Niger CoupNiger is a landlocked country in western Africa bordered by Algeria, Libya, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and Malo. The country became a republic under the constitution signed in 2010. But this past July, a military-staged coup overthrew Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum. Niger’s economy is now struggling due to rising prices and closing borders. Here is some information about Niger’s coup.

Niger’s Coup and Food Insecurity

Military coup leaders took President Bazoum hostage in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Threats of his execution are preventing foreign intervention, but several surrounding states imposed sanctions prohibiting transactions with Niger.

As one of the world’s most impoverished nations, Niger was already struggling financially before the coup. The country suffers from intense drought, and more than 4.3 million people rely on food aid to survive. That becomes an issue as some of Niger’s biggest donors, like Germany and France, are cutting aid. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also closed key borders for Niger’s imports and exports to Benin and Nigeria.

Since the revolt, the price of common goods has increased throughout Niger. Rice, for instance, rose from 11,000 West African francs a bag to 13,000 francs in just a few days. As a landlocked nation, Niger relies on imports from neighboring countries for staple foods like rice. But sanctions preventing transactions are driving those prices up, making it difficult for many people to afford daily necessities.  

The Impact on Fuel Costs

Another key resource seeing price increases is fuel. Drivers who transport passengers for a living suffer from profit cuts as they are forced to direct funds toward higher fuel costs. Many families have also suffered from power loss since Nigeria, which supplies 70% of Niger’s electricity, cut fuel to Niger. Even before the coup, less than one out of five people had access to electricity. Now, that number is even lower. 

Niger’s Hydroelectric Potential

Prior to the takeover, Niger’s hopes for economic improvement rested on using its hydroelectric potential. The Chinese company Gezhouba Group was building a hydropower plant on the Niger River to help improve Niger’s energy production. However, the company suspended construction activities due to other ECOWAS sanctions. Now, the dam’s completion will likely be delayed, further hurting progress on Niger’s electricity development. 

Niger coup leaders also stopped UN agencies and NGOs from working in military operation zones. Consequently, organizations that work to help refugees, like the UN’s International Organization for Migration, are unable to provide aid. Coup violence displaced more than 20,000 in Niger, and more than 700,000 already experienced displacement in the country. Since humanitarian services cannot access Niger to provide displaced people refuge, those who are displaced are often at a loss.

What the United Nations Has Been Doing

The United Nations has been seeking contact with coup leaders since its humanitarian services have been halted. “We are reaching out to the de facto authorities in Niger to better understand what this means and the implications for the humanitarian work,” said UN spokesperson Alessandra Velluci.

The United States is also one of Niger’s main suppliers of military and security assistance. However, following the coup, the U.S. suspended certain aid programs including military education and training that help Niger fight terrorism. The United States Congress mandates that the country must halt all aid to any government subjected to a military coup, and while U.S. officials have avoided the use of that particular word, many of the aid programs have been halted.

How the US Has Helped

Many foreign policy advisors argue that the Biden administration should formally declare the events a coup, as the military leaders are still refusing to negotiate. However, that would result in the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in American funding. The U.S., as an ally to Niger, sent about $218 million in security assistance and $664 million in health and development assistance to Niger between 2017 and 2022. Similar aid remains at stake in the coming years if coup leaders remain unwilling to restore democracy. 

The coup leaders argued that the country under Bazoum was subject to poor economic management and security, yet recent growth statistics suggest otherwise. Niger’s economy rebounded in 2022 after the pandemic’s crash with a growth of 11.5%. Growth was expected to reach 12.4% in 2024 if targets for oil production and international financial support were met, but those prospects are now unlikely

Niger’s political and economic futures are highly uncertain. But while borders remain closed and aid programs stay halted, Nigeriens suffer from resource access. Sanctions that cause Niger’s public to suffer are harming the nation’s stability.

– Lindsey Osit
Photo: Flickr

Niger’s coup
While Africa’s so-called Coup Belt may have been enveloped in a period of relative dormancy over the past decade, recent coups and rebellions in the Sahel have reignited concerns over political stability and governance in the region. The 2023 military takeover in Niger serves as one such prominent reminder of the underlying challenges facing the Sahel, highlighting the devastation insurgency can bear on critical aid and developmental support reaching its nations while forcing consideration of alternative routes to attaining regional sustenance and growth.

The Resurgence of West and Central Africa’s Coup Belt

The geographical stretch of West and Central Africa’s Sahel, what is referred to as its Coup Belt, has witnessed a resurgence of its historical tendency towards significant political unrest, characterized by rebellion and conflict, including Niger’s recent 2023 coup.

Turmoil in the Backdrop of One of the Poorest Nations

Within Niger’s harsh landscape, poverty looms large, leading to its Human Development Index ranking as the world’s third lowest in 2023. A staggering 41% of Niger’s population grapples with extreme poverty, while 40% of the state budget hinges on foreign aid.

Pressure on resources essential for sustenance has also been on the rise, with spillover from inflated food prices in Nigeria, the influx of refugees from conflict in neighboring states, as well as the lingering effects of Niger’s 2021 drought.

