“Humanitarian assistance beats sanctions and war any day, and certainly during a pandemic threat.”Murad Qureshi – Chair, Stop the War Coalition.
The COVID-19 virus has had an unprecedented effect on the entire world, and some of the places where its effects will be felt the most are countries that have suffered at the hands of US and UK illegal wars in recent decades, and places that are currently suffering under sanctions from the Trump administration in the US.
These sanctions are often aimed at ‘regime change,’ and hit ordinary people in these countries whatever their political views. Many of these sanctions are incompatible with international law and the UN Charter, and are even greater crimes at this dangerous time.
In particular, under Trump the U.S. continues to impose unilateral coercive measures (“sanctions”) on one-third of the globe’s population in 39 countries and has refused to lift the measures during this worldwide health crisis. This is exacerbating the pandemic, and therefore risks prolonging it for all countries, including the US and here in the UK.
One country that is currently being ravaged by the virus is Iran, and at the time of writing the country has one of the highest number of cases anywhere in the world.
Millions in Iran are likely to die, not just because of the virus but also because US imposed sanctions are preventing countless innocent people from accessing vital medical care. The simple truth is that US economic sanctions against Iran since Trump threw out the Iran Nuclear Deal are costing lives as critical medical supplies are not getting through.
This is a global epidemic and the Iranian people should not be left to suffer alone. Medical supplies must be sent as a matter of urgency and sanctions lifted.
The Trump Administration is also putting its own desire for ‘regime change’ ahead of humanitarian and health concerns elsewhere.
US sanctions against Venezuela (now amounting to a Cuba-style illegal blockade) have actually been strengthened in recent weeks, even though coronavirus has now reached the country.
Additionally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – no doubt under pressure from Trump – has rejected Venezuela’s Emergency Fund Appeal for $5 billion loan to tackle the coronavirus pandemic from the emergency fund of the Rapid Financing Instrument to help combat COVID-19 in Venezuela.
This is despite the fact that the fund was set up precisely to respond to the current global pandemic and Venezuela is a member of the IMF.
Within Latin America and beyond, there is understandably great concern that this decision was influenced by the Trump administration’s pursuit of illegal ‘regime change’ in Venezuela.
The combination of this decision and will deny the country vital health supplies, hit ordinary Venezuelans the most, and lead to innocent lives being lost.
On paper, the unilateral U.S. sanctions on Iran and Venezuela say that medical supplies are exempt. But this is nothing more than an illusion. The sanctions mean that neither Iran nor Venezuela can realistically buy medical supplies, nor can they transport it into their countries.
Rather than jump to Trump’s tune, the UK government should join the EU, UN spokespeople including its General Secretary and others in putting pressure on the US to end its policy of sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. Despite any differences our countries may have we would do all that we can to ensure that basic humanitarian needs of people all around the world are met.
It’s also important for the Left to point out that there is of course though another way that puts people and health first – and that is the way of international solidarity and support. As Jeremy Corbyn said in his last speech in Parliament as Labour leader, Cuban assistance to Italy can show you what can still be done in spite of decades of the US blockade.
Humanitarian assistance beats sanctions and war any day and certainly during a pandemic threat.