Recentering Internationalism: An Analysis of Economic Sanctions

As maintained in the October article, Failures of the US Left, “what should be largely understood by the ‘US left’ is that fascism and capitalism rely on and support imperialism—- seeking out to exploit nations we’ve come to view as Underdeveloped for labor, benefiting only the most privileged few within the Western nation”. During this year’s African Liberation Day virtual broadcast, this point was exemplified through discussions centered on imperialist sanctions against sovereign nations like Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Venezuela, reiterating the point that “one can not be a revolutionary socialist and not also be an anti-imperialist.”

How does one come to understand anti-imperialism not just in regards to socialism but a broader material reality faced by Africans in the US enough to understand its relationship to the overall liberation of African and colonized people? Through a rejection of the socialization of wars and American patriotism, of course— through internationalism.

The dire conditions that exist in African poor working-class communities in the US, which are the result of intentional systematic neglect under a white supremacist capitalist-imperialist system, leave poor African and other colonized people without the ability to live full lives. We are systemically dehumanized. As small African children in the US, growing up under these dire conditions, you are the primary target for enlistment. African and other colonized children have been socialized into a fallacy of false choice that allows enlisting into the US military to be viewed as a chance to escape hardship despite the contradictions of contributing to the hardships and even the deaths of other colonized people.

If Africans are suffering due to a lack of access to sufficient healthcare, enlisting in the military provides a solution to that problem. If poor working-class conditions financially restrict Africans from accessing higher education, the military offers a way. Enlisting in the military also guarantees housing when a heightened housing crisis has resulted in massive displacement across the country. Poverty is, indeed, the ‘new draft’, but much of this has been made possible with the normalization of wars through video games, mainstream media, colonized education, as well as the Obama years when African communities found themselves willingly fully embracing patriotism if only because an African face represented America.

While we may hear the occasional pushback against wars, we are less likely to hear pushback against imperialist economic sanctions. Similar to wars, sanctions are equally devastating and deadly. Economic sanctions are a tactic of war targeting particular nations, strangling its economy (a tool of imperialism)—- yes, even now during a global pandemic as we have seen with Iran. If that definition seems eerily similar to what the US does to African communities here, it should. Aren’t African communities in the US targeted by the state? Aren’t African communities in the US economically strangled, as well? Aren’t Africans in the US finding themselves displaced from the places they’ve called home? If US economic sanctions are essentially part of a strategy of compliance through collective punishment, what makes nations under sanctions different from the material reality of African Communities in the belly of the beast? 

The effects of economic sanctions on African and other colonized children bring this point closer to home.

The 1993 study titled, “Sanctions in Haiti: Crisis in Humanitarian Action,” recognizes although international attention focused largely on killings and political terrorism in Haiti, “the human toll from the silent tragedy of humanitarian neglect has been far greater than either the violence or human rights abuses.” A reported nearly 3,000 children aged 5 or younger died in Haiti every month. According to the study, that figure increased by about 1,000 children per month. There are about a million children under the age of 5 in Haiti, which has a population of about 7 million. Sanctions directly contributed to as many as 100,000 new cases of moderate to severe malnutrition suffered by children.

The continued U.S. oppression of Haiti has most recently been demonstrated through U.S. sanctions against Venezuela which has made it impossible for Haiti to repay their loan as part of the PetroCaribe deal. This, of course, has contributed to the uprisings in Haiti, pre- coronavirus pandemic. Yet, during this pandemic, we don’t see these tensions nor horrific conditions easing but, instead, worsening.

Recently in Venezuela, Afro-Venezuelans stopped a US multi-million dollar mercenary invasion that was an attempt to oust the democratically elected president, Nicolas Maduro. Consequently, the continued resistance from Venezuelans has invited more sanctions on an already heavily sanctioned sovereign nation which has killed up to 40,000 Venezuelans since 2017. The impact these sanctions have had on children’s ability to access medical needs and food has not just been severe but manipulated by US mainstream media as an implied result of Maduro’s reign of “tyranny”.

These are similar distortions of truths presented to Africans in the US about Africans in the US. Economic sanctions should not only be understood as a consequence faced by other colonized nations but we need to understand that we are colonized people here in the US and furthermore, domestic and global imperialism are counterparts. This is the primary contradiction that exists through present-day systemic oppression suffered by African poor working-class communities. This, of course, presents itself as economic sanctions otherwise known as welfare sanctions. 

The welfare system is an oppressive political player that essentially monitors, regulates, and punishes colonized poor families, and colonized children by extension. Currently, fewer families are exempt from mandatory work requirements, and more are subjected to penalization for infractions of the rules with the loss of entire cash grants, which include Food stamps or Medicaid benefits, through federal regulations. This obviously restricts a household’s ability to get its basic needs met. This restricts (majority single parent) household’s ability to function day-to-day. This is not unlike the punishment thwarted at colonized nations that the US (and its allies and their lackeys) through US/ Western imperialism. This, like the economic sanctions placed on nations like Haiti and Venezuela, has the most drastic impact on the most vulnerable, the children.

It is important that revolutionary socialists continue to make these connections and push the same internationalism that was rooted in the Black radical traditions of our ancestors. Imperialism is not simply something to reiterate is “the highest stage of capitalism”, but something that affects Africans EVERYWHERE. 

It is important that we organize to end US imperialist sanctions both here and abroad.

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.