In the coming days, both the Senate and House will consider proposals that would radically alter the shape and form of U.S. economic sanctions against rogue nations and sundry international outlaws. Not the product, strangely enough, of the Senate Foreign Relations or House International Relations Committees, but surviving as riders to both the Senate and House Agricultural Appropriations bills, the proposals seek to unilaterally lift all U.S. conditions on the sale of food and medical products to terrorist countries under U.S. sanction.
Proponents of the measures have attempted to seize the moral high ground, posturing that food and medicine should not be used as “weapons” in the conduct of U.S. foreign policy and that such U.S. sanctions hurt only the “common” people while having no impact on the ruling elites of the targeted countries.
Such high-minded rhetoric, however, only masks the bitter reality of life under despotic regimes and erroneously assumes that U.S. beneficence will trickle down to boost the fortunes of those impoverished masses. To believe that such regimes as Iran, Libya, the Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba have any interest in the welfare of their respective populations-and thus can be entrusted with responsibly distributing humanitarian aid to anyone and everyone in need-is an expression either of supreme naïveté or ultimate cynicism. It is in part these regimes’ profound unconcern for the welfare of their peoples that has earned them the designation “rogue.”
Thus, the summary and unilateral stripping away of the existing safeguards that govern U.S. shipments of food and medicine to, for example, Cuba will only empower the regime at the expense of the people’s freedoms and serve to consign them to further deprivation and misery.
Indeed, if anyone is to be condemned for the actual use food and medicine as “weapons,” one need look no further than countries on the U.S. terrorist list. For it is the common practice in each of these rogue states to use food and medicine as weapons against their own people to ensure control. Newspapers are replete with accounts of these countries’ attempts to deal with “troublesome” sectors of their respective populations through the denial of food and medicine and other humanitarian goods.
In the case of Cuba, Fidel Castro’s use of food and medicine as weapons of control over the Cuban population is a tactic as old as the Revolution itself. Even before the imposition of U.S. sanctions on his nascent dictatorship, Castro set out to shackle the Cuban population to ration books, ensuring-under the threat of their confiscation, and thus denial of food and medicine-the people’s compliance to the new order. Forty years later, Castro’s perverse social contract remains fully intact: “Follow my rules or you don’t eat.”
As well, the diversion of food and medicine to satisfy first and foremost the needs of the military, security services, and regime elites is commonplace in the rogue’s gallery of nations. Perhaps the most infamous example was that of a North Korean submarine that foundered off the South Korean coast in September 1996 that was found to have had aboard cans of food donated ostensibly to the North Korean general population by American Mennonite Christians.
It is NOT U.S. policy to “deny” aid to enslaved peoples
Again, in the case of Cuba, it is precisely because of Castro’s immoral irresponsibility in the distribution of food and medicine to the Cuban people (Amnesty International reports political prisoners are routinely denied medical care to break their will) that U.S. policy on food and medicine shipments to Cuba was crafted. Contrary to the gross misrepresentations by critics of Cuba sanctions, U.S. policy allows for the conditional sale of medicines and medical products to Cuba and unlimited licensed donations of food and humanitarian goods. All that is required is some elementary assurances that the goods wind up in the hands of those who truly need them: the Cuban people.
In 1999 alone, the U.S. Department of Commerce approved 158 licenses for the export of humanitarian aid, medicines, and medical supplies to Cuba worth an estimated $550 million. (Since 1994, the total value of export license applications approved for Cuba-including food and medicine-tops $13.6 billion.) Again, the only stipulation for the approval of such licensing (which can be done over the Internet) is that there must exist some semblance of on-site monitoring and verification that the supplies are not diverted to military installations or dollars-only stores for tourist and elite use; are not re-exported to earn hard currency; and, in the case of medicines, are not used in the torture of dissidents.
In conclusion, the unilaterally lifting of restrictions and conditions on food and medicine transfers to rogue regimes under U.S. sanction will not result in any humanitarian relief for their unfortunate subjects; on the contrary, eliminating those conditions would only succeed in replenishing regime warehouses and serve to perpetuate the system of coercion and control-and misery-with which they keep their peoples in political bondage. Absent any conditionality or monitoring procedures, there will be absolutely no ability to determine whether such transfers are being misused by those regimes. To believe or expect otherwise ignores years of history and experience and does a profound disservice to the cause of freedom in those countries.
For those truly concerned about the welfare of populations who have had deprivation forced upon them as a means of control, the answer is to push for policies that seek the end of those regimes in as short a time as possible or that increase pressure on them to reform. What these countries need above all is freedom, the freedom that begets free enterprise and free markets. Anything that falls short of that objective alleviates nothing of the plight of those enslaved peoples.