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 CubaIn the wake of online activism, social media has become a prominent tool in spreading awareness through videos, graphics and even articles like this one. 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, the truth can also be misconstrued on the internet. Let’s examine the validity of some popular online claims to differentiate the myths from the facts about poverty in Cuba.

5 Myths and Facts About Poverty in Cuba

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

1,000 CUP, which is the equivalent of $37, was rumored 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 is set to bring an 18% increase of 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.

In a virtual interview with a Cuban native and Havana resident, Claudia Martínez, this wage increase was confirmed. Martínez, who works as a Historian at the University of Havana, claims, “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 have 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 is dedicated to facilitating sustainable business practices by Cuban citizens to uplift communities out of poverty while being environmentally conscious.

Myth: The national currency is not being accepted in stores.

Cuba’s economic system uniquely includes two currencies: the national coin known as CUP and a convertible currency meant to be compatible with the U.S. dollar known as CUC. In July of 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 continues, “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 are only expected to escalate if trade blocks are not lifted 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 affected by catastrophic natural disasters.

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. This belief of government exploitation is echoed in this Instagram post.

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 be protected.

If tourists have any ethical reservations for visiting Cuba, there are alternative measures that can be taken, 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 Toursbylocals.com allows tourists to book private guides while traveling. This is a great start to developing local connections in Cuba so travelers can get introduced to 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 should be taken despite political differences.

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

Lizt Garcia

Photo: Flickr

Public Health Crisis in Syria
Syria has been the target of one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching sanctions campaigns worldwide. The U.S., the EU, the U.N., the Arab League, OFAC and several other entities have all applied economic sanctions against the country. The goal is to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for his brutal violence against unarmed, civilian anti-government protesters. U.S. sanctions are also in response to the Syrian government’s support for terrorist groups and its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Imposing these restrictive measures has been the preferred method of Western powers for decades. However, sanctions have continuously failed to stop Assad from doing business with the U.S. and hurt the Syrian public.

Sanctions’ Impact on Syria’s Economy

Sanctions have caused serious damage to Syria’s economy. These sanctions include oil embargos, restrictions on certain investments, travel bans, freezing the assets of central banks and export restrictions on equipment and technology. The country used to be primarily an exporter, but it now relies on imports, mainly from Lebanon, Iraq and China. Before the EU sanctions, 90 percent of its oil exports went to Germany, Italy and France. Since President Trump recently imposed sanctions on its ally Iran, Syria is suffering even more difficulty obtaining goods. The value of the Syrian currency has plummeted, while prices have sky-rocketed, especially because of restrictions on oil imports.

To continue prioritizing the purchase of guns and bombs from Russia, the Syrian government has simply removed the country’s safety nets. Further, the country has cut back on subsidized fuel, food and health spending. Living was less expensive for Syrians during the peak of the civil war. Technically, legitimate businesses and individuals in Syria should be able to undertake critical transactions. However, foreign suppliers are often unwilling to send anything to Syria. These suppliers do not want to risk triggering unexpected violations of the complex sanction rules.

Sanctions and the Public Health Crisis in Syria

Similarly, there are exemptions for importing pharmaceuticals and food. But in reality, health facilities are feeling the effects of sanctions just as much as the rest of Syria’s private citizens, with life-threatening consequences. The consequences of these sanctions have led to a significant public health crisis in Syria. For example, hospitals cannot import nitrous oxide necessary for anesthetics, due to the fact that others could use it to make bombs. Also, they cannot import helium for cooling MRI scanners for the same reason. The humanitarian exemption for exporting software to Syria for medical equipment requires a complicated application process. Thus, health facilities have little access to foreign life-saving machines, drugs and supplies.

Unable to obtain repairs for European dialysis machines, about 10 percent of people dependent on dialysis have died of kidney failure. Russia, China, Lebanon or Malaysia must now provide medical supplies rather than the EU. This further slows down the process and delays the treatment of those with chronic illnesses. Cancer medication, insulin and anesthetics are among the medications Syria relies on imports for. Now, there are shortages of these medicines, as well as in specific antibiotics, serums, intravenous fluids and some vaccines. This has resulted in delayed treatment for cancer and leukemia patients. The government’s health care budget cuts since the civil war began, combined with the detrimental effects of sanctions, have made most imported medicines unaffordable. Finally, only 44 percent of hospitals are now fully functioning and many of them have closed.

