Los Angeles Times - 03.04.2020

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BEIRUT — Hezbollah,
the Iran-backed Islamic fac-
tion in Lebanon deemed a
terrorist group by the U.S.,
has decades of experience
fighting wars. But not the
kind it launched this week.
Armed with red, yellow
and green Hezbollah flags
and masks decorated with
the same colors, thousands
of doctors, nurses and medi-
cal technicians began mobi-
lizing to battle a new adver-
sary: the coronavirus.
But Hezbollah, along
with the governments of
Iran, Venezuela and others,
is facing the pandemicat the
same time it lurches under
the weight of harsh U.S.
economic sanctions that
have blocked its access to
money, imports and interna-
tional alliances.
Now as virtually every
country in the world grap-
ples with the health crisis,
the American pressure
campaignagainst its foes is
drawing attention.
Venezuelan President
Nicolas Maduro, whom the
Trump administration has
been trying to oust for more
than a year, accused the
U.S. on Tuesday of “inhu-
mane” exploitation of the co-
ronavirus crisis, using it as a
way to corner him and his so-
cialist government. U.S.
sanctions have been levied
against numerous Venezue-
lan officials, businesses and
the country’s lifeline, oil pro-
Venezuela is only begin-
ning to detect cases of
COVID-19, the highly infec-
tious disease caused by the
novel coronavirus, and its
collapsed health system is
woefully ill-equipped to

treat an onslaught of vic-
tims, residents say. Without
ventilators, medicines, wa-
ter and sometimes electric-
ity, the best some hospitals
have been able to offer is
hand sanitizer.
The Trump administra-
tion last week tightened its
sanctions, adding more Ven-
ezuelan officials to its black-
list, which bars them from
doing business with U.S. citi-
zens and companies. And
the Justice Department in-
dicted Maduro and more
than a dozen members of his
inner circle on drug-traffick-
ing and related criminal
On Tuesday, Secretary of
State Michael R. Pompeo of-
fered a carrot, saying the
U.S. would gradually lift
sanctions if Maduro stepped
down and dissolved several
of the governing bodies he
dominated, including the

constitutional assembly, a
largely rubber-stamp legis-
lative chamber. The deal
would include forming a five-
member transitional gov-
ernment that would hold
elections within nine
Maduro quickly rejected
the offer and vowed his
country would withstand
the pandemic with aid arriv-
ing from China, including 55
tons of testing equipment,
masks and protective gear,
respirators, antiviral medi-
cines and X-ray machines.
Iran, similarly, has lashed
out at Washington, blaming
sanctions for tying its hands
in fighting the disease.
Iran has officially
counted more than 3,
deaths after initially down-
playing and concealing the
impact of the coronavirus
and bungling its counter-

Mohammad Javad Zarif,
the foreign minister of Iran,
accused the United States of
engaging in “medical terror.”
He posted a tweet with the
word SANCTION in big red
block letters, with the O
formed by an image of the
virus that’s become em-
blematic of the pandemic.
State Department
spokeswoman Morgan
Ortagus responded angrily
to Iran’s claims. “Stop lying.
Stop stealing,” she tweeted.
“It’s the regime, not the
The United Nations, in-
ternational human rights or-
ganizations and a handful of
U.S. lawmakers are calling
on Washington to ease the
sanctions to make it easier
to cope with the crisis.
“The United States
should not now be in the
business of compounding
the pain and suffering of the

people of Venezuela and
Iran, piling in on top of what
the mismanagement [by
Caracas and Tehran] has al-
ready created,” said Peter
Harrell, a fellow at the Cen-
ter for a New American Se-
curity who helped develop
sanctions against Iran
under President Obama.
A letter signed by nearly
three dozen mostly prog-
ressive members of Con-
gress urged Trump to pause
the sanctions.
“We can’t forget this is a
global pandemic that re-
quires leadership,” said Rep.
Joaquin Castro (D-Texas)
said in a statement support-
ing the letter.
The Trump administra-
tion has refused, noting that
U.S. sanctions do not apply
to medicines or most other
humanitarian aid.
Although that is techni-
cally true, by roping coun-

tries off from the interna-
tional economy, sanctions
make it extremely compli-
cated to supply humanitari-
an aid, said Richard Neph-
ew, a sanctions expert for-
merly at the State Depart-
ment and National Security
Council. The licensing sys-
tems and other mechanisms
that the U.S. has made avail-
able for obtaining humani-
tarian equipment are con-
fusing and burdensome, and
few banks are willing to deal
with capitals that Washing-
ton holds as pariahs.
Some critics argue that
the Trump administration
may be hoping that the bur-
den of the coronavirus crisis
will be the final straw that
topples the governments of
its most hated enemies.
In announcing the indict-
ments of Maduro and his as-
sociates, Atty. Gen. William
Barr said the move during a
health crisis was well-timed
because it might persuade
Venezuelans to finally rise
up against their leaders.
“The people in Venezuela
are suffering, and they need
an effective government
that responds to the peo-
ple,” Barr said. “This is the
best way to support the Ven-
ezuelan people: to rid this
country of this corrupt ca-
Pompeo denied the U.S.
was exploiting the health
crisis, saying that the ad-
ministration has even of-
fered medical aid to those
governments but that they
refused it. He also suggested
the administration could yet
reconsider easing the sanc-
tions at some point.
“We evaluate all of our
policies constantly,” Pom-
peo told reporters this week.
“So the answer is, would we
ever rethink it? Of course.
We’re constantly trying to
make sure we have our poli-
cies right.”

Bulos and Wilkinson
reported from Beirut and
Washington, respectively.
Special correspondent Mery
Mogollon in Caracas
contributed to this report.

Ire over U.S. refusal to lift sanctions

MUNICIPAL WORKERSclean a neighborhood in Caracas, Venezuela, on Thursday. President Nicolas
Maduro has accused the U.S. of using the COVID-19 pandemic to corner him and his socialist government.

Federico ParraAFP/Getty Images

Iran, Venezuela and

others accuse White

House of exploiting

pandemic to further

pressure them.

By Tracy Wilkinson
and Nabih Bulos

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