As a means of “twisting the arms” of sovereign counties so that they “do what we need them to do,” as President Barack Obama described U.S. sanctions to Vox, the United States has imposed a host of sanctions against countries around the world.
The most common argument for imposing sanctions is that the country in question violates human rights or supports terrorism. However, these so-called human rights violators and terrorism supporters are all countries that adamantly oppose U.S. imperialist policies; those who are close allies and true violators of human rights, on the other hand, receive a free pass.
Of course, one of the main propagators of terrorism is the United States itself, with its drone warfare program that strikes fear and random destruction on innocent civilians in countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen.
Below is a list of 19 countries where the U.S. Department of the Treasury, specifically the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has imposed sanctions.
OFAC itself was formally created in December 1950, following the entry of China into the Korean War, when President Truman declared a national emergency and blocked all Chinese and North Korean assets subject to U.S. jurisdiction.
The first sanctions against North Korea were applied in 1950, when the United States entered into a war against the country. These sanctions, intended to weaken one of the Soviet Union's key allies, affected the country severely, and were maintained until 2008.
The U.S. weakened these sanctions in 1995-96, with the supply of energy and loans to the country. However, in 2013 the U.S. strengthened sanctions again, particularly against weapons and financing, when North Korea expanded its nuclear weapons program. At the start of this year yet more sanctions were announced after it claimed the Asian nation was carrying out destabilization attacks due to satirical film “The Interview.”
The blockade against Cuba, which has been maintained for over 50 years, represents much more than sanctions. When Fidel Castro was first chosen to be prime minister of Cuba in 1959, and decided not to submit to the wishes of the United States, the republican government of Dwight Eisenhower applied the first sanctions against the island in 1960. The administration of John. F. Kennedy maintained and strengthened these in response to the nationalization of U.S. companies in Cuba.
The U.S. effort to undermine Cuba took particularly extreme measures, such as withdrawing support for all countries that did business with Cuba, organizing a failed invasion against Cuba in 1961 (“Bay of Pigs Invasion”), and planning hundreds of assassination attempts against Fidel Castro.
The U.S. has prohibited its citizens from visiting Cuba since 1966, under penalty of the law, punishable with up to 10 years in prison and considerable fines.
The Clinton administration further tightened the blockade in 1996, with the Helms-Burton Law, which imposed sanctions on companies that did business in Cuba. Furthermore, in the year 2000, frozen Cuban bank accounts with US$120 million were used to pay “compensation to the victims of Cuban terrorism.”
A recent report of the Cuban government indicates that between January 2009 and June 2014 the Obama administration compelled 36 U.S.-and-foreign companies to US$ 2.6 billion for their economic involvement in Cuba and in other countries.
The United States has led the international community in imposing economic sanctions on Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, which toppled the U.S.-sponsored government of the time. The U.S. froze all Iranian assets, including gold reserves, in retaliation for the occupation of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
In 1987, President Reagan imposed a complete import embargo on Iranian-origin goods and services. The policy was further tightened in 1996, when sanctions were extended to any country that invested over US$20 million in Iran. The sanctions also included an exclusion of Iran from interbank transaction activities.
These sanctions were further tightened in 2012 in response to Iran's nuclear program, which made it extremely difficult for Iran to transfer money internationally.
In response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the United States imposed comprehensive sanctions, including a trade embargo against Iraq and a freeze of the assets of the then-Iraqi government.
The Burma sanctions program began in May 1997 when the President issued an Executive Action after determining that the government of Burma had committed large-scale repression of the democratic opposition in Burma, declaring a national emergency with respect to the actions and policies of that government.
In May 2012, the President and the Secretary of State announced that the United States would begin easing certain financial and investment sanctions on Burma in response to political reforms taking place there. Since July 2012, the U.S. Government has taken various actions in response to the reforms in Burma.
The U.S. government slapped sanctions on Zimbabwe’s government in 2003, when the U.S. targeted government officials and entities in the African nation, as a result of the actions and policies of certain members its government, and other individuals, in undermining democratic institutions and processes.
During the 1991 Balkans War, the U.N. Security Council adopted a series of sanctions that targeted arms purchases as well as financial transactions. The United States further tightened sanctions in 1998, primarily against government officials. Also, again affecting third party transactions, the sanctions punished anyone who did not comply with the sanctions and who invested over US$500 million for businesses and US$250 million for individuals.