Additionally, early 2023 reports indicate that Niger struggles with severe food insecurity, affecting more than 3.3 million individuals, with approximately 7.3 million more faced with moderate food insecurity while perched on the edge of worsening conditions. Hence, agitation from the recent coup and its aftermath threatens to plunge a further 28% of the population into an even more dire state of hunger.

The International Reaction to Niger’s Coup

On July 26, Niger experienced momentous political upheaval as the military revolted, detaining President Mohamed Bazoum, suspending the constitution and installing General Abdourahmane Tchiani as the new head of state. The military further established the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, a governing body that took hold of both legislative and executive powers.

Niger’s coup was immediately and vigorously met with international condemnation. Nations and international and regional organizations were quick to respond with varying means of pressure on the governing military to restore constitutional order, primarily through sanctions and rollback on foreign aid and assistance.

Following Niger’s coup, the EU promptly announced a suspension of all budgetary support and the cessation of security collaborations with Niger, a sentiment that reverberated in the individual responses of European governments to the coup.

International and Regional Organizations Respond to the Coup

Prior to the 2023 Coup, Niger had already been heavily dependent on international assistance. With external budget support and loans accounting for almost half its annual budget, foreign aid to Niger constitutes a crucial lifeline for its fiscal operations. Niger receives infusions of nearly $2 billion in development aid annually, making it West Africa’s second-largest beneficiary of international assistance.

Niger also possesses one of the most substantial portfolios within the World Bank in the African region, valued at $4.5 billion. Between 2022 to 2023 alone, Niger received a noteworthy $600 million in direct budgetary support extended by the World Bank.

However, in tandem with the global community after the coup, the World Bank suspended disbursements for most operations in Niger, except specific partnerships. While such measures are aimed at quelling political insurgency, they also bear direct repercussions on the livelihood of Nigeriens. For example, the termination of an ongoing joint cash program established between the Bank and Niger intended to provide support to vulnerable populations, is anticipated to impact an estimated 66,000 Nigerien households.

Regional Sanctions Highlight the Extent of Nigerien Dependency on Foreign Aid

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had committed to ending the recent surge of coups within the Sahel region of West Africa. Following the coup in Niger, ECOWAS enforced a series of sanctions, encompassing border closures, cessation of commercial activities, asset freezes and the suspension of financial aid to Niger. The Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) also took a resolute stance, freezing Niger’s assets and shuttering its local branches due to operational risks.

The ECOWAS sanctions induced far-reaching effects, leading to the cancellation of Niger’s planned $51 million bond issuance in the West African regional debt market, invoking uncertainties over Niger’s ability to meet debt repayments. Additionally, the gravity of ECOWAS sanctions on Niger was exemplified by Nigeria’s cessation of power supply through the Birnin-Kebbi line, causing prolonged power outages in the Capital Niamey, among other cities.

Furthermore, Niger’s landlocked status amplified the impact as neighboring countries strictly enforced border restrictions. Nigeria, which supplies 70% of Niger’s electricity, severed the power link, raising concerns over economic repercussions across all sectors. As Niger’s primary supplier of food imports, the cessation of trade with Nigeria also resulted in a 17% increase in the price of rice within the first week of sanctions.

Nevertheless, a glimmer of hope remains. While ECOWAS had similarly imposed sanctions on Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, it eventually lifted them, despite their remaining under military rule.

Hope for Niger

The military government of Niger has announced the reopening of borders with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Chad. From among its neighbors, Mali and Burkina Faso have already signaled solidarity by planning a joint official delegation to support Niger. Algeria also emerged as an ally to Niger’s positive trajectory, advocating for a peaceful diplomatic resolution that would enable it to honor its long-standing commitment to building deeper political, security and economic relations with Niger.

Finally, in a broader context, while Western powers exert significant pressure on Niger for the restoration of the deposed president, indications of support for ECOWAS military interference remain scant, as concerns regarding potential immigration flows towards Europe in the aftermath likely deter from the idea.

– Nadia Asaad
Photo: Flickr

Sanctioned Countries
Sanctions are weapons, and like any other wartime invention, they have changed over time to become more powerful and more precise. The U.S. example of this evolution of force, as in so many other cases (nuclear weapons, military aircraft), is particularly instructive. Sanctions expert for the Economist Group Agathe Demarais, in a 2023 interview for NPR, notes that a mere 13% of U.S. sanctions since 1970 worked as intended, and although they have grown more sophisticated — from the imprecise and unsuccessful 1960 trade embargo against Cuba to the 2003 financial sanctioning of banks collaborating with North Korea, and finally to the individual targeting of several Russian businessmen listed as the 100-richest Russians in 2018 — they still tend to inflict a shotgun pattern of harm, affecting the innocent as well as the guilty of the sanctioned countries.

