Iranians wearing protective masks pose in front of a wall painting of the Iranian flag in Tehran on April 13, 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: AFP / Atta Kenare

In the midst of the most horrendous crisis to confront the entire human family in recent decades, the US elite, it appears, is hell-bent on perpetuating massive sanctions against certain states and effecting regime change in some of them. Sanctions cause much pain and suffering and even death on a wide scale. One would have thought that given what the global Covid-19 pandemic has wrought in the US, its elite would seek to lift sanctions it has imposed on societies determined to protect their independence and sovereignty.

By looking at three well-known victims of US sanctions, we can see how the Covid-19 crisis has helped bring to the fore some of the issues that challenge them.

Iran has been under comprehensive sanctions that have become increasingly harsh since 1980. There is no need to emphasize that it is because Iran after the Islamic Revolution of February 1979 refused to yield to US dictates and chose to champion the Palestinian cause through deeds rather than words that it found itself the target of the superpower of this day.

Iran has made it very clear that though it is going through great difficulties as a result of the pandemic, it will not accept any assistance from the US unless Washington lifts the sanctions. It has, however, applied for financial help from the International Monetary Fund, which according to some sources has been blocked by the US government, which exercises considerable influence over that multilateral institution. China and some European countries have come to Iran’s aid.  

Cuba has been under US sanctions for much longer than Iran, since 1961. The entire world as demonstrated year in, and year out, in the UN General Assembly – with the exception of the US and Israel – wants the sanctions against Cuba lifted. And yet the US government arrogantly perpetuates the blockade even in the midst of a pandemic that has killed thousands of Americans. It is worth noting that Cuba with its limited resources has done more than most other countries in trying to assist other virus-stricken countries in various parts of the world. 

Venezuela is a third country under severe mainly US sanctions that has been forced to pay a huge price for its legitimate desire to protect its independence and sovereignty. As with Iran and Cuba, it is not just sanctions that are employed to suffocate Venezuela. There was a coup in April 2002 against the Venezuelan president, the late Hugo Chavez, in order to effect a regime change, which failed because of people power. Now in 2020 the adversaries of the Venezuelan people have hatched a bizarre tale of current president Nicolas Maduro’s involvement in international drug trafficking with the aim of flooding the US market with cocaine. This is an utterly baseless and ludicrous charge if one knows anything at all about drug routes and production centers in the region, and is the latest attempt to oust the democratically elected president in Caracas in the midst of a health pandemic.  

It is obvious that the US elite’s geopolitical machinations are as malicious as ever in spite of a crisis that has brought so much devastation and death to so many. It is because human suffering is so rife and rampant even in the US and the Western world that many of us are hoping the US elite will show some compassion and eliminate sanctions that have also caused so much pain and misery and loss of life to hundreds of thousands of human beings in almost every continent for decades.

It is the same concern for human suffering that prompted some non-governmental organizations to call for a global ceasefire as Covid-19 took its toll. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has endorsed the plea. Many governments have also supported the call but they have not translated rhetoric into action. 

The Covid-19 pandemic demands action. And many have acted to demonstrate global solidarity. In geopolitical terms, lifting sanctions and observing ceasefires in all the conflict zones would be convincing proof of our common humanity. It would reflect the truth of the wisdom embodied in the immortal lines of the 13th-century Persian poet Sheikh Saadi:

The human race is a single being

Created from one jewel

If one member is struck 

All must feel the blow

Only someone who cares for the pain of others

Can truly be called human.

Chandra Muzaffar

Dr Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), an NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.