However, it has been under the recent Trump Administration that sanctions have taken a new meaning, a sort of weaponized public policy to weaken states and affect the well-being of their population, where they are punished for supporting a certain government and cornered into revolting against such a government in favor of ending the externally inflicted crisis and thus allowing a government more favorable by Washington to assume power.
This can be clearly seen on the 2017 “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, as the name suggests President Donald Trump has opted on sanctions as his preferred mean to attack, what the U.S. government calls “adversaries.”
Most likely Cuba is the country that has been most affected by the U.S.-imposed sanctions, as the 50-year-old blockade has crippled the economy and affected the population for generations. As Cuba-U.S. relations have had their ups and downs since the 1960s, this has correlated to the intensity or ease of sanctions. During former President Barack Obama's administration, certain travel and business restrictions were loosened.
However, through the 2017 “Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act”, Cuba has been placed once again as a priority “enemy.” On Nov. 8, 2017, Trump administration announced that new rules reimposing the business and travel restrictions.
The most infamous was the activation of the Helms-Burton Act's Titles III and IV suspended since 1996, starting May 2. The “Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act,” commonly known as Helms-Burton, was signed on March 12, 1996, during former President Bill Clinton’s administration, with the objective of disrupting foreign investment to the island and accentuating the economic effects of the economic blockade.
Through the application of Title III, U.S. citizens could sue in their country’s courts those persons and entities that conduct business with about 200 state-owned institutions in Cuba that were nationalized after Jan. 1, 1959. However, since the Clinton administration, the U.S. had avoided the implementation of this measure by issuing “temporary” six-month suspensions.
This practice became normalized because the full enforcement of the anti-Cuban law would imply massive damages not only for Cuba but for U.S., Canadian, and mainly European interests, as the bloc is the largest foreign investor on the island and the country’s top export market.
United Nations Special Rapporteur on the negative impact of sanctions, Idriss Jazairy has denounced the implementation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act.
“The international community must come together to challenge what amounts to blockades ignoring a country’s sovereignty, the human rights of its people, and the rights of third countries trading with sanctioned States, all while constituting a threat to world peace and security”, the U.N. appointee concluded.
In January 2019, Standard Chartered predicted that as soon as 2020, China will take over as the world’s most powerful economy, currently held by the U.S. This apparent “threat” for U.S. hegemony has pushed Trump into an economic war with the Asian giant.
Since Jan. 22, 2018, both countries have been engaged in a trade war involving the mutual placement of import-export tariffs. The Trump administration has implemented Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 to address what it calls "unfair trade practices," which has led to a tariff imposition tit-for-tat.
Since the start of the Tariff wars, the U.S. has imposed 25 percent tariffs on US$50 billion worth of Chinese technology goods (machinery, autos, intermediate electronic components). While China imposed 25 percent levies on US$50 billion worth of U.S. goods including soybeans, food, whiskey, ethanol, and tariffs of five percent to 10 percent on US$60 billion worth of liquefied natural gas, chemicals, frozen vegetables, and food ingredients.
Neither side had raised tariffs since both leaders met in Argentina in November 2018 and agreed to a truce while their teams negotiated an end to the trade war. Tariffs on Chinese goods are paid to the United States by the companies importing the goods; most of those companies are U.S.-based.
However, after the latest round of trade-talks went sour on May 10, Washington hiked U.S. tariffs by 25 percent on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods. While China retaliated with higher tariffs on most U.S. imports on a revised US$60 billion target list.
Trump last week also ordered U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to target another US$325 billion of Chinese goods with 25 percent tariffs.
On May 16, the Trump administration added Huawei Technologies to a trade blacklist, immediately enacting restrictions that will make it extremely difficult for the company to do business with U.S. counterparts.
The latest move will greatly affect the company’s business strategy outside China, as Google announced on May 19 that Huawei will immediately lose access to updates to Google’s Android operating system.
The U.S. Commerce Department on May 20, created a temporary general license restoring Huawei’s ability to maintain existing networks and provide software updates to existing Huawei handsets. The license lasts until Aug. 19 and eases restrictions imposed last week.
Sanctions against Venezuela intensified after Jan. 23 when opposition lawmaker Juan Guaido attempted to overthrow democratically elected President Nicolas Maduro.
However, the latest sanctions by Washington against Venezuela come as a culmination of almost half a decade of U.S. aggression by multiple successive administrations seeking to put an end to decades of leftist rule in the oil-rich South American country.