Unintended Effects

Even when sanctions accomplish their foreign-policy goals, they can still crush the populations in those sanctioned countries. The 2012 U.S. financial sanctions against Iran helped secure a more moderate political regime and reign in the country’s nuclear program. Consumer prices also rose by 30% and living standards fell dramatically, crippling Iran’s COVID-19 response and inflating the pandemic’s death toll in the country into the hundreds of thousands. A combination of financial and oil sanctions against Venezuela in 2017 contributed to a 1 million percent rise in inflation in a country already plagued by shortages of food, medicine and sometimes even the basic materials Venezuelans needed to bury their dead relatives.

Franciso Rodriguez of the Josef School for International Studies, writing for the Financial Times in May 2023, cites studies showing sanctions inflicting Great Depression levels of economic harm on countries and slashing 1.4 years off the life expectancy of their female citizens. Like a tactical nuclear weapon, sanctions can become technically more precise in hitting their target, but the fallout that follows is still diffuse, destructive and often fatal.

Gaps in the Wall

Thankfully, international efforts by both governments and humanitarian organizations to relieve the strain sanctions often imposed upon already desperate populations came to fruition on December 9, 2022, when The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) adopted SCR 2664. The resolution, introduced by the U.S. and Ireland, allows “funds and assets necessary for humanitarian assistance and activities to meet basic human needs” to cut through existing or future U.N. financial sanctions. Efforts to provide disaster relief, medical supplies, education and even general “peacebuilding” and development could now be granted licenses by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control. This gradual thawing trend in the imposition of sanctions precedes SCR 2664 when in December 2021 the UNSC adopted measures allowing humanitarian aid to cut through its financial sanctions on Afghanistan.

Brick by Brick: The Way Forward

There is still much work to be done. Outside of actual criminality, NGOs and foreign aid organizations must still operate within the confines that sanctions set in sanctioned countries. Until public pressure convinced President Biden to grant limited exceptions, attempts to help the victims of the deadly February earthquakes in Syria and Turkey were stymied by American sanctions against those nations, with donation sites like GoFundMe cooperating by actively scouring mention of the disaster from their websites.

As for progressive measures like SCR2664, Emanuela-Chiara Gillard, writing for Chatham House Institute in 2022, was careful to point out that there are exceptions to the exceptions because they apply only to financial sanctions. Provisions like food and equipment for removing landmines must still pass through an arduous process of authorization before they can reach many countries. Starving nations like North Korea, already encircled by a variety of trade restrictions, are especially cut off.

It is incumbent upon all humanitarian organizations, and the ordinary people who support their work, to continue to lobby for humanitarian avenues that cut through sanctions. It appears there is a need for organizations to educate themselves on the current state of these exceptions, especially in countries that may superficially seem beyond the reach of humanitarian assistance. For instance, Russia’s war with Ukraine has not completely isolated it from Western assistance, as illustrated in a 2023 OFAC fact sheet which lists in detail every U.S. and U.K. humanitarian license and exception for aid and export to and from Russia.

– John Merino
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Relief in Burundi with Sanctions Lifting
The United States and European Union lifted aid-focused sanctions in the past year on Burundi. After six years, the U.S. removed trade sanctions on the African country in 2021, and as of Dec. 12, 2022, the EU also lifted sanctions. Enacted during Burundi’s political crisis, the sanctions perpetuated poverty levels in the country, according to The Citizen. Burundi’s leaders look forward to accelerated economic growth and poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting.

In 2015, former President Pierre Nkurunziza bid for a third consecutive term, and Burundi underwent a political crisis resulting in 1,200 deaths and 400,000 people fleeing their country. In response, the U.S. and EU imposed sanctions on Burundi to bar the corrupt allocation of relief funds and work more directly with nongovernmental agencies in the country. At the time of Nkurunziza’s third run, Burundi experienced major social disparity and political instability.

Political Instability in Burundi

At Burundi’s height of political corruption, government officials had tried to take NGO funding and inhibited meetings with donors. The U.S. and EU implemented economic sanctions to suspend direct aid to the Burundi government as a preventive measure. In the face of sanctions, the Burundi government chose a policy of confrontation over compromise, according to the International Crisis Group. External aid accounted for more than 50% of the funding for Burundi’s development projects. Once the sanctions cut foreign direct investment, life in Burundi became drastically more expensive.

Burundi’s Costs of Living Rose

Once sanctions occurred, everyday expenses and essentials sharply rose, according to the Crisis Group. Fuel shortages made commutes expensive, with bus tickets doubling and fish prices tripling to cover diesel costs. Burundians struggled with rising food and transportation costs, working multiple jobs and living off credit lines. From 2004 to 2016, Burundi’s annual growth rate fell from a gross domestic product average of 4.2% to −0.6%. Burundi’s inflation rates soared from 4.4% in 2014 to 16.4% in 2017. The Crisis Group estimates Burundi lost a decade of health and education advancements.

Poverty Reduction in Burundi

Burundi officials see the road to economic recovery and hope to boost bilateral trade ties with the reopening of the country’s borders. Burundi plans to revamp the Bujumbura trading port and two more trading posts with neighboring countries to further encourage the flow of imports and economic growth.

