By CEPR – March 18, 2020
Washington, DC ― The US government should immediately lift economic sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries to avoid unnecessary deaths and more extensive propagation of the pandemic, said economist Jeffrey Sachs, professor and director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University. While sanctions already cause tens of thousands of needless deaths, the lethal toll during the novel coronavirus pandemic will be made far worse in countries where imports of medications, medical equipment, and the maintenance of water, sanitation, and health care infrastructure are restricted due to the impact of US sanctions. These restrictions will also make it harder for health authorities to control the spread of the disease within their countries.
“The Trump administration is using sanctions against Iran and Venezuela to pressure those governments by inducing widespread suffering,” Sachs said. “This policy is unconscionable and flagrantly against international law. Yet worse, it is now feeding the coronavirus epidemic. It is imperative that the US lift these immoral and illegal sanctions to enable Iran and Venezuela to confront the epidemic as effectively and rapidly as possible.”
The crippling economic sanctions in place against Venezuela and Iran, and a number of the sanctions targeting North Korea, were unilaterally imposed by President Trump, thanks to the broad sanctions powers accorded to the US president under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the National Emergencies Act. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D–MN) recently introduced legislation that would reform these two laws in order to reestablish congressional control and oversight over executive branch sanctions powers.
“There is no doubt that Iran’s capacity to respond to the novel coronavirus has been hampered by the Trump administration’s economic sanctions, and the death toll is likely much higher than it would have been as a result,” Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said. “There can also be no question that the sanctions have affected Iran’s ability to contain the outbreak, leading in turn to more infections, and possibly to the virus’ spread beyond Iran’s borders.”
Economist Francisco Rodríguez, a leading expert on the Venezuelan economy, said: “Regardless of whether one agreed or disagreed with the initial rationale for economic sanctions, it is clear that they severely harm the capacity of affected countries to respond to the global pandemic. This has dramatic consequences on the lives of their citizens and exacerbates a major global health risk.”
Even before the coronavirus began to spread, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned that Venezuela was experiencing serious outbreaks of infectious diseases and noted that there had been “a breakdown of the medical infrastructure in Venezuela” and that “shortages of food, water, electricity, medicine, and medical supplies” had “contributed to an increasing humanitarian crisis.”
“Americans are the most generous people in the world in per capita giving to charity. In the midst of a global pandemic, I believe most Americans want to put politics aside and do everything possible to ensure that every one, wherever we happen to live on this planet, has the best possible chance to obtain food, clean water, good hygiene and medical care,” Linda Bilmes, Daniel Patrick Moynihan Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard University, said. “Removing sanctions is the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds and it is also in our own best interests.”
“In a time of crisis, with tens of millions of people in the affected countries at risk of contracting the disease and possibly dying from it, the only reasonable humanitarian response is to suspend the sanctions until the threat passes,” CEPR Senior Economist Dean Baker said.
“If the US government is going to assist other countries, let alone provide some kind of leadership role during this global crisis, the first thing it should do is ‘cause no harm,’” Weisbrot added. “Economic sanctions, as the US is applying against Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries, cause immense harm.”