Want to ease the migration crisis? End U.S. economic sanctions – People’s World


Want to ease the migration crisis? End U.S. economic sanctions

Migrants heading north line up to take a boat in Bajo Chiquito, Darien province in Panama in early October. | AP

Top officials of 11 Latin American and Caribbean governments met on Oct. 22 in Chiapas, Mexico, to address the flood of migrants heading to the United States. There was agreement that U.S. interventions in their region fuel migration. A report from Chicago, released two days earlier and discussed at the summit, concluded similarly.

The goal of the meeting called by Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador was to form a regional bloc tasked with finding solutions. Presidents on hand, besides AMLO, included Xiomara Castro of Honduras, Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba, Gustavo Petro of Colombia, and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela.

The joint statement emerging from the meeting outlined baseline assumptions:

  • “The main structural causes of migration have political, economic, and social origins, to which the negative effects of climate change are added.”
  • “Unilateral, coercive policies from the outside are by nature indiscriminate; they affect entire populations adversely.”

The statement concluded with an agreement covering 14 points, among them: further development of an action plan, mutual cooperation, attention to commercial relationships, demands put on destination countries, respect for human rights, protection of vulnerable populations, the special case of Haiti, and a plea that the Cuban and U.S. governments “comprehensively discuss their bilateral relations.”

AMLO declared that “unilateral measures and sanctions imposed against countries in the region, particularly Venezuela and Cuba, contribute to instigating migration,” also that the U.S. government has to “dialogue with us.”

The Great Cities Institute, a research center at the University of Illinois at Chicago, on Oct. 20 released a report prepared by journalist Juan González. It analyzes recently-imposed economic sanctions and U.S. assaults over many years against regional governments.

The report concludes that “U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America …[and] sanctions directed at Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, have played a major role in crippling the economies of those three nations, thus fueling for the past two years an unprecedented wave of migrants and asylum seekers from those countries that have appeared at our borders.”

Undocumented Mexican immigrants are shown to have represented 70% of all undocumented immigrants in 2008 but only 46% in 2021. It appears that, later on, most unauthorized migrants entering the United States came from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Then Venezuelans “apprehended at the border” increased from 4,500 in 2020 to “more than 265,000 in the first 11 months FY 2023.” There were 3,164 undocumented Nicaraguans crossing the border in 2020 and 131,831 two years later. 14,000 Cubans crossed in 2020; 18,400 did so in 2023. In fact, “more Cubans have sought to enter the U.S. during the past two years than at any time in U.S. history.”

The report indicates that the three countries supplying these migrants “have been targeted by Washington for regime change through economic sanctions, a form of financial warfare that has only made life worse for their citizens.”

Note is taken of Venezuela’s GDP falling 74% over eight years and of $31 billion in oil revenues lost between 2017 and 2020. Venezuela must import most of the pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, and food it needs, according to the report. Funds for importing goods and for maintaining oil production derive from oil exports, which are blocked by U.S. sanctions. Shortages mounted, people suffered, and even died. Venezuelans reacted by leaving.

The Obama administration instituted sanctions in 2015 and President Donald Trump added more afterwards. The sanctions block access to international credit, punish owners of foreign ships entering Venezuelan ports, and prevent income generated in the United States by Venezuela’s Citgo oil company from being repatriated.

The U.S. government, according to the report, “is virtually alone in the world” in having unilaterally pursued such a lengthy economic blockade against Cuba. The U.S. government punishes “an entire population for a political purpose.”

The report notes that “Cubans have garnered far less nationwide attention [than Venezuelan migrants] because they tend to settle in just one part of the country.” The real reason is that the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966 provides undocumented Cubans with permanent residence a year after their arrival, and until then with work permits. The legislation, magnet-like, draws Cubans to the United States.

Cuban President Diaz-Canel, speaking at the Chiapas meeting, denounced U.S. “coercive measures aimed, by definition, at depressing the standard of living of the Cuban population, reducing their real income, and making them suffer hunger and misery.”

One learns that in Nicaragua after 2006, when the socialist-oriented Sandinistas returned to power, poverty diminished and food supplies increased. Migration to the United States remained very low. Then, in 2018, protests erupted, with violence and deaths.

The report points out that “investigative journalists” viewed the uprising as “an attempted violent coup organized by U.S.-funded dissident groups.” However, the U.S. government saw the Sandinista government as violating human rights and instituted sanctions, strengthening them in 2021. International loans were now off limits, and countries assisting Nicaragua would be punished. Emigration then skyrocketed.

Juan González, who prepared the report, recalls having “documented in a previous study, [that] the largest migrations from Latin America over the past sixty years have come precisely from those countries the U.S. has repeatedly occupied and most controlled.”

The report catalogs U.S. interventions, among them: Guatemala, 1954; Cuba, Bay of Pigs, 1961; Dominican Republic, 1965; Chile, coup, 1973; Nicaragua, Contra war, 1980s; Panama, 1989; Venezuela, failed coup, 2002; Honduras, right-wing coup, 2009.

The report offers recommendations for easing the migration crisis. One is to end “economic warfare against Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua.” Another is to provide “expedited work permits” to recently arrived migrants and to long-term undocumented immigrants. The report asks that the U.S. government “listen to the rest of the world community and end its destructive embargo against Cuba.”

The United Nations General Assembly will soon vote on a Cuban resolution calling for no more blockade. It has approved the resolution annually for 30 years, overwhelmingly so in recent years. The U.S. government does not listen.

Discussing his report on Democracy Now, González provided a rationale for ending the various economic blockades that, based on cost-benefit analysis, ought to resonate with capitalists in charge of our national affairs.

He pointed to U.S. government spending of $333 billion between 2003 and 2021 “for immigration enforcement and for ICE and Border Patrol and fences.” It makes sense: Ending U.S. economic sanctions would result in far fewer migrants at the southern border and, potentially, a big cost saving.

Significantly, the U.S. Treasury Department on Oct. 18 gave the green light for six months on transactions involving Venezuelan oil and natural gas. The action presumably acknowledges the agreement the day before between Venezuela’s government and a sector of its right-wing opposition on arrangements for upcoming presidential elections.

Cuba is different. Oil production is minimal there—and in Nicaragua. By U.S. law, only Congress may cancel the economic blockade of Cuba. Executive actions taken by the Obama administration eased harsher aspects of the blockade. The next administration reversed them and took other actions adding to the horror that is the blockade. There’s been no change since.


W. T. Whitney Jr.


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