If