On Saturday the 16th of May, Nour news agency, which is linked closely to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), warned of repercussions should the United States attempt to prevent an Iranian fuel shipment to Venezuela. The agency said that “If the United States, just like pirates, intends to create insecurity on international waterways, it would be taking a dangerous risk, and that will certainly not go without repercussion.” This came in the wake of comments made by an official in the Trump administration last week, who told Reuters News Agency that the US was considering what measures it could take to enforce American sanctions on the two nations.
Venezuela and Iran, both members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), are currently targets of American sanctions. Venezuela has been particularly hard-hit by these sanctions, and it is currently experiencing a widespread economic collapse. While Venezuela is a crude oil producer, its refining capability has been crippled by the economic crisis. Iran appears to be trying to help remedy these issues. A Venezuelan official said that last month, Venezuela received refining materials from Iran to help it start up the Cardon refinery, crucial for producing petrol for the nation. The fuel shipment currently heading to Venezuela is likely intended to provide similar assistance. American consideration of measures to prevent this shipment, while part of its usual sanction enforcement, are more troubling than usual. Already, it has caused unnecessary tension with Iran (contributing to ongoing hostility between the two nations), and it also risks prolonging suffering in Venezuela.
American enforcement of its sanctions seems excessive at this point in time. Venezuela and Iran were struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic. In light of this, the enforcement of sanctions in an attempt to cause political change will not help. In fact, it can only lead to more suffering and death. There is currently no evidence that economic sanctions do, or even can, force political regime change. Iraq was a target for 12 years between the Gulf War and the Iraq War, and Saddam Hussein retained power the entire time. North Korea has been the target of sanctions for decades, and the Kim family has retained power the entire time. Even if economic sanctions helped to force regime change, the question remains of what form this change takes; it is hard to believe that a new government in Venezuela or Iran would happily align itself with the United States for any reason other than economic relief. In fact, history shows us that when the United States does manage to force regime change, it does not last long. Resentment quickly builds up that leads to later outbursts of anti-American sentiment – the Iranian Revolution of 1979 is a prime example of this.
While the ongoing sanctions appear to be having the intended effect, – that is, putting extreme pressure on the local economies and leadership of the targeted nations – massive human suffering will be occurring as a result. In 2014, a resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council stated that sanctions “can have far-reaching implications for human rights,” including “on the right to life, the rights to health and medical care, the right to freedom from hunger, and the right to an adequate standard of living, food, education, work and housing.” The resolution also notes alarm at the massive suffering imposed on the civilian populations of nations under sanctions, acknowledging “the disproportionate and indiscriminate human costs of unilateral sanctions and their negative effects on the civilian population, in particular women and children.” It is crucial to keep this in mind when thinking about the impacts of sanctions. For the people of Venezuela and Iran, American enforcement of economic sanctions will not provide relief, or cause fundamental political change. Instead, it will only cause more suffering amidst a global pandemic.