The Real Impact of Sanctions

Meanwhile, President Assad’s policies of violence against his people have not changed. The Syrian government, which still carries out million-dollar deals with the U.S. and other countries that applied sanctions, seems to have found ways to circumvent the sanctions and remain largely unaffected. Assad claims that the sanctions are simply creating more refugees. As the inefficiency of sanctions to reduce human rights violations and their drastic effect on public health becomes increasingly clear, Western powers should rethink their policy of sanctions on Syria.

Sarah Newgarden
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in Iran

Poverty in Iran has been fluctuating over the years. There are many reasons for this, but also many solutions that the government, citizens and other countries can take to make changes and help those in poverty. The current population of Iran is around 82 million, and in 2017,  28.40 percent were unemployed youth.

According to a World Bank study, poverty in Iran is estimated to have fallen from 13.1 percent to 8.1 percent between 2009 and 2013. This was most likely because of a universal cash transfer program in late 2010 that focused on eliminating the subsidies on energy and bread. However, poverty is still a major issue. According to another World Bank study, poverty increased again in 2014 and declining social assistance could be a potential reason.

Poverty in Iran is not only affecting citizens’ ability to afford basic necessities, but is also causing negative issues related to mental health, including suicide, in Iran’s youth. Regardless of all the causes of poverty, there are actions being made to make changes.

Income Gap Causing Problems

Unemployment is a major problem in Iran. Many individuals are working more than one job to afford basic necessities and pull themselves and their families out of poverty, while others are barely working at all. According to an Iranian economist, “there are currently 3.3 million jobless people in the country.” This is due to the increasing income gap between the rich and the poor. The minimum wage jobs of many individuals with lower incomes can not help them move out of poverty and the wealth gap has been expanding. On top of this, there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

According to World Bank statistics, unemployment in Iran was 11.26 percent in 2016, 11.06 percent in 2015 and 10.57 percent in 2014. There is hope that the unemployment rate will keep going down by creating more jobs and having the government adopt new approaches to pull individuals out of poverty.

In 2017, President Rouhani stated that his government wants to prioritize reducing unemployment and creating around 900,000 job opportunities per year. On the other hand, Labor Minister Ali Rabiei said that realistically his government can create 300,000 to 400,000 job opportunities annually.

Sanctions Hurt the People Too

U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran don’t only affect the politicians but the citizens too. Sanctions are seen as one of the major causes of food insecurity, mass suffering and eventual high poverty rates. According to The Economist, 75 million Iranians are suffering from the U.S. sanctions imposed on them. Oil, for instance, is the largest source of income for Iran. When there is no oil coming, there are no U.S. dollars, and everything purchased in Iran is with U.S. dollars. With no U.S. dollars, the value of Iranian rial is falling drastically, causing many companies to go bankrupt. Therefore, they have to let a lot of employees go.

The World Bank released a report on the economic improvement in Iran and stated that many of the economic developments in Iran are due to the removal of the sanctions over the country’s nuclear energy program enforced in 2016. Removing the sanctions will make living conditions for Iranian citizens in poverty less difficult. However, as of November 2018, the U.S. is imposing the sanctions again and informing and requesting all other countries, including India, China and the European Union countries, to stop working with Iran. With reinforced sanctions that were in place before 2016, there is a lot of unrest and fear among citizens for more unemployment and more people going into poverty.  

Action to Reduce Poverty

Poverty in Iran can be seen as a major issue, exasperated by the upcoming sanctions on businesses and oil in the country as well as the increasing gap between the rich and poor in society.  However, statistics show that creating jobs and removing sanctions can significantly improve the lives of Iranians living in poverty. Communication is key to global change.

– Negin Nia
Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in North Korea
In the 2018 North Korea-United States Summit, where the U.S. President Trump met with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) leader, Kim Jong-un, the focus was mainly on human rights in North Korea. North Korea has long been condemned by the U.N. as a perpetrator of human rights violations.

Facts About Human Rights in North Korea

1. 2.6 million modern-day slaves exist in North Korea.

Today, one in 10 North Korean citizens are held in political prison camps known as “kwanliso”. In the camps, prisoners are starved and beaten up while being forced into hard labor by the government officials. Additionally, many modern-day slaves are victims of human trafficking, child exploitation and debt bondage.