Poverty relief in Burundi with sanctions lifting show promise. Burundi’s inflation rates are stabilizing, dropping to 8.4% in 2021. The African Development Bank Group projects GDP growth of 4.6% in 2023, with poverty rates on track to improve.

 – Micaella Balderrama
Photo: Flickr

Sanctions on Russia
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, many countries and entities have placed sanctions on Russia in support of Ukraine. Beginning on February 22, 2022, the United States began placing sanctions on Russia in order to increase pressure on the country to end the war in Ukraine.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, U.S. businesses opened up firms in Russia. The economy improved, especially in recent years. In 2018, Russia’s poverty rate according to the national poverty line stood at 12.6%, and it reduced slightly to 12.1% in 2020. The World Bank projects “that the poverty rate under the US$5.5 poverty line will decrease to 3.5[%] in 2021.”

But, with the sanctions in place, Vladimir Putin’s former chief of economics, Andrei Illarionov, predicts that the poverty level in Russia will increase. In April 2022, Illarionov  said to the BBC, “We’ll probably see doubling on the number of those people, maybe even tripling.”

Companies Halting Business in Russia

In March 2022, U.S. companies like Coca-Cola and McDonald’s made decisions to temporarily stop business in Russia in response to increasing pressure on global companies to take a firm stance against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Business activities in Russia equated to about 2% of Coca-Cola’s “operating income and revenue.” Similarly, Coca-Cola’s rival, Pepsi, which has a bigger presence in Russia, announced it will “stop production and sale of Pepsi,” but it will continue to produce and sell essential products like milk and baby food.

Along with Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Starbucks announced a decision to halt business activities in Russia and stop shipments of Starbucks products to Russia, but it will continue to pay its employees.

The Impact on the Russian Economy

In 2018, Putin put in place a goal to reduce the national poverty rate by 50% over the following six years. However, due to the detrimental consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, in July 2020, Putin adjusted this target date to 2030.

However, recent events in Ukraine and the sanctions on Russia are expected to erase about 15 years of economic growth in Russia. The Institute for International Finance predicts that the Russian economy will plummet by about 15% in 2022.

Because of the sanctions on Russia, inflation in Russia could increase by 20% or more by the end of 2022. Meanwhile, inflation will increase between 5% and 8% in the West.

Impact on the Russian People

According to the World Bank, more than 17,000 Russian people live in poverty as of 2020. Due to the sanctions on Russia, the rate will only increase as more people lose their jobs. Illarionov explained to the BBC that it would be nearly impossible for Russia to look toward a positive future if the current situation continues.

Professor of economics and dean at the School of Business Administration at Cedarville University, Dr. Jeffrey Haymond, told The Borgen Project that “The sanctions in Russia will proportionally hurt Russia more than other countries, especially since Russia is a very unbalanced economy, producing very little outside of its expansive natural resources.”

Humanitarian Efforts

Chief Executive and Officer of Pepsi Ramon Laguarta told the BBC, “As a food and beverage company, now more than ever, we must stay true to the humanitarian aspect of our business. That means we have a responsibility to continue to offer our other products in Russia, including daily essentials such as milk and other dairy offerings, baby formula and baby food.”

Meanwhile, McDonald’s rival, Burger King, announced in March 2022 that it will keep its restaurants open in Russia. However, it allocated $3 million for the support of Ukrainian refugees, further stating that Ukrainian refugees in European nations can receive Whopper meal vouchers at no cost. Restaurant Brands International, the company that owns the Burger King brand, told the BBC that it would “redirect its profits from more than 800 franchised operations in Russia to humanitarian efforts.”

Despite the sanctions on Russia, brands like Pepsi and Burger King continue their humanitarian efforts to ensure that the Russian people do not suffer due to an invasion in which they play no part.

– Chris Karenbauer
Photo: Unsplash

Economic sanctions aim to inflict economic harm on a targeted country, select industries within it or organizations or specific individuals with the intended goal of changing that entity’s malign behavior. For one to deem a sanction regime effective, it must inflict economic harm and subsequently change the targeted state’s behavior. As a result, sanctions can increase poverty and cause harm to citizens of the countries that suffer them.

Economic sanctions have proven effective at inflicting economic harm, however, many often overlook that sanctions not only harm the targeted state and its people but also impact the state that implements them. Sanctions reduce the revenues of U.S. companies and individuals, costing billions of dollars in forfeited opportunities or sales and thousands of jobs.

However, countries do not often implement sanctions for punishment’s sake, but rather to change the atrocious behavior of other governmental actors. However, the record shows sanctions rarely get their desired outcome and often hurt the most vulnerable parts of a civilian population. For example, sanctions imposed on Haiti led to an expensive and dangerous mass exodus to the U.S. and the military sanctions on Pakistan led their government to pursue a nuclear option because they no longer had access to U.S. weapons. The U.N. imposed sanction regime in the 1990s on Iraq is illustrative of how sanctions rarely attain their goal and primarily harm the civilian population.

