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How U.S. Sanctions Work Their Evil


The killing of Oscar Perez by Venezuelan goons serving the socialist dictatorship of President Nicolas Maduro demonstrates perfectly the evil nature of U.S. sanctions against foreign countries.

Perez was a rebel police officer who recently took up arms in the hopes of leading a revolution against the Maduro regime, whose socialist economic policies have plunged the nation into economic chaos, crisis, and deprivation and whose political policies have established a brutal dictatorial regime.

Perez was obviously certain that the Venezuelan populace would follow him into battle, oust Maduro from power, reestablish democratic rule, and bring an end to socialist economic policies.

It didn’t happen. No matter how much Perez exhorted the Venezuelan people to revolt, they chose not do so. Maybe they decided that a revolt was likely to fail, especially given that gun control in Venezuela has left them disarmed. Maybe they decided that life under a socialist dictatorship, while horrible, was nonetheless preferable to the death and destruction that comes with revolution.

In any event, in the end Perez found himself surrounded by Maduro’s forces, who shot him dead without permitting him to surrender. Not surprisingly, Maduro said that Perez was a terrorist.

Perez’s actions were precisely what U.S. sanctions against countries like Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba, and Iran are all about. They target the populace with the aim of inflicting massive economic suffering, even starvation, in the hopes that the populace will revolt against their government, oust the ruling regime from power, and install a pro-U.S. regime in its stead — that is, one that will become a partner and ally of the U.S. national-security establishment.

In other words, the citizenry in the targeted countries are the pawns who are used by U.S. officials to accomplish the ultimate U.S. objective: regime change.

Keep in mind though that we are talking about brutal, tyrannical regimes here. As we see with Maduro’s killing of Perez, these regimes are not pikers when it comes to violently putting down protests, demonstrations, and revolutions. They are brutal, cruel, and ruthless, willing to do whatever is necessary to maintain their hold on power.

That includes arresting, incarcerating, torturing, and killing as many people as necessary to quell a revolt.

When U.S. officials impose their sanctions on such countries, they know this. They know that when people start to revolt, there is going to be a large number of them who are going to be killed.

U.S. officials don’t care. All that matters to them is regime change. No number of deaths of foreign citizens is too high when it comes to regime change.

We witnessed this evil in Iraq with the U.S. sanctions in the 1980s. The sanctions were killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children with the full knowledge of U.S. officials. The deaths didn’t matter to them. All that mattered was regime change. The deaths of the children would, it was hoped, cause Iraqi parents to revolt, oust Saddam Hussein from power, and install a regime that was friendly to the U.S. government.

In fact, when U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeleine Albright, was asked by “Sixty Minutes” in 1996 whether the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children were “worth it,” she responded that while the issue was a difficult one, yes, the deaths of those children were, in fact, worth it. The sanctions and the deaths in Iraq continued for several more years. The regime change didn’t finally come until the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, under the guise of a fake WMD threat against the United States.

Consider North Korea. It has a socialist system. We libertarians know what socialism is and does. It’s a perverse, inherently defective economic system that produces economic crises, chaos, deprivation, misery, and starvation.

That’s what has happened in North Korea, which has a 99 percent socialist economic system. For example, read this Wikipedia article about one of North Korea’s famines, which caused the deaths of 800,000-1,500,000 people.

That’s not to say that socialist rulers necessarily intend to inflict such suffering. In fact, socialists (including those here in the United States) will oftentimes steadfastly deny that socialism is the cause of the famines. They inevitably blame them on such things as droughts, flooding, the weather, or even U.S. sanctions. For example, ever since the U.S. embargo was established against Cuba, socialists have blamed Cuba’s economic problems on the embargo, not on Cuba’s socialist economic system.

One thing is for sure though: While killing people with socialist policies might or might not be the aim of rulers in socialist countries, killing people is the aim of the U.S. government with its sanctions. The idea is that as people die from the sanctions, those who are still alive will have the incentive to rise up and oust the socialist regime from power.

But of course, revolutions inevitably mean more death and destruction. U.S. officials don’t care. All they care about is regime change.

Recall Chile from 1970-1973. The democratically elected president Salvador Allende, was a socialist, one whose economic policies threw the nation into economic crisis and chaos. What was the U.S. response? Regime change, primarily through bribery, kidnapping, assassination, and ultimately a military coup that brought a pro-U.S. military dictatorship into power, one that proceeded to incarcerate, torture, rape, disappear, and execute thousands of innocent people for believing in socialism and communism.

But there was more. On Allende’s election in 1970, President Nixon ordered the CIA to “make the economy scream,” which the CIA dutifully obeyed. The idea was that the CIA was to do everything it could to make the Chilean people suffer even more than they already were suffering because of Allende’s socialism. Among the things the CIA did was to bribe nationwide truckers into going on strike, with the aim of preventing food from being delivered across the nation. If enough people could be killed through starvation, the chances of a revolution would go up or, at the very least, people would be more receptive to a coup when it finally came.

People who live under socialist countries or under totalitarian dictatorships are suffering enough. They don’t need the U.S. government to increase their suffering, not even to achieve the U.S. goal of regime change. Indeed, an interesting question arises: What is more evil: a regime whose bad economic policies kill innocent people or a regime that intentionally kills innocent people with economic sanctions?

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.