US sanctions have caused ‘enormous problems to buy medicine’ during the Covid-19 pandemic

Alena Douhan

As many expected, Joe Biden’s approach to Venezuela has not differed too much from Donald Trump’s. The current US president has largely left his predecessor’s sanctions in place. I spoke to UN special rapporteur Alena Douhan about the impact of sanctions, specifically in light of her official visit to the country in February.

Sanctions cause “enormous problems to buy medicine”

Douhan’s mandate is, as she explained, “seeking to assess the impact of unilateral sanctions on all categories of human rights”. And speaking about “the impact of sanctions in the course of the pandemic”, she said:

In spite of the repeated statements and calls from… my side, from the side of the UN Secretary-General, from this side of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, from the side of the Pope, to lift or at least suspend sanctions and because of the pandemic to provide the targeted society the ability to face the emergency, it hasn’t been done.

And as a result, in practice there are enormous problems to buy medicine or medical goods or protective kits. The transportation companies refuse to deliver any goods to the targeted societies. Partner companies as well as donors of humanitarian aid prefer not to be involved directly in the delivery of this humanitarian aid and humanitarian goods. If states or companies have their money frozen, they can’t use them even for buying essential goods. And I speak about the food, medicine as well as other aspects of humanitarian need.

Moreover, enormous problems come to things which are usually not to be considered as enormously essential goods. And I speak about the equipment and spare parts. If you do not repair spare parts of whatever industry, for example the food industry, it starts to be destroyed at a certain point. And that means that the possibility of the country to provide people with food or with medicine or with anything else is basically much worse than it could be.

Sanctions foster a ‘focus on pure survival’

Douhan then turned to Venezuela, and how US sanctions on the country have made people more dependent on government support:

And naturally, if a country starts to get less money that it used to get before, it starts to focus on the pure survival of the population. I will cite here the example of Venezuela, when the population – due to the enormous inflation and the impact of unilateral sanctions – became enormously dependent on the social payments and social assistance from the side of the government. And I’m not speaking about providing money for the population only. I’m speaking about providing food baskets, because people… have nothing to eat. And they’re enormously dependent on any medical aid provided by the government as well.

So, therefore, when a government starts to focus on the pure survival of the population, naturally it stops all developmental programs. No houses are usually built in this situation. Reconstruction processes do not take place. Any educational processes stop and so forth. So as a result, all categories of human rights are impacted and the right to development is impeded a lot as well.

Main article image via screenshot
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