The U.S. should loosen the economic vise against Iran and Venezuela

Some may have seen the beautiful story of Cuba allowing a cruise ship, denied by other countries, to dock in its harbor though some on board had tested positive for COVID-19. This ship was full of mostly British citizens who were permitted to fly back home from Cuba. In addition, Cuba, along with China, is sending doctors and supplies to a number of countries around the world to help them fight the pandemic.

These actions represent the type of international solidarity and show of humanity that the world needs right now. Sadly, the federal government in Washington is demonstrating the very opposite at this time, removing all of its Peace Corps staff from around the world, and, even worse, increasing sanctions against countries like Cuba, Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. It is accurate to say that the U.S. is weaponizing the virus against these countries

As for Iran, NPR reports, “[t]he sheer number of infections sweeping through Iran is worrying international health experts. U.S. sanctions have strangled the country’s economy and hurt its health care system,” and its ability to confront the pandemic. Iran’s “Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the country was in urgent need of face masks, ventilators and surgical gowns and then blamed the U.S. for what he called economic terrorism.” Due to the sanctions, Iran is reportedly the only country in the world that cannot buy medicines needed to fight the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Iran is reporting that an Iranian is dying every 10 minutes from COVID-19, and it is warning that “millions” of Iranians could die due to the virus. Millions! If this happens, the U.S. government will bear a great deal of moral and legal responsibility, for it is knowingly contributing to the spread of the pandemic in Iran.

As for Venezuela, the current sanctions against that country are one factor starving it of medicines and supplies needed to fight the virus. And President Trump is only increasing sanctions, even in the midst of the pandemic. Trump is doing so under the pretext of claiming that President Nicolás Maduro is allegedly trafficking drugs, but the U.S. government’s own data belies this claim. Nonetheless, the suffering that Trump’s increased sanctions will cause will be very real.

The latest, and quite cruel, example of the increased pressure against Venezuela is the decision of the International Monetary Fund, giving in to U.S. coercion, to deny Venezuela’s emergency request for a quite modest, $5 billion loan to confront the coronavirus pandemic

And even as it sanctions countries into oblivion as it ham-handedly attempts to confront the pandemic at home, the U.S. is finding the resources and wherewithal to continue its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to support the Saudi slaughter in Yemen which, among many other atrocities, has already led to the “largest cholera outbreak in modern history, reaching more than a million cases.”

As a number of religious scholars have warned, “plagues expose the foundations of injustice” in our societies. The current pandemic is exposing not only our government’s utter failures to protect its own citizens, but also its profound lack of human decency in dealing with other nations. It is time for serious moral self-reflection upon this very unpleasant reality, and an immediate change in course before more lives are lost due to our nation’s moral folly.

Stone is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker and author. Kovalik teaches international human rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, and is author of “No More War: How the West Violates International Law by Using ‘Humanitarian’ Intervention to Advance Economic and Strategic Interests.”.