2. Political freedom is virtually non-existent.

Political opposition is not allowed under the totalitarian system in North Korea. The state controls all internet access, television and news organizations, allowing only pro-government content. Freedom of assembly and petition are also prohibited.

3. Class status is determined by loyalty.

Individuals are classified under “songbun”, which divides people into groups of “loyal”, “wavering” or “hostile” classes depending on how devoted they are to the government. This classification often determines people’s employment, housing and access to education. It can also threaten their lives.

4. Arbitrary arrests and torture in custody often occur.

The governmental security forces often subject accused political criminals to arbitrary arrest, long-term detention and other tortures including starvation during interrogation. Those accused of major political crimes are often sent to prison camps without trial; emblematic of the lack of human rights in North Korea. In most cases, families are unaware of what happens to their family member. In fact, earlier relatives of political criminals could also be sent to the camps, though this is less common now.

5. Forced abortion occurs as a form of ethnic cleansing.

The majority of refugees going from North Korea to China are women.  They often become victims of rape. Over 5,000 North Koreans are repatriated to North Korea by China every year and once they return to North Korea, pregnant women suspected of carrying “foreign sperm” are forced to have abortions in prison. If not, the suspected half-Chinese children are killed. 

6. Religious communities, especially Christians, are persecuted.

According to Christian watchdog organizations, all traces of the formally large Christian community in the pre-regime North Korea have been wiped out. Suspected Christians are tortured and killed as the state suppresses any religion that poses a threat to the government.

7. North Korea abducts foreign nationals.

Japan continues to demand the return of 17 citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea has admitted to these kidnappings and further accused of abducting over 3,800 South Koreans. Allegedly, these individuals have been kidnapped so that the North Korean government can learn more about the other cultures as part of their espionage efforts.

8. Despite signing several human rights treaties, these abuses continue.

Following increased concern over human rights in North Korea, North Korea has signed treaties that protect women, children and the disabled’s political and economic rights. Despite this commitment to cooperate with the U.N. and other international bodies, the government continues to refuse to work with the South Korean and U.N. human rights organizations.

9. China recently began enforcing more sanctions on North Korea.

China holds perhaps the greatest leverage over North Korea as one of its major trading partners. Historically, China has not demanded changes to the human rights in North Korea because of China’s own issues with human rights violations. But due to nuclear power concerns, in May 2017, China’s sanctions on North Korea‘s government has increased.

10. Despite little improvement, awareness about these crimes continues to grow.

Though the situation still looks bleak, the information known about North Korea has greatly increased since the 1990s when refugee stories first emerged. Since North Korea has been forced to cooperate somewhat with other global powers, there are efforts to reach people in North Korea via social media so they can learn more about their situation and rights.

Human rights in North Korea might not be improving, but global attention to the situation creates awareness of the threat to life that exists in the country. Going forward, international pressure can eventually ensure that basic human rights are given to the people of North Korea.

Grace Gay
Photo: Google

Examples of Trade Embargoes
Trade embargoes are government-imposed barriers to international trade. Countries often justify these restrictions using political reasons, such as violations of national security or human rights.

