Last year, I wrote a long essay telling my family’s migration story amidst our country’s social collapse in the immediate aftermath of US sanctions. Since then, some of my relatives have returned home and left again as economic hardships continue to weigh us down.
For a while, my brother considered making that treacherous journey through the Darien Gap to reach the United States, not for the long-debunked “American dream” but for mere survival. After many long talks about everything that we had seen happen to other migrants, from being stranded to injuries and death, he decided not to. The relief I felt then, and now, is immense. More so with the current war waged against migrants on both sides of the US-Mexico border.
In the last three months, we have witnessed 40 migrants killed in a fire at a migrant center in Ciudad Juárez as the US uses Mexico as a barrier to prevent people from crossing northward, while another eight were killed in Brownsville, Texas. In both cases, many of them were Venezuelans. A Brownsville survivor, who lost one leg, told a reporter he no longer had dreams.
The choice to migrate is never taken lightly and the reasons are deeply rooted in US imperialism. But because empathy and compassion are foreign words for Washington bureaucrats, they insist that Western interests are worth destroying entire nations with economic warfare while also denying responsibility for the increased migration seen in recent years.
US Senator Bob Menéndez is the latest to showcase such psychopathic behavior. On May 11, he blasted a group of 21 US House Democrats for asking President Joe Biden to lift sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela, rightly pointing out that these measures are the main factors behind the countries’ widespread suffering which forces people to flee these US-inflicted catastrophes.
“I vehemently disagree with the assessment that US sanctions policies towards Cuba and Venezuela are a leading contributor to this [migration] crisis,” wrote Menéndez, placing blame on the so-called “brutal dictatorships.” We all know how easy it is to be branded a tyrannical or terrorist state when your country does not align with US interests. In Venezuela’s case, it only took exercising sovereignty over our oil.
I am well aware that it would be impossible and contra-productive to call out every single lie and hypocritical statement emanating from Washington (there is not enough virtual ink or lifetimes) but the fire in my chest forces me to address this issue, even if briefly, given that US sanctions and migration have deeply affected my life.
First, it surprises no one that US lawmakers only express concern over the devastating effects of economic sanctions on targeted populations when the consequences hit home. The Democrats’ letter came ahead of Title 42 expiration, which served to expel migrants for three years with no regard for human rights. As expected, people long trapped in limbo in Mexico’s northern border cities are desperate to cross and make this life-risking decision somehow worth it. Yet all they meet is repression.
Second, leave it to warmongering politicians like Menéndez to continue pushing the narrative that US inhumane sanctions policies are not behind the worsened economic conditions in Cuba and Venezuela and that these measures actually defend “democratic values.”
Economic and migration crises are indeed multi-factorial, but every shred of evidence out there shows that Washington’s unilateral coercive measures are the most important factor. Sanctions breed recession, inflation and shortages, which the population feels all at once. They constrain countries’ access to foreign exchange, resulting in declined public spending on healthcare, education, and food imports. The obvious consequence is people leaving in order to survive.
A new study published by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) found that 30 out of 32 specialized academic papers estimated that sanctions induced poverty, inequality, and health and migration crises in targeted countries, which comprise 29 percent of the world economy.
“In many cases, the harm is similar to that suffered during armed conflicts, making economic sanctions possibly the deadliest weapon used by Western powers,” wrote the author, Venezuelan economist Francisco Rodríguez.
In Venezuela’s case, Rodríguez showed that each round of sanctions between 2017 and 2020 was followed by a decline in oil production and revenues, which caused a deep deterioration in health, nutrition, and food security indicators, including an increase in child and adult mortality. The country has also experienced “the largest economic collapse, outside of wartime, since 1950.”
According to former UN Special Rapporteur Alfred de Zayas, Venezuelan deaths were over 100,000 by 2020 as a direct result of sanctions. The number is likely much higher by now.
There is an array of evidence on the adverse effects of sanctions on developing countries and vulnerable populations, but it will continue to be systematically ignored as people’s lives become a bargaining chip for foreign policy goals in the region. Only when problems come home to roost do US officials find some motivation to consider lifting sanctions, while others, like Bob Menéndez, will continue to defend these perverse policies for electoral gains regardless of the deadly consequences. Both sides of the aisle are equally complicit in sanctions crimes across the world.
Meanwhile, people affected by sanctions can only choose between two hells inflicted by the same evil: living in a besieged country or enduring the mental and bodily torture that is migrating.