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Sanctions Are Strangling the Venezuelan People

U.S. sanctions on Venezuela continue to take a terrible toll on the civilian population. Michael Fox reports:

“We understand that the Pan American Health Organization has had to change the accounts [used to purchase the medicine] four times, because they keep getting blocked,” says Marcel Quintana, the person in charge of the distribution of antiviral meds to the country’s HIV patients, something Venezuela has provided free of charge for decades.

“The blockade is not just against the government, it’s against the people who are living with HIV, it’s against the people living with cancer, because they don’t allow the medicine to come into the country.”

The president’s decision earlier this summer to intensify the economic war on Venezuela was bound to cause greater hardship and suffering, and that is exactly what it has done. Sanctions advocates will claim that medicine is exempt, but these exemptions mean nothing if sanctions make it impossible to arrange for payment. Fear of U.S. penalties also drives away firms that don’t want to take the risk. It is easier for many to avoid doing business in Venezuela entirely. In practice, that means that sick people that need medication won’t get it. In one case, Fox spoke to the mother of a young girl, Jenjerlys, who is an epileptic and cannot get access to most of the medicine she needs to treat her condition. There are many more Venezuelans that need medicine and treatment and can’t get it:

Jenjerlys is just one of more than 300,000 people who are estimated to be at risk because of lack of access to medicines or treatment because of sanctions on the country. That includes 16,000 people who need dialysis, 16,000 cancer patients and roughly 80,000 people with HIV, according to a report published in April by the Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research.

Depriving sick people of essential medicine is pointless cruelty, but this is what U.S. sanctions on Venezuela are doing. Just as the sanctions have made it extremely difficult or impossible for many Iranian patients to get the imported medicine they need, the same thing is happening in Venezuela. All of this was predictable, and this is one of the things critics of the sanctions have been warning about all year long. Waging economic war on an entire country is to wage a war on the people, and the poorest and weakest will pay the highest price.

The sanctions are having destructive effects on the people in other, less obvious ways. For instance, they have made it so that the government cannot import replacement parts for the country’s water system:

According to representatives from Hidrocapital, the state water agency for the capital, Caracas, roughly 15%-20% of Venezuelans don’t have access to potable water in their homes, because the government cannot acquire new foreign-built parts to fix broken pumps and pipes.

“With the blockade, we’ve had situations, where we have the pumps and the motors and they are about to ship and then comes the all-powerful hand of the United States and they block the money in the bank or sanction the company that is working with us, just for selling us this equipment and without seeing that they are affecting people’s lives,” says Maria Flores, vice president of operations at Hidrocapital.

In response, Hidrocapital ships truckloads of water each week to needy communities. But the blockade, and the lack of parts for vehicles, is also impacting the number of water trucks Hidrocapital can keep on the road. Maria Flores says their fleet has been reduced by 75% over the last three years, to now only a handful of trucks.

Lack of access to clean water increases the risks of illness from water-borne diseases, so this poses a serious threat to public health in Venezuela. These are just some of the destructive effects that the sanctions have had, and over time the damage from sanctions will only increase. Sanctions rarely achieve the stated goals of their supporters, but they reliably crush, impoverish, and kill ordinary people who have done nothing to deserve any of this.

Fox concludes his report with a comment from the mother of the epileptic girl:

Subero is not a huge fan of President Maduro. But she also doesn’t blame the government. The problem, she says, are the US sanctions.

“They don’t care. They think they are hurting President Maduro, and they’re really hurting the people,” says Subero. “If they really wanted something good for Venezuela, they would not be doing what they are doing right now.”

Sanctions advocates often claim to sympathize with and be “on the side” of the people, but in practice they are the ones helping to throttle and suffocate the people. Whether they “care” or not, they are responsible for inflicting even more harm on people who were already enduring a severe economic and humanitarian crisis. This is what the misguided and reckless pursuit of regime change looks like, and these are the victims of a cruel and unnecessary policy.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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