UN Sanction Regime in Iraq

The U.N. implemented comprehensive sanctions on Iraq on August 6, 1990, in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait just four days earlier. The sanctions blocked all imports and exports into Iraq seeking to pressure Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and abandon his pursuit of WMDs. After seven months of comprehensive sanctions, Hussein continued the invasion until January 16, 1991, when the U.S. declared Operation Desert Storm. The U.N. coalition forces drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait in 100 hours.

The economic sanctions evidently inflicted economic harm on Iraq, with the worst effects befalling the most vulnerable parts of the population. In 1993, just three years into the comprehensive sanction regime, the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reported that the sanctions had made severe hunger and malnutrition commonplace for most of the Iraqi population. As per WFP and FAO reported, those severe hunger and malnourishment impacted were vulnerable groups including children under 5 years old, expectant or nursing women, widows, orphans, the ill, the elderly and the disabled.

It was the military force that compelled Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait, not sanctions. The Iraqi leadership had proven itself able to outmaneuver the impacts of economic sanctions. Hence Iraq’s ability to sustain a ground invasion, under intense sanctions, for seven months after just fighting a war with Iran. The sanctions did not attain their goals as Saddam Hussein remained in power after the negotiated cease-fire, an agreement he largely ignored. By 1997, 31% of Iraqi children under 5-years-old suffered from chronic malnutrition as a result of the sanctions implemented in 1990. This clearly shows how sanctions can increase poverty in the countries that experience them.

Sanctions: A Poverty-National Security Connection

An overreliance on part of the U.S. on using sanctions has eroded U.S. national security and global security in a couple of ways. Anti-democratic regimes, such as Kim Jong-un’s or the former Saddam Hussein regime, frequently scoff at the threat of sanctions because the leadership of these countries is aware they will likely be able to mitigate the effects of sanctions on themselves.

Additionally, sanctions can have the effect of driving civilian populations to be increasingly dependent on their sanctioned government. Sanctions cause scarcity and the sanctioned government is the least vulnerable to resource scarcity. Scarcity enables the sanctioned government to wrest greater control over the distribution of goods, reinforcing the targeted government’s power over its people. In short, comprehensive sanctions can increase poverty and consequently make those that poverty hit the hardest even more dependent on their malign targeted governments.

The U.S. overreliance on sanctions also threatens the superiority of the U.S. dollar. The U.S. derives a great deal of its national security from the dominance of the dollar. The overuse of sanctions leads countries to reevaluate their dependence on the dollar. As Benn Steil noted a director of international economics at the Council on Foreign relations, when one uses this tool too frequently, it becomes increasingly cost-effective for other countries to evaluate alternatives to the U.S. dollar. The unrestrained usage of sanctions increases global poverty and compromises the U.S.’ national security.

Good News: Shifting Stance on Sanctions

There has been a promising shift in the public’s perception of sanctions. In February 2022, the U.N. held a meeting on sanctions, specifically, on how to prevent their unintended consequences. Martin Griffiths, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief delivered a few salient suggestions for sanctions going forward. To ensure that sanctions do not punish civilians for the crimes of their governments, Griffiths suggested to the U.N. Security Council that before countries implement sanctions, they include humanitarian carve-outs in their plan for sanctions. This recommendation would ensure that instead of initiating humanitarian carve-outs after the realization of the obstruction of humanitarian goods, countries can avoid this obstruction by accounting for it before implementing sanctions.

Chester Lankford
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Sanctions on Belarus
Amid continuing United States (U.S.) and European Union (EU) sanctions on Belarus, border officials reported that four
 people have died on the Poland-Belarus border from hypothermia and exhaustion. Polish authorities have been severely restricting the arrival of immigrants. They have been sending people back from the border, leading many to camp out in the dense forests bordering Belarus.

Lukashenko: Reason for the Sanctions

The EU and the U.S. placed numerous economic sanctions on Belarus in response to Belarus President Lukashenko’s threatening political tactics. Lukashenko’s administration grounded a Ryanair flight containing a prominent activist from the opposition and detained numerous journalists critiquing Lukashenko. The Belarus government arrested 35,000 protesters and is holding 626 dissidents as political prisoners. These actions underline a long-term trend that Lukashenko’s actions violate key democratic ideals, as well as implications that he is unfit for leadership or that he won his 2020 election on fraudulent grounds.

Poland’s national government has also indicated that Lukashenko’s administration is responsible for flying in Middle Eastern refugees and pushing them to attempt illegally crossing the Poland-Belarus border. There have been 8,000 attempts during 2021, more than 3,500 attempts in August 2021 and more than 4,000 attempts in the first three weeks of September 2021. Polish authorities do not have enough resources to handle this influx and the over 1,400 in Polish detention centers. In response to these actions, Poland’s permanent representative at the EU, Andrzej Sados, has indicated Poland’s support for heightened sanctions. 

Sanctions’ Heavy Burden on Belarus

Sanctions on Belarus include rigid restrictions on military and surveillance technology, potassium-based fertilizer and petrol/petrol-based products. Bilateral trade between the EU and Belarus increased by 45% in the last 10 years, with 18.1% of Belarus’s goods trade stemming from the EU. Almost 25% of these exports were petroleum or potassium-based fertilizer so sanctions on these items put a heavy burden on the economy.