In 2015, the former President of U.S., Barack Obama signed a decree designating Venezuela as an "unusual and extraordinary threat to the U.S. National Security."
Few months into the Trump presidency, the sanctions and economic warfare against Venezuela intensified.
The U.S. Executive Order 13808 of August 2017, prohibited all transactions aimed at financing Venezuela, banned direct or indirect purchases of Venezuelan government securities, which included bonds, loans, credit extensions, loan guarantees, credit letters, drafts, bankers acceptance, invoices or discount notes and commercial papers.
In November 2017, the Deutsche Bank, the main correspondent of the Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV), permanently closed all Venezuelan accounts.
International banks refused 23 Venezuelan operations, worth US$39 million, aimed at purchasing food, basic supplies, and medicines.
President Trump renewed executive orders 13692 and 13808 for an additional year in March 2018.
In retaliation for the victory of Nicolas Maduro in the presidential elections on May 20, 2018, during which the Bolivarian leader received 67 percent of 9 million votes, the U.S. issued executive order 13835 which prohibits purchasing debt and accounts payable by Venezuelan state-owned companies. In addition, the Trump administration sanctioned 20 Venezuelan companies for alleged ties to drug trafficking.
In November 2018, the U.S. prohibited its citizens from trading gold exported from Venezuela.
The Trump Administration, in January 2019, approved new sanctions against PDVSA, which included freezing US$7 billion in assets owned by CITGO.
As a consequence of executive order 13850, in March 2019, the production and trading operations of the Venezuelan Guyana Mining Corporation (Minerven) were affected.
This executive order also compromised the operations of the Venezuelan Economic and Social Development Bank (Bandes) and the institutions over which it retains 50 percent ownership, namely, Bandes Uruguay, People's Bicentenary Bank, Universal Bank, Bank of Venezuela and Prodem Bank.
In 2015, under the administration of former President Barack Obama, the U.S. and other five major world powers (U.K., France, Germany, Russia, and China) signed a treaty with Iran under which, the latter curbed its uranium enrichment capacity and won sanctions relief in return.
Three years later, in May 2018, the U.S. under Trump withdrew from the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Trump called the pact "one-sided,” "horrible," and "defective to its core".
Since then, his administration launched a “maximum pressure campaign” reinstating and increasing sanctions against Iran.
In 2018, the U.S. sanctioned Iran from purchasing U.S. dollar notes; trading in gold and precious metals, transactions in the Iranian rial; using any kind of material for transaction like graphite, aluminum, steel, coal, and industrial software; sale of car parts to Iran; importing luxury Iranian goods to the U.S.
The same year, in November, the U.S. exerted more pressure on Iran by sanctioning its oils exports and energy sector, financial institutions conducting business with the Central Bank of Iran, etc.
On May 8, 2019, exactly a year after withdrawing from JCPOA, Tump imposed fresh sanctions on Iran’s metal sector and revoked sanction waivers which allowed Russia and European countries to conduct civilian nuclear cooperation with Iran.
Trump also revoked sanction waivers for countries buying oil from Iran, hence major buyers like India and Japan stopped oil imports.
Till now Trump administration sanctioned more than 900 people, entities, vessels, and aircraft which includes 50 Iranian banks, 200 persons, Iran's national airlines.
Turkey, a NATO power has also faced sanctions from Trump. The tensions between the countries escalated quickly in 2018 after a Turkish court ordered the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brown.
In retaliation, the U.S. announced sanctions against the Turkish interior and justice ministers in August 2018.
The same month, Trump doubled the tariffs on steel and aluminum leading to plummeting of the Turkish lira (currency).
Currently, both countries are in conflict due to Ankara's decision to buy the S-400 missile defenses from Russia which are apparently not compatible with NATO systems, according to Washington.
The U.S. fears over the Russian-Turkish deal have to do with its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, which are not compatible with the S-400 system. It has warned of possible U.S. sanctions if Ankara pushes on with the Russian deal.
If Turkey goes ahead with the purchase, the U.S. will impose hard-hitting economic sanctions.
In September 2018, the U.S. government announced the closure of the Palestinian leadership’s de facto embassy in Washington as a "punishment" for not engaging in one-sided talks with Israel.
Previously, in the same year, the U.S. also suspended its aid funds transfer to UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) which affected lives of some five million Palestinians in several countries who rely on the agency for basic services.
