The theory of the sanctions

HAVANA – In the United States there is a school of thought responsible for establishing the role of sanctions in their foreign policy. The primary conclusion of these researchers is that, in practical terms, the sanction occupies an intermediate place between diplomacy and war.

Seen in this way, the United States is “almost at war” with more than 20 countries and many others are threatened to enter the list, including its European, Canadian and Mexican allies.

Precisely because it is a component of foreign policy, one quality of these sanctions is that they often transcend the legal framework of their national borders to establish impositions on third parties in clear violation of their sovereignties and international law.

Perhaps the US bureaucracy is the only country that employs “experts in sanctions,” accredited with degrees from the most important universities in the country. The departments of State, Commerce and Treasury have teams in charge of recommending and controlling sanctions against other states or foreign entities, as well as dozens of other agencies that enforce them, including financial mechanisms based on the use of the dollar, which has subordinated the international banking system to the dictates of the United States.

Not even proponents of the so-called “doctrine of intelligent power,” as was the case with Barack Obama, dismiss sanctions as an essential ingredient of US foreign policy, and almost expect to be thanked because the other option is worse.

The policy of unilateral sanctions, or some multilateral ones that results from US pressures on other countries and international organizations, responds to the logic of the asymmetry of powers and their effectiveness. It serves, to a large extent, to evaluate the real degree of the power of the American government at a specific time and place.

Another problem with sanctions is that they are always toxic to foreign policy, even when they work, and it is also inevitable that some sectors of the sanctioning country, sometimes the majority of the population, end up being harmed by its application. Cuba is a good example of this.

Cuba is the world’s most sanctioned country and the one that has had to live the longest under the constant siege of US sanctions. Since its inception, these sanctions have had an extraterritorial intent, which was consummated with the approval of the Helms-Burton Act in 1996, which explains its universal repudiation.

In terms of sanctions, the United States has nothing new it can invent against Cuba. There have been times when relations between the two countries have been nil: no travel, remittances, or telephone service, not even postal service.

Many forget that American cruise ships, again banned by the recent Trump administration sanctions, did not exist in the Cuban tourist landscape just three or four years ago. The same has occurred with the suspension of the people-to-people programs, previously conceived as a master plan destined to provoke “regime change” in Cuba through the alleged spell of American visitors on Cuban society.

US policy towards Cuba improved during the second Obama administration due to imperatives of history that have not changed because of the election of Donald Trump.

The United States was isolated internationally in its policy towards Cuba and remains so; the majority of the US population continues to advocate maintaining contact with the Island; the US business sector still sees attractive possibilities in the Cuban market; and the majority of the Cuban-American community supports the normalization of relations between the two countries.

US sanctions have had very harmful effects in Cuba. So much so that beyond damage to the economy and its human consequences, it has prevented the unfolding of the development potential of the country. However, the fact that they have not succeeded in overthrowing the Cuban revolutionary regime is a sign of the weakness of US domination and its ability to impose it. That’s why Obama said it was a failed policy and most people, including many Republicans, agreed with him.

For Donald Trump, sanctions have been a show of power, and used for domestic political reasons in most cases. While he has been quite reluctant to the widespread use of military force, which is a relief, Trump distributes sanctions, right and left, to please an electorate who likes his image as a strong man.

This is nothing new. It has been customary to see the president of the moment assume positions of this type as elections are nearing because many American voters still venerate the image of the cowboy. What distinguishes Donald Trump from the others is that his electoral interest is so obvious, that demagogy is no longer a hoax.

Beyond the excuse of Cuba turning into a great power capable of deciding the destinies of Latin America against the United States, the policy of sanctions clearly seeks to satisfy the demands of the Miami hard right, assuming that this will guarantee the majority of the Cuban-American vote in Florida.

The interesting thing here is that this strategy can backfire. Many in the Cuban-American community are being affected by this policy and as a result may end up impacting those who made it possible. In fact, those who were the most privileged immigrants at one time are now among the most disadvantaged by new US immigration policy. 

The Miami press quite regularly reflects the complaints of Cuban-Americans about this situation, and local Republican politicians have begun to express their “concern” for a problem that they have largely created.

It would not be at all strange to see those responsible for the sanctions be sanctioned, or that, in the face of the 2020 elections, Donald Trump confuse Cuba with North Korea and want to become friendly with the Cuban leaders.