10 Examples of Trade Embargoes

  1. U.S. Sanctions on Nicaragua: On July 5, 2018, the U.S. imposed sanctions on three Nicaraguan government officials, in response to the Nicaraguan government’s treatment of anti-government protesters, which has led to over 200 people being killed during violent demonstrations. Due to the 2012 Global Magnitsky Act, the U.S. can implement sanctions against those who commit human rights violations and corruption. The LA Times reported that under the sanctions, “any assets the three men have in the United States will be frozen, and U.S. citizens are barred from business transactions with them or any companies in which they have 50 percent or more ownership.”
  2. U.S. Sanctions on Russia: In April 2018, the U.S. passed new sanctions against Russia, intending to penalize Russian officials for their alleged involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and their presence in Crimea, Ukraine, and Syria. According to CNN, assets will be frozen for 17 senior Russian officials.
  3. European Union (EU) Sanctions on Russia: As of July 5, 2018, the EU unanimously agreed to extend sanctions against Russia for at least another six months. According to PBS, the sanctions’ extension was no surprise and were “imposed after Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and backed pro-Russia separatists fighting the government in eastern Ukraine.”
  4. Canada Sanctions on Venezuela: In September 2017, Canada enforced an asset freeze and dealings ban on Venezuela. Under the Special Economic Measures Act, Canada prohibits citizens and any Canadian residents from providing  “any goods, wherever situated, to a listed [Veneuelan] or to a person acting on behalf of a listed [Veneuelan].” The sanctions are based upon a U.S.-Canada alliance in response to human rights violations in Venezuela. For example, the Venezuelan government arrested thousands of protestors in April 2017, and many civilians were injured or killed during the protests.
  5. U.N. Sanctions on North Korea: In 2006, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions in response to North Korea’s first nuclear test. The sanction prohibited the supply of heavy weapons and select luxury goods. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the UNSC announced more restrictions—extending to oil and metal imports, agricultural exports, and labor exports in December 2017. However, the U.N. does allow humanitarian aid to enter North Korea.
  6. U.S. Sanctions on China: Most recently, the U.S. and China are in trade wars—each responding with their own tariffs. On April 16, 2018, the U.S. imposed a seven-year ban on exports to ZTE, a Chinese telecom company. The Washington Post explained that ZTE was reprimanded for “illegally exporting U.S. goods to North Korea and Iran.” On June 7, the U.S. ended the ban.
  7. U.S. Embargo on Cuba: In 1962, the U.S. placed a full embargo against Cuba when the Kennedy administration announced the ceasing of all trade. However, in March 2016, President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro agreed to “allow commercial flights between the two countries for the first time in more than fifty years.” In September 2017, President Trump proposed the withdrawal of two-thirds of his embassy staff from Havana, Cuba and announced the return of travel restrictions.
  8. EU Sanctions on Sudan: The EU imposed an arms embargo on Sudan in 1994. The embargo was amended in 2011 due to the independence of South Sudan and now applies to both Sudan and South Sudan.
  9. U.N. Sanctions on Iran: In 2006, the U.N. authorized an embargo on supplies for uranium production and ballistic missile development, harming Iran’s economy. In April 2015, the U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew noted that “Iran’s economy was 15 to 20 percent smaller than it would have been had sanctions not been ratcheted up in 2012.”
  10. U.S. Embargo on Japan: In 1941, the same year the U.S. entered World War II, the U.S. imposed a comprehensive trade embargo against Japan. The U.S. froze “all Japanese assets in America,” which eventually contributed to Japan’s loss of “access to three-fourths of its overseas trade and 88 percent of its imported oil.”

These 10 examples of trade embargoes demonstrate how countries engage with one another to serve their domestic interests and to punish others for violations of human rights.

– Christine Leung
Photo: Flickr

impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy
Much has been written about the Magnitsky Act, especially considering that it is a longstanding source of resentment among prominent Russians. However, remarkably little research has been done about the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy.

What the Magnitsky Act Does

In 2014, the United States passed the Magnitsky Act, which was an effort to punish Russia for alleged human rights violations surrounding the death of a whistleblower who tried to alert the public to the alleged corruption that had been taking place in Russia for the previous several years. The intent was to sanction the individuals responsible for the death of Sergei Magnitsky, without impacting the majority of Russian citizens who had nothing to do with it.

The Magnitsky Act is notable because it attempts to punish solely the Russians responsible for Magnitsky’s death, rather than Russia as a whole. Rather than blanket import/export bans, the Magnitsky Act freezes the assets of the Russians implicated in the death of Sergei Magnitsky, the victim for whom the legislation is named. Additionally, it bans these individuals from obtaining visas to enter the United States.

The Magnitsky Act has been followed by the Global Magnitsky Act, which applies these punishments to any citizen of any country who is suspected of aiding the activity of the Russians in question. Additionally, other countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom, have passed their own versions of this legislation.

Impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian Economy

Although the intent of the Magnitsky Act was to have minimal impact on the Russian economy or the lives of average Russian citizens, it is fair to assume that there has been some effect. Russia retaliated in 2014 by banning all food imports from Europe and the United States for a period of one year. This is in addition to banning all adoptions of Russian children by American citizens, which has become a major point of contention in recent years.