In 2004 the U.S. Senate passed the “Law for Democracy in Belorussia,” in which it required the country to provide the U.S. with information about its arms and technology purchases. The law also allowed the U.S. government to “support democratic processes,” meaning efforts to destabilize the country. In 2011 the sanctions were further tightened.
The sanctions against Syria were related to Syria's supposed support of terrorist organizations and those officials who had participated in the occupation of Lebanon. The government was further accused of supporting rebels in Iraq and of developing weapons of mass destruction.
The U.S. bank accounts of Syrian government officials and of companies were frozen and the import of practically all products except food and medicine were prohibited.
About 30 Sudanese companies were prohibited from maintaining commercial relations with the U.S., and their assets in U.S. banks were frozen in 2007. The U.S. has maintained sanctions of one type or another against Sudan since 1997.
Sanctions against Somalia were particularly targeted against the radical Islamic group al-Shabab, which had come to power in Somalia as a result of U.S. efforts to destabilize the previous government. Members of al-Shabab were prohibited from entering the U.S. and their assets were frozen.
In 2011 the United States imposed commercial and financial sanctions against the government of Moammar Gadhafi. These sanctions were part of a much larger effort from Western governments to overthrow the Gadhafi government, with the help of a NATO bombing campaign, which eventually allowed rebels to take over and kill Gadhafi.
Libya is currently in the ongoing throws of violence and chaos, which is the direct result of the U.S.-and-NATO-supported intervention.
In 2011 the United States imposed sanctions against the Ivory Coast's president, Laurent Gbagbo, as well as his wife and his followers, because elections were canceled and human rights were violated.
With the excuse of wanting to stop people who were strangling “the sovereignty of Lebanon,” sanctions were imposed on individuals in 2012 that prevented them from entering the U.S. and that froze their U.S.-based assets.
In March of 2014 the U.S. imposed sanctions against then-president Viktor Yanukovich and the politician Viktor Medvedchuk, prohibiting their entry to the U.S. and freezing their assets. The U.S. went on to support the overthrow of the Yanukovich government and the division of the country.
The U.S. imposed sanctions against government officials in 2012 during its civil war. These sanctions were further tightened in 2014, which included the freezing of government officials' assets in the U.S. and prohibits U.S. citizens and institutions from engaging in financial transactions with Yemen.
In the wake of the conflict between South Sudan and rebels, the U.S. imposed sanctions on indiviuals involved in the conflict in 2014.
When the coup took place against Ukraine's president Yanukovich, Russia's president Putin supported the independence of regions of the Ukraine and the re-incorporation of Crimea into Russia, following an overwhelming referendum in favor.
The U.S. subsequently announced sanctions against Russian government officials in March 2014, which it justified with the argument that Russia was violating the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. One of the first to be affected by these sanctions was the Prime Minister of Crimea, Sergei Axionov, who was denied entry into the U.S. and whose assets were frozen.
Russia retaliated by imposing sanctions on the U.S. and the European Union, for a year, prohibiting food exports to these countries.
U.S. and EU sanctions were further tightened in September 2014, when Obama announced, “We will deepen and broaden our sanctions across Russia’s banking, energy, and defense sectors.” Sanctioned enterprises include Gazprom Neft; Lukoil, Rosneft, Gazprom, Surgutneftegaz, Transneft, Rostec and the aerospace company Oboronprom. Affected banks include Sberbank, Bank of Moscow, Gazprombank, Rosseljozbank, Vneshekonobank amd VTB.
On March 3, 2015, Preisdent Obama announced that the sanctions against Russia would be extended for another year, so as to pressure Russia to accept the policies that the U.S. and the EU are pursuing in the Ukraine.
On December 18, 2014, president Obama signed the sanctions into law that the U.S. Congress had passed a little earlier. The sanctions include the freezing of assets and the prohibition of visas for Venezuelan government officials who the U.S. claims have participated in human rights violations during anti-government violent protests in early 2014. These protests had resulted in the deaths of 43 Venezuelans.
Obama then signed an executive order Monday, declaring that Venezuela represents an “extraordinary threat” to the national security of the United States. This executive order further enables the Obama administration to impose more sanctions against Venezuela whenever it chooses to do so.