The drop in U.S. funding came after the U.N. voted against Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In March 2018, the U.S. passed the Taylor Force Act withholding economic aid to the Palestinian Authority.
Currently, the country along with Israel are financially squeezing the Palestinian Authority for opposing the “deal of the century” devised by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner.
Apart from fund cutting, closing down the embassy, the U.S. has also targetted individuals.
In April 2019, Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the nonviolent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) was barred from entering the U.S.
Veteran Palestinian activist, negotiator, and academic Hanan Ashrawi was denied a U.S. visa for the first time in May 2019.
Both Ashwari and Barghouti have been traveling to the U.S. frequently and this is the first time they were stopped from entering the country.
On Nov. 27, 2018, Trump signed Executive Order 13851 which imposed sanctions on specific members of Daniel Ortega's government and his family. These were implemented through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), in a very similar manner as in Zimbawae.
Yet Trump intensified his attack on Nicaragua on Dec. 20, 2018, as he signed the Nicaraguan Investment Conditionality Act (Nica Act). The Nica Act passed through the United States Congress on Tuesday, Dec. 12. With this legislation, the U.S. government will be able to put restrictions on loans from financial institutions destined for Nicaragua.
On April 17, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Nicaragua’s Banco Corporativo (Bancorp), Laureano Ortega, President Ortega’s son, and Vice President Rosario Murillo, President Ortega’s wife. The move freezes all U.S. assets owned by Bancorp and the younger Ortega, and it bars U.S. nationals from engaging in business with them.
According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, the sanctions on Syria started in 2004 by Executive Order 13338 as measures against the government's anti-U.S. and anti-Israel policies.
In March 2019 the U.S. threatened to sanction Russia and Iran for helping Syria obtain Iranian oil.
The country needs 136,000 barrels per day to meet its demand for oil, however, domestic oil production stands at 24,000 barrels per day. Syria is required to import the rest, but after an Iranian credit line has come to a halt six months ago, the country has been isolated.
Additionally, the U.S. also threatened all entities (business, persons, countries) who would help with exports and imports from the Syrian government.
The country also reinforced Executive Order 13582 of 2011 which prohibits any new investment in Syria by a U.S. person; direct or indirect export sale or supply of any services to Syria from the U.S. or a citizen; any transactions or dealings related to petroleum or petroleum products of Syrian origin. The sanctions also froze all Syrian government assets in the U.S.
In May 2019, the Trump administration had ordered to extend all sanctions on Syria for one more year.
After World War II, from 1950 to 2008, trade between the U.S. and North Korea was restricted under the “U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917”. However, it was in 2008, during George W. Bush’s administration, that a new form of strategy against the Asian nation took place, after Bush declared it a national threat, and began with direct sanctions.
Under Trump, things have intensified. On Sept. 21, 2017, the president expedited Executive Order 13810.
“Imposing Additional Sanctions with Respect to North Korea.” This meant a full trade (export and import) and financial embargo. As well as third-party sanctions to ban from its financial system or freeze assets of any companies or individuals trading in goods, services, or technology with North Korea.
Due to these sanctions, the Bank of Korea in Seoul estimates that North Korea’s output shrank 3.5 percent in 2017 to about US$32.2 billion, more than 40 times smaller than South Korea’s GDP.
Also, the order prohibited all aircraft or shipping vessels to land in North Korea. The same restriction applies to ship-to-ship transfers. "Foreign financial institutions are now on notice that going forward they can choose to do business with the United States or North Korea, but not both," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated.
A travel ban has also been imposed. On July 2017, U.S. nationals were banned from entering North Korea, while in September 2017, North Koreans were barred from entry to the U.S.
On 2003, former president George W. Bush signed Executive Order 13288 imposing sanctions against the ruling party of Robert Mugabe, Zanu-PF. The U.S. government says sanctions are “targeted” at 141 entities and individuals in Zimbabwe, applying only to representatives of the country’s leadership, a number of banks and enterprises.
Trump administration officials had said the sanctions will remain until the government of President Emmerson Mnangagwa changes Zimbabwe’s laws as “human rights” have been violated.
Ever since sanctions have been renewed annually. In 2019, Trump said “the actions and policies of these persons continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the foreign policy of the United States,” adding that he will “continue for (one) year the national emergency declared in Executive Order 13288.”
These sanctions have crippled the African nation’s economy. According to the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe John Mangudya, the inability to access foreign lines of credit, as well as process international payments “have placed immense constraints on the Zimbabwean economy.”
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