Economic Sanctions, a Double-Edged Sword!

People in the US paying $4 a gallon for gasoline and US trade deficits with other nations in the hundreds of billions dollars every year for the last few decades is cause for real debate for every person that is affected by the economy. When it comes to oil, the action taken by the Obama administration declaring economic sanctions against Venezuela is a dangerous game.

By Terrance Nelson
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People in the US paying $4 a gallon for gasoline and US trade deficits with other nations in the hundreds of billions dollars every year for the last few decades is cause for real debate for every person that is affected by the economy. When it comes to oil, the action taken by the Obama administration declaring economic sanctions against Venezuela is a dangerous game. A full 25% of the world’s oil is used by the 5% of the world population in the United States. United States has a $14 trillion federal debt and an unrelenting addiction to foreign oil. Twenty years ago when the US federal debt was $3 trillion, economic sanctions against other nations wasn’t dangerous for the US.

Today, the US is in uncharted grounds - it is no longer an invincible economic fortress. The world’s largest economy is in danger of an economic Waterloo. For their own good, average people in the US must demand the right to be involved in the debate not be left on the sidelines of government policies that will affect everyone. For decades, Washington and its allies have imposed economic sanctions on other nations who do not comply with the wishes of the United Nations or World Trade policies.

Canada has joined the US in declaring economic sanctions against other nations numerous times. As indigenous peoples in North America, our experience with the colonial governments has been continuous undeclared economic sanctions enacted against our people. Deliberate policies and laws by immigrant governments have destroyed our ability to have economic self-sufficiency. What has changed for First Nations in Canada is our leverage over the 2.5 million barrels of oil flowing daily to the US. Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation has the Enbridge depot in Gretna Manitoba sitting on our ancestral lands, a depot that sends one million barrels of oil a day stateside.

The Enbridge depot in Gretna Manitoba sends as much oil to the US as all of Venezuela. What is important to understand is that Canada did not comply with the Treaty One conditions that gave Enbridge rights in our ancestral lands. In Canada indigenous people are at the seventy-second level of the United Nations Living Index while Canada overall is at the second highest level, just below Australia’s number one world ranking. We live under undeclared economic sanctions and have done so for decades. Canada is the largest supplier of foreign oil to the US but the real owners, the indigenous peoples in Canada get no payment for any of the sixty different metals and minerals mined in Canada.

While there are no property rights for indigenous peoples under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the US does enjoy security of energy exports/imports under the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada. Since 9/11, the right of people to question Government has become un-American. The only aspect of the US budget that never gets slashed is military spending. Saddam is dead, but the need for a bogeyman to scare people in the US into never questioning the need for military spending continues.

Despite the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan which will cost the US $1.3 trillion to the end of 2011, the need for the US military to try to control world events and opinion continues. The world saw President Obama sitting and watching as Navy Seals killed Osama Bin Laden and the US people cheered, celebrating in great enthusiasm. The reality for the US, however, is that Osama Bin Laden’s death does not change the economic situation faced by the US 10 years after 9/11.

In April 1998 I accepted an invitation invitation from the Saddam Hussein government to go to Iraq and see first-hand the effects of economic sanctions upon the people of Iraq. Seven indigenous people from Canada with broadcast quality cameras went into Iraq for eleven days and videotaped 25 hours of life under UN economic sanctions. The effects of sanctions were already well known. In December of 1995, the United Nations released a study that found that 567,000 Iraqi children had died in the first 5 years of economic sanctions.

Prior to the 1990 war, the Iraqi dinar was worth three and a half US dollars, by the time we got there in 1998, it took fourteen hundred Iraqi dinars to buy one US dollar. Prior to economic sanctions, Iraq’s largest trading partners were Russia, China and France. Under UN economic sanctions, Iraq’s trade situation was governed by the Food for Oil program. Saddam was good bogeyman, a sadistic paranoid who got Iraq into a bloody eight year war with Iran. Remember what we were told, weapons of mass destruction. No one could defend Saddam after he quit being a US ally and he tried to seize the Kuwaiti oil fields.

With Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden dead, who is the next bogeyman? Do you not find it strange that 15 of the 19 terrorists who hit US in September of 2001 came from Saudi Arabia but never once have we ever heard anyone in the US government talking of the need for regime change in Saudi Arabia. We do however hear the need for regime change in Iran.

Iran is building a nuclear weapon we are told and economic sanctions are necessary. Anyone dealing with Iran is a threat, so we must put economic sanctions on Venezuela, we are told because Venezuela is continuing to defy the United States by trading with Iran. So, is President Hugo Chavez one of the next bogeymen for the US military? Are we to be afraid of Chavez and why is that?

Don’t get me wrong, with the Middle East in crisis and Chavez in trouble, we don’t mind the extra leverage we now have over the US by sitting on the pipelines from Canada that fuel the American economy, it is just that we can’t sell the US anything if the US dollar goes the way of the Iraqi dinar. Eighty-seven percent of all Canadian exports are purchased by the US. Putting sanctions on Venezuela does not make sense.

As dangerous as nuclear proliferation is, pissing off the owners of millions of barrels of foreign oil purchased by the US every day is also dangerous. Changing to the Euro from the US dollar in payment for oil would devastate the US dollar. Six years ago, in May 2005, I wrote, “The United States can financially implode and cause a worldwide recession perhaps even a depression. Americans in a deep recession unable to live in their accustomed lifestyle could become a military superpower with an unstable government”.

Only 9 countries in the world are nuclear capable with over 20,000 nuclear warheads existing in the world, enough to kill all life in the world many times over. No one disputes the need to stop nuclear proliferation, the question however still remains, is it a good strategy to use economic sanctions on other nations when it can become a double edged sword, one that could now be used against the US. The US isn’t putting a stop to the import of Venezuelan oil but wants Chavez to quit dealing with Iran.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) sent two people to Venezuela this week to meet with government officials. For us the reality is that Venezuela has helped indigenous people in the US directly. The poorest reservations in the US have received foreign aid from the Venezuelans. In the dead of winter, home heating oil from Citgo, Venezuela’s gas company in the US, has given a lot to the poorest people in the US, the indigenous people. It is not millions of dollars but more like billions of dollars that Hugo Chavez has given to other nations. Perhaps it doesn’t mean a lot to the average person but Venezuela has a choice. Oil gives Chavez the ability to chose who he sells to.

If the Gulf of Mexico spill is any indication, allowing multi-national corporations like BP and US oil companies free rein over oil is not a good idea. If people in the US are getting tired of paying 4 dollars for a gallon of gas, if they are worried about where their dollars are going and asking if their money at the gas pump is financing the next nuclear weapons, maybe it is time to ask questions. Being in Iraq in 1998 was not a popular thing to do and the two AIM members in Venezuela today may be seen as un-American by some in the US government, but it is a right non the less. More than a right it is responsibility to ask questions of your government. To hold accountable the Government of the United States is not un-American, it is a patriotic duty, it is American in every sense of the word.

*Chief Terrance Nelson is a member of the American Indian Movement.