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Top economists say Sen. Menendez spreading fake news on sanctions

A new letter with more than 50 signatories implores the lawmaker to stop using his power to maintain a cruel US policy in Venezuela.

Analysis | Reporting | Latin America

A new letter from dozens of economists and sanctions experts  is calling on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) to “stop spreading the false narrative that there is no association between economic sanctions and the economic and humanitarian crises in countries targeted by those sanctions.” 

The impetus for the letter is a recent back-and-forth between Menendez, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a group of Democratic lawmakers — mostly a collection of border state representatives and progressives from elsewhere in the country — over the effectiveness of maintaining Trump-era sanctions on Venezuela and Cuba. 

In May, Democratic House members sent a letter to President Biden, urging him to reverse the sanctions in an effort to alleviate ongoing economic crises and consequently curb the high level of migrants currently seeking to enter the United States. The next day, Menendez issued a response “blasting” the letter, and placing the responsibility for the influx of people leaving Cuba and Venezuela entirely on their respective leaders and not U.S. sanctions. 

This new letter, which has more than 50 signatories, including historian Greg Grandin, former Argentine minister of finance Martin Guzman, and  economist Ha-Joon Chang, disputes Menendez’s claims. 

“Unlike Rep. Escobar’s letter, your letter fails to cite any research or evidence supporting your central claim that US economic sanctions have not been a significant driver of migration from Cuba and Venezuela. This is hardly surprising, as there is in fact no serious research supporting this claim. In contrast, as a recent report on the human consequences of sanctions has highlighted, dozens of peer-reviewed academic studies document the substantive negative– and often lethal– effects of economic sanctions on people’s living conditions in target countries.”

Rep. Escobar’s letter was just one of a series of recent arguments against broad-based sanctions policy, both in Latin America, and also elsewhere in the world. Another group of prominent House Democrats, including the ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen asking them to consider adopting  measures that would ease  the ongoing economic and political crises in Venezuela, including the lifting of certain sanctions. 

The letter elaborates on how two recent studies show that the sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry contributed to a major drop in oil production, which is responsible for a huge proportion of Venezuela's export revenue. This decrease in production has subsequently “led to massive cuts in imports of food and inputs for agricultural production, which in turn has been the major factor behind widespread hunger and malnutrition in Venezuela.”  

Francisco Rodriguez, a professor at the  University of Denver and one of the letter’s signers, wrote a report for the Center for Economic and Policy Research in May on how sanctions impact the lives of ordinary citizens, which found that “economic sanctions are associated with declines in living standards and severely impact the most vulnerable groups in target countries. It is hard to think of other cases of policy interventions that continue to be pursued despite the accumulation of a similar array of evidence of their adverse effects on vulnerable populations.”

The missive lists a number of other recent op-eds, reports, studies, and comments from world leaders that analyzed the harmful  humanitarian effects of sanctions policies. The global unpopularity of the American embargo on Cuba is underscored by the fact that last year, 185 countries voted for a resolution calling for its repeal and only two (the U.S. and Israel) voted against it.

“If you truly believe in protecting the human rights of ordinary Cubans and Venezuelans,” the letter concludes, “you should stop leveraging your considerable power in the Senate to maintain the cruel measures that cause profound human suffering, fuel humanitarian emergencies, and push many more people to migrate to the US."  

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.). Jan. 2019 (Photo: lev radin via
Analysis | Reporting | Latin America
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