[Trigger warning: war, death]
It would be hard to think of a better possible time for the world to come together and exhibit global solidarity amongst each other than during a global pandemic where we all share one common goal: to stop the spread of the virus. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the depravity of US imperialism, and the true internationalism of often demonised countries like Cuba. It seems that the imperial narrative of the world, where the exceptional west are benevolent global leaders and its ‘enemies’ are backward and threaten world peace, has been flipped on its head.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently said that “America remains the world’s leading light of humanitarian goodness”. However, his country’s actions during this pandemic suggest the complete opposite. Instead of using its global power for good, the United States has chosen to continue its imperialist aggression against Iran and Venezuela by refusing to lift devastating sanctions, even under these unprecedented circumstances. It is no secret that the longstanding US policy toward these countries has been economic warfare and threats of military aggression in hopes of toppling their respective governments. Now, the US is exploiting coronavirus to exacerbate the suffering of nations in which it seeks regime change. The US has been accused of waging ‘medical terror’, as these sanctions are preventing medical equipment from being sent to countries under sanctions, as well as reducing the amount of money available to pay for these supplies. As a result of sanctions, Pompeo has bragged that “things are much worse for the Iranian people” and he hopes this will cause Iranians to demand a change in government. He is not even hiding the fact that these sanctions are intended to cause suffering to Iranian civilians.
Beyond this, the US has also been accused of ‘modern piracy’ by intercepting shipment of medical supplies destined for hard-hit regions of the world and diverting it to the US. President Trump also ordered the company 3M to prioritise the US by stopping shipments of medical supplies to Canada and Latin America, a move 3M warned will have “significant humanitarian implications”. Despite projecting a humanitarian image globally, the US actions during this pandemic tell another story. On the other hand, Cuba’s medical internationalism presents a model for global solidarity in the face of a pandemic. While the US expanded its aggression abroad, Cuba sent 52 doctors and nurses to Italy to aid its struggle against the virus, despite being a small island nation that has been under US sanctions since 1960. Since the start of its mission of medical internationalism, Cuba has sent more t!han 400,000 healthcare workers to 164 countries around the world.
The western imperial system relies on the construction of a world that centres the west as benevolent actors concerned with spreading democracy and freedom across the world against a set of nefarious actors hell-bent on the destruction of these ideals. However, the reality does not quite match this narrative. Western leaders, with the support of mainstream media, participate in the co!nstant demonization of leaders and governments it does not like, as well as the denial of humanity of the people living in these countries. In Venezuela, the US has portrayed the elected president Nicolas Maduro as an authoritarian tyrant fully responsible for a humanitarian crisis. It has recognised the unpopular and unelected Juan Guaido as president and imposed crippling sanctions on the country. The final goal is to help instigate a coup that would overthrow Maduro and install a leader more aligned with western interests. Western media has done its part to legitimise this coup narrative by failing to question the right of the US to meddle in a sovereign country’s affairs as well as systematically ignoring the role of harsh US sanctions in contributing to that country’s economic crisis. Also never mentioned in the media is that these sanctions have led to the deaths of 40,000 people in the year 2017-2018 alone according to a study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The study also notes that these sanctions fit the definition of collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. Casting further doubt on the claim that western interference in Venezuela is based on humanitarian grounds, documents have been exposed that detail a plan to promote British business after a potential coup in Venezuela. The west has repeatedly used the cover of humanitarianism as a smoke screen to justify imperialist intervention in order to promote business interests.
As part of the imperial narrative, the west must work to maintain this image of benevolence. How it depicts itself in popular culture like films is a crucial part of this. The 2014 film American Sniper comes to mind. The film follows the life of Chris Kyle, who became the deadliest sniper in US military history during the Iraq War. The film relies on racist depictions of Arabs as a homogenous population full of terrorists and reinforces the notion that the war was a struggle for democracy against the savage terrorists. The film makes no mention of the lies that were pushed to justify the war. It makes no mention of the estimated one million Iraqis who died as a result of the occupation. It makes no mention of the human rights abuses committed by the US, such as those that occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison and Guantanamo Bay. The second season of the series Jack Ryan has also been accused of serving imperialist propaganda purposes as it follows a CIA analyst played by John Krasinski who goes on a mission to Venezuela to “bring stability to a country on the brink of collapse”. This rhetoric closely mirrors that of the Trump administration, which talks about liberating the Venezuelan people, even as it is killing vulnerable civilians and limiting their access to medicine through economic sanctions. It is a lesson in the ways that war propaganda can be disguised as entertainment.
US and western action on the global stage is completely at odds with its rhetoric of benevolent global leadership, democracy and freedom. What we see instead is a modern imperialism that utilises the institutions of the state, media and popular culture to promote an interventionist foreign policy primarily aimed at advancing western interests at the expense of the stability, sovereignty and the citizens of targeted countries.
[Adrian von Bonsdorff – He/Him]
[Photo credit: Meridith Kohut/The New York Times]