After the passage of the original legislation, its authors stressed that the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy was meant to be positive. The reasoning was that the Magnitsky Act would discourage the corruption and theft that supposedly limit Russia’s economic growth prospects. However, there is little evidence to prove that this has been uniformly the case.

Moving Forward with the Magnitsky Act

As an upper-middle income country, Russia’s standard of living and other metrics of assessing the average Russian’s state of economic affairs continue to lag behind the advanced industrial economies of the world. However, it is not possible to decisively say how much of this is due to the corruption that the Magnitsky Act and its supporters allege. More research should be done into the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy, as it is difficult to say whether the authors of this legislation were right to craft it the way they did.

Because of this lack of decisive data, it is difficult to evaluate the impact of the Magnitsky Act on the Russian economy. There is no question that the Act plays an important normative role in signaling that the United States will exact consequences on violators of human rights, but whether it has the positive economic effects that its authors claimed it would is still not possible to assess. It seems likely that targeted sanctions like these could be a valuable tool to respond to potential human rights violations going forward, but they must be used with caution until a clear understanding of their broader impact is reached.

– Michaela Downey

Photo: Flickr

North Korea poverty
Despite constant attempts by the North Korean government to delegitimize critics of the country’s severe living conditions and human rights violations, the dire status of its economy is one of the main causes of the consequent rise of North Korea poverty. Such steep levels of economic discomfort and overall hardship in everyday living stems from two main factors, namely the closeness of North Korean economy, and its strict and draconian political system.

A Closer Look

In a country where one in four children suffer from malnutrition, and episodes of defector citizens with parasites living in their stomach are reported, a closer look to the various economic sectors, industries and social relations can be very revealing. In terms of economic freedom, North Korea has been ranked 180th by the Heritage Foundation in 2018, preceded by Venezuela and followed by no one, effectively making it the least economically free country on the planet.

Moreover, there’s no detectable tax system since the government owns and directs virtually every aspect of the economy. As a result, a massive share of the GDP is in fact produced by the same entity that is supposed to tax it.

Regulatory pressure is also a crucial factor that contributes to increase North Korea poverty by tightening up the economy, which grew at an alarmingly slow rate in 2013 (1.1 percent) and in 2014 (1 percent), and decreased in 2015 (-1.1 percent).

Regulations and Shortages

Since private enterprise is virtually non-existent, strict regulations against any resemblance of a private sector are in place, a move thus rendering starting and managing a business practically impossible. The combination of all these factors makes North Korea very reluctant to produce wealth and increase its living standards, especially with the presence of continuous restrictions in international trade and economic sanctions.

Shortage of food and energy need to be compensated by international parties such as China, to which North Korea has grown increasingly more dependent over the last few years. However, a report from the North Korean Economic Watch observed that rice prices, contrarily to what one might have anticipated, have been remarkably stable over the past year.

With economic sanctions in place, it is well conceivable to expect a significant rise in inflation, especially in an overall and continuously poor economy such as that of North Korea.

Such phenomena led experts to believe that the rise of black markets might be the missing link behind such oddities; this would have reinforced, though, the simple yet harsh truth that the extremely high rate of North Korea poverty is a direct result of an economy that simply isn’t strong enough to provide basic and minimal items such as rice to its citizens and their standards of living.

New Rules

All of these instances occur while the government allocates a large amount of its attention and financial resources to the military and missile and nuclear development. This focus leaves primary industries such as agriculture on their own in addition to the high poverty rate and child malnutrition that North Koreans have to face every day.

Since South Korea officially withdrew its provision of farming fertilizers in 2008, the government started a program that delineates farmers are to use their own feces as fertilizers since livestock has became scarce.

Crop failure is also exacerbated by frequent inclement weather, lack of arable land and poor quality of the soil. Between these hardships and the use of human feces as fertilizer, health hazards have increased to the levels of large parasites growing in people’s intestines as a result of poor health.

The hope is that a significant increase of awareness and improved political and anti-poverty policies will help alleviate the seemingly perennial hardship that North Korean citizens have come to experience as normal.

– Luca Di Fabio

Photo: Flickr

Venezuela's Oil-Backed CryptocurrencyVenezuela is a region rich in oil and minerals, yet it suffers from poverty and political turmoil. Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro is launching a new blockchain currency called Petro, an oil-backed cryptocurrency. The U.S. believes this to be an attempt to circumvent sanctions against the Venezuelan government and is cracking down on Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency.

