in office (documents published by Wikileaks revealed the extent of then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s involvement in orchestrating it) reflects the fact that a policy of propping up reactionary forces in the region and aggressively destabilising governments who dare to prioritise the needs of their people over big capital has sadly all too often enjoyed cross-party support from most politicians in the US.
One particularly devastating technique deployed to advance the agenda of “regime change” has been the use of sanctions. History is littered with examples of this: Nixon’s command to “make the economy scream” as a response to the election of socialist candidate Salvador Allende in Chile being an especially infamous one.
But sanctions being used as a foreign policy weapon is not something we have to study the past to see the impact of — they are costing livelihoods and lives in the here and now.
Morning Star readers will no doubt be aware of the ongoing US blockade of Cuba — this paper is one of the few media outlets in Britain to regularly cover, for instance, the overwhelming opposition to it at the United Nations (this year, once again, the US and Israel were the only two nations to vote against a motion reaffirming this stance).
This has meant 60 years of the country operating in incredibly difficult circumstances. The blockade not only means Cuba is targeted by the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation, but it affects the ability to trade with numerous other countries — HSBC was fined $665 million by the US government for violating sanctions in 2012.
A submission to the UN five years ago estimated that the total cost to Cuba of these policies has been over $753 billion.
It’s no secret that Venezuela has been high on the US target list since the turn of the century, and in recent years this has meant announcement after announcement of increasingly vicious sanctions.
A 2015 executive order laughably declaring the country “an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security of the United States” was the beginning of an even more hawkish approach, culminating in what has become an outright embargo.
This has presented significant barriers to importing items such as foodstuffs and medicines — with Washington-based thinktank the Centre for Economic and Policy Research estimating sanctions caused over 40,000 deaths in 2017-18 alone.
It’s little wonder that opinion polling shows these measures are opposed by a clear majority of Venezuelans — both those supportive of Nicolas Maduro’s government and those who back opposition parties.
Nicaragua has also been a target for increasing aggression — with the punitive Nica Act being introduced at the end of 2018, and yet more sanctions announced following recent elections (these have, predictably, been supported by our own government).
The latest Bill superficially states that all members of the governing FLSN party are considered fair game for targeting. Whatever one’s views on internal Nicaraguan politics, this attack on supporters of a mass organisation is draconian measure which poses a huge risk to the living standards of millions of citizens and their families because of their choice of government.
Of course, these sanctions have been justified by successive US administrations as a way to put pressure on governments to respect human rights (this commitment to freedom was mysteriously forgotten when backing the coup regime in Honduras, or selling weapons to the ultra-reactionary Saudi state for a war that has killed tens of thousands of Yemeni civilians).
But even if you’re generous enough to take this motivation at face value, the sanctions they have implemented against numerous Latin American countries are human rights violations in and of themselves.
Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of themself and their family… including food and medical care.”
Measures which undeniably play a huge role in the prevention of access to these show blatant contempt for the values they claim to uphold.
It’s long past time for the mentality that the people of “the US’s backyard” can be treated as collateral damage for foreign policy hawks to end.
At a time when countries across the world should be working together to protect global public health in the context of the ongoing pandemic, we should all get behind the clear call of the labour movement and solidarity campaigners to stop the sanctions.
This article originally appeared in The Morning Star