The U.S. and the EU also sanctioned Belarus’ cigarette industry that contributes significantly to European cigarette smuggling.  For example, over 90% of the cigarettes smuggled into Lithuania in 2020 came from Belarus.

Thirdly, the U.S. EU sanctions on Belarus include sanctions on politically active business leaders and sports entities. Canada joined the U.S. and the EU to sanction oligarch Nikolai Vorobei. The U.S. sanctioned the Belarus National Olympic Committee because Lukashenko’s son controls it.

Sanctions Threaten Belarus’ Success Combatting Poverty

With an economy so dependent on state-owned agricultural or industrial companies and their exports to the rest of Europe, the remarkable progress Belarus has made in lowering its poverty rate is at risk. Between 2000 and 2013, the poverty rate in Belarus fell by 60%. Economists have warned for the last decade that Belarus’ economy depends far too much on the exportation of a few goods. Further, the drop in poverty has not correlated with a rise in living standards. Lastly, the Belarusian rouble has also fallen by more than 30% against the euro since the beginning of 2021. 

The sanctions threaten Belarus’ economic gains, along with Belarus’ dependence on Russia, its largest trading partner. The loss of Russia’s oil and gas subsidies could devastate Belarus.

New Government, New Tech Sector, New Hope

The U.S. and EU sanctions, Lukashenko’s suppression of dissent, the border deaths and Russia’s stranglehold each jeopardize Belarus’ future. A change of leadership is the first step toward positive change. As Klaus-Jürgen Gern from the Kiel Institute for the World Economy said, “But without change, the economy will probably stagnate and decline in relative terms over the next decade because the incentives — like modernization and new investment — won’t be in place.”

Also, a new technology sector is emerging in Minsk. There are more than 450 new tech startups that are not beholden to Moscow. This is a glimmer of hope for Belarus to modernize and relieve itself from harsh leadership and crippling sanctions.

– Shruti Patankar
Photo: Flickr

Iran's ImpoverishedIn the past decade, Iran’s impoverished have floundered due to an overwhelming bombardment of economic sanctions. Documented human rights violations and insincere promises to slow its uranium enrichment program have garnered the Iranian state’s pariah status. Iran’s tumultuous relationship with the West has only worsened following President Trump’s decision to abandon the multilateral nuclear agreement and impose harsher sanctions in 2018. Forced to pay the price of their government’s politics, Iranians have found themselves virtually isolated from the West. With the potential lifting of sanctions, hope is on the horizon for impoverished Iranians.

Potential Lifting of Sanctions

Iran’s reintegration into the international economy may be coming sooner than expected as the Biden administration has made concerted efforts to restore the nuclear deal and implement some stability in the region. Following initial negotiations, Iranian chief of staff Mahmoud Vaezi proclaimed to state media that more than 1,000 sanctions would be lifted. “An agreement has been reached to remove all insurance, oil and shipping sanctions that were imposed by Trump,” said Vaezi on June 23, 2021. With the lifting of sanctions, Iran’s impoverished will see their economic outlooks drastically improve.

Loss of Jobs

While U.S. sanctions are intended to target the hardliner regime, Iran’s most marginalized communities have paid the biggest price. Iran’s energy, shipping and financial sectors have been completely stifled, causing essentially all foreign investment to dry up. President Trump explained that the strict sanctions “intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.” Since 2018, Iran’s gross domestic product (GDP) has shrunk by nearly 15%. In addition, the unemployment rate has risen to nearly 20%. Unsurprisingly, the IMF reported zero growth in Iran’s economy in 2020.

Economic Downturn

The stagnancy of the economy can be felt everywhere, most notably in the rapid devaluation of the Iranian currency. The reinstatement of sanctions in 2018 has caused the Iranian currency to lose 50% of its value against the U.S. dollar. As a result, the rial (the Iranian dollar) is increasingly worthless. The effects of such extreme inflation have been disastrous, to say the least.

While the regime and its key supporters have been able to subsist due to rampant corruption, Iran’s most impoverished citizens have not been so fortunate. In Tehran, it is commonplace for the children of Iran’s impoverished to wait in a government-subsidized queue for free food. Parents simply cannot afford to feed their children at home due to the rapid increase in daily costs.

The costs of essential items such as meat and vegetables have more than doubled. Equally concerning, the price of healthcare has skyrocketed. Iran’s impoverished have no resources to access affordable healthcare, unable to pay the rising medical prices for tests. Even the prices of tobacco have increased by nearly 80%.

Reactions to Vaezi’s Claim

Understandably, Iranians were ecstatic upon hearing Vaezi’s claim that the infamous sanctions would be brought to an end. However, the U.S. has since denied that an official agreement has been reached. An unnamed spokesperson for the U.S. has emphasized that “During negotiations of this complexity, negotiators try to draft text that captures the main issues, but again, nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” While there is still work to do, it seems that the conversation between the two countries is headed in the right direction, bringing the hope of reduced poverty in Iran.

– Conor Green
Photo: Flickr

Sanctions prevent humanitarian aid
When looking at what contributes to poverty in a nation, one might first look at the government and economy to try and figure out what is inhibiting the state’s growth. Sometimes though, the hindering factor does not lay within the developing state’s own government or economy, but a neighboring one’s, or perhaps in one with a substantial trade relationship with the state. Many struggling countries establish trade relationships with more economically stable nations to help foster their own economies. When others impose sanctions on these ‘helper’ countries, this can impact how quickly or how much they can still receive these resources. Moreover, sanctions can prevent humanitarian aid.

Sanctions Set Ripples

The U.S. and Iran’s relationship soured following the broken agreement between them regarding nuclear arms. Afterward, the U.S. killed top Iranian general, Soleimani, and imposed sanctions against 18 Iranian banks. The intention was to keep Americans from engaging with the banks. Meanwhile, the U.S. government imposed secondary sanctions on other countries to prevent them from doing business with those same banks.

While the U.S. issued a statement in December 2020 that stated the sanctions would not apply to humanitarian aid, Iran claimed that the U.S.’s sanctions have strained its relationship with South Korea, a U.S. ally. As a result, $7 billion from oil sales is still in South Korea due to U.S. sanctions. Iran claims this money was for humanitarian goods such as COVID-19 vaccines.

Influenced by the U.S. sanctions, South Korea’s relationship with Iran has deteriorated and inhibited the economic relationships, and assumedly others, since the U.S. secondary sanctions on nations engaging with the 18 Iranian banks do not exclusively apply to South Korea.

Effects On Humanitarian Aid

The act of imposing sanctions poses a threat to humanitarian aid in a variety of different ways. The most obvious is if an organization or staff member has sanctions directly or explicitly against them, although this remains hypothetical.

Another threat involves the fear and paranoia surrounding the idea of sanctions. In trying to avoid sanctions, many humanitarian organizations act with more caution than is necessary. As a result, this stringent self-policing ends up making their work less effective, which is counterintuitive to the purpose of humanitarian aid. This is observable in the case of Afghanistan, where groups avoid working in areas where the government does not have control – although that does not mean that people do not require aid there. Therefore, the sanctions directly prevent regions in Afghanistan from receiving humanitarian aid.

Corruption and Sanctions

Studies found a correlation between corruption and GDP, meaning the poorer the country, the more likely it has a high level of corruption. A high level of corruption, on the other hand, harms economic growth, creating a possible cycle of corruption and economic stagnation. However, the graphs and knowledge that experts have presented do not indicate the causality of low GDPs leading to corruption. One cannot say a country is corrupt because it is poor. Since fighting corruption is one of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s priorities, corrupt countries receive more sanctions than their counterparts, damaging the affected nations’ economy even more.

However, this does not only mean that corrupt countries lose money but it also most likely results in people in need receiving less aid. Reducing aid and applying sanctions also means that people have less money and trade options. Countries that receive sanctions may also lose jobs as industries suffer and businesses shutter, leaving the people and humanitarian workers to take the brunt of the consequences that those imposing the sanctions intended for their governments.

Relief International is Helping Iran

Regardless of the sanctions against Iran, Relief International has been working in Iran since 1990 when it emerged to help respond to the Manjil-Rudbar earthquake, the worst national disaster in the country’s history that had a death toll of 50,000 people. From there, Relief International has taken it upon itself to send whatever resources Iran might need, considering that it is a disaster-prone area. In 2019, 12,400 people received assistance from Relief International in the wake of the Nowruz floods. About 11,500 Afghan refugee students enrolled in Relief International’s education programs, while 2,500 were able to increase their income due to Relief International’s job programs. The organization has rehabilitated 27 schools after natural disasters ravaged them.

Avoiding Sanctions

Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, Relief International has prioritized sending medical supplies to frontline healthcare workers in Iran. Items as simple as masks, gloves and hospital coveralls are basic but essential to protecting healthcare workers as they fight on the pandemic’s frontlines. Relief International sent 1,000 kits with protective equipment, such as protective wear, hand sanitizer and shoe covers. Furthermore, it gave 40,000 testing kits to the Pasteur Institute of Tehran. To further help support healthcare workers, Relief International has started an Iran program to produce medical supplies and equipment locally, mitigating the delivery times and logistical hurdles of donating resources.

With mainly focusing on medical components, Relief International can avoid the negative effects that U.S. sanctions cause. However, with the sanctioning of banks, financial aid programs can face more difficulties with these measures and financial transactions to NGOs may only occur after catastrophes. The example of Relief International shows how crucial it is to protect organizations that deliver humanitarian aid. Alternatively, to put it more directly, sanctions can complicate and prevent humanitarian aid and others’ ability to save lives.

– Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

Facts About Poverty in Cuba
In the wake of online activism, social media has become a prominent tool in spreading awareness through videos, graphics and even articles. Online platforms, such as Instagram and Twitter, have proven to be quick and effective ways for younger activists to mobilize. Recently, posts containing facts about poverty in Cuba have been circulating on apps. However, alongside important information, many can also misconstrue the truth on the internet. Through the examination of the validity of some popular online claims, one can differentiate the myths from the facts about poverty in Cuba. Here are five myths and facts about poverty in Cuba.

Myth: Salaries in Cuba do not exceed 1,000 non-convertible pesos a month.

Many rumored 1,000 CUP, which is the equivalent of $37, to be the top-ranking salary for Cuban professionals in an Instagram post. Although there are contradictory claims about Cuba’s median monthly earnings, a recent Havana Times article reported a national wage increase in 2019. The change could bring an 18% increase in the median monthly wage to combat international trade blocks. The Cuban government is also increasing the salary of professors to 1,700 pesos and government journalists to about 1,400 pesos.

A virtual interview with a Cuban native and Havana resident, Claudia Martínez, confirmed this wage increase. Martínez, who works as a historian at the University of Havana, has claimed that “The median salary of a Cuban is 400 to 500 pesos, a bit more now with the salary augmentation that they did. For example, I used to earn 530 CUP which is equivalent to 21 [U.S.] dollars or CUC monthly. Now, I’m earning 1,500 pesos which is equivalent to 60 CUC[…]”

Fact: Oil sanctions are devastating Cuba.

Amidst a political clash between the U.S. and Venezuela, the U.S. Treasury has sanctioned four companies transporting oil from Venezuela to Cuba. Cuba is now experiencing a shortage of petrol due to these sanctions.

Food production and public transportation have seen major cuts following the deficit. Factories have also shortened work hours as a way to conserve the island’s petrol supply. Cuban citizens fear that the oil shortage will eventually lead to mass power outages.

U.S.-Cuban relations have historically been rocky. However, development in economic partnerships has sprouted programs that bolster a positive relationship between the two countries, such as the Cuba Project by the Center for International Policy. Backed by a code of ethics, the project aims to facilitate sustainable business practices by Cuban citizens to uplift communities out of poverty while being environmentally conscious.

Myth: Stores are not accepting the national currency.

Cuba’s economic system uniquely includes two currencies: the national coin that people know as CUP and a convertible currency that is compatible with the U.S. dollar called CUC. In July 2020, the Cuban government opened stores that solely run on foreign currency as a way to generate revenue and fund social programs. The government stated that despite this addition, regular stores will continue to accept CUP and CUC for the public.

Martínez detailed the function of these MLC stores which stands for “Moneda Libre Convertible,” or freely convertible currency. She differentiates these businesses from regular stores stating, “In [MLC] stores, there are products that are normally expensive in other stores.” Martínez continued stating that “For example, [MLC stores] carry a 20-liter tank of cooking oil that costs 40 dollars, but other stores don’t carry this because it’s more expensive and it’s not what the average person consumes. But that they don’t accept national currency is not true. In fact, I went and bought cooking oil with national currency at the stores just the other day.”

Fact: There is product scarcity on the island.

With the harshest economic obstructions the country has seen as of late, Cuban citizens are seeing a lack of certain consumer products. Food and hygiene products, such as meat, cheese, soap and toothpaste, are hard to come by. These shortages will likely escalate if trade blocks do not disappear soon.

Caritas Cubana is a nonprofit organization that aims to help Cuba’s most vulnerable populations during times of crisis. In 1991, the Catholic Church established the organization, and its influence has been notable. A Boston-based sister organization called Friends of Caritas Cubana popped up in 2005, growing to be the largest international donor for the charity. With the help of donations from Friends, Caritas Cubanas was able to serve 48,153 people in 2019 with programs for senior citizens, children with disabilities, HIV and AIDS patients as well as those catastrophic natural disasters affect.

Myth: Boycotting the country will end economic injustice.

Tourists have wondered if avoiding politically-fragile countries, like Cuba, will help resolve corruption within the government. A recent Instagram post has reflected this belief of government exploitation.

However, studies show that tourism in Cuba “has the potential to help raise national incomes, increase employment in well-paying jobs, and contribute to Cuba’s greater participation in the world economy.” Considering tourism is one of the country’s most concrete methods to alleviate poverty, it should receive protection.

If tourists have any ethical reservations about visiting Cuba, there are alternative measures that one can take, such as boycotting government industries while traveling. By strictly consuming products and services from local businesses and avoiding extravagant resorts, visitors can invest in citizens while still getting to experience Cuba’s allure.

Usually, local tour guides are hard to come by without personal recommendations. However, the website allows tourists to book private guides while traveling. This is a great start to developing local connections in Cuba so travelers can attend the best restaurants, boarding houses and other locations without government ties.

Exercising Caution When Reading Social Media

Avid social media users should be wary of the framing and intentions of online infographics. With a long history of unresolved political unrest, Cuba has been a target for other states hiding under the veil of “national security.” However, action against poverty is necessary despite political differences.

Generally, the recent global events have made the public more impressionable than ever, so caution is essential when interacting with posts. Users should review other media outlets to get the real facts about poverty in Cuba.

Lizt Garcia
Photo: Flickr