Venezuela suffers from the “resource curse,” a phenomenon whereby its large reserves of oil negatively impact its economic growth and stability. Rather than a blessing, these energy reserves lead to fraud, corruption, wasteful spending, military adventurism and the authoritarianism of the Maduro regime. This curse exacerbates global poverty through the destabilization of the oil industry, dulling the effect of foreign assistance and creating a breeding ground for terrorism and instability.

Although the country has a vast supply of oil money, instead of going to Venezuela’s poor, the money ends up in the pockets of the rich. U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted on February 9, 2018, regarding the Maduro regime, “Soldiers eat out of garbage cans & their families go hungry in #Venezuela while Maduro & friends live like kings & block humanitarian aid.”

Venezuelans are deprived of human rights guarantees and press freedoms, facing political persecution and public corruption by the Maduro regime. The U.S. regards the Maduro regime as a dictatorship, whose power has overridden the democratic will of Venezuelans. The nation’s population is greatly subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, sexual exploitation and domestic servitude. People from other nations are trafficked for sex and labor in Venezuela. Cuba trafficks thousands of Cuban citizens and doctors into forced labor in Venezuelan social programs, in exchange for the provision of resources to the Cuban government.

The most recent U.S. sanctions were imposed in August 2017 against Venezuela’s dictatorship, blocking U.S. citizens from buying new debt, bonds, dividends or other distributions or profits from Venezuelan government-controlled entities and its state oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA). This followed December 2014 sanctions imposed by the U.S., aimed at preventing U.S. entry by persons involved in the erosion of human rights guarantees, political persecution and public corruption. These sanctions do not target the people or the economy of Venezuela; they are aimed at protecting the will of Venezuelans and preventing U.S. involvement with the corruption of the Maduro regime.

Maduro responded to these sanctions by implementing strategies to free the oil-centered economy from the U.S. dollar, despite its universality in global trade. In September 2017, Maduro ceased publishing Venezuelan crude oil market prices in U.S. dollars, instead publishing prices in Chinese yuan. His December 2017 announcement to implement the oil-backed cryptocurrency was in direct response to the August 2017 sanctions, stating that Petro could “help defeat the financial blockade.”

Cryptocurrency is decentralized, uncontrolled by banks or governments. It can benefit those living in politically unstable regions, because the government can neither control its value nor transfer it from state to state. In Venezuela’s case, the cryptocurrency will be backed by oil, an industry largely controlled by dictators. Because Petro is a cryptocurrency, it is difficult for the U.S. government to regulate, threatening the U.S. sanctions that prohibit investing in PDVSA.

Petro is one of many foreign exchange (FX) mechanisms introduced by Venezuela. Most of the FX failed to meet market demand for dollars, resulting in Venezuela’s robust black market. Although FX is prohibited on the black market, it is the driving force of hyperinflation. Continuously on the rise, one U.S. dollar is now equivalent to 9.9875 Venezuelan bolívar.

The U.S. addressed Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency in a letter by senators Marco Rubio and Bob Menendez to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, stating “we are concerned that a cryptocurrency could provide Maduro a mechanism by which to make payments to foreign lenders and bondholders in the United States, actions that would clearly thwart the intent of U.S.-imposed sanctions.”

In early February 2018, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson toured Latin America and the Caribbean. Afterward, Tillerson alluded to U.S. considerations of restricting oil sales from Venezuela due to its worsening political situation. Developments in trade sanctions are imminent as the U.S. cracks down on Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency.

In opposition to the Maduro regime, the Venezuelan Parliament stated that Petro’s creation only serves to “evade financial sanctions, [and is] openly violating the Constitution and legitimizing illicit transactions.”

As the U.S. cracks down on Venezuela’s oil-backed cryptocurrency, the government aims to combat the use of Petro to circumvent U.S. sanctions, prohibiting investors on U.S. soil from profiting or investing in the PDVSA, the driving source of Venezuela’s poverty and humanity crisis. These policies and sanctions will be heavily enforced in the face of Petro’s introduction to the market and will serve to reject the political corruption and economic failure to its people of the Maduro regime.

– Alex Galante

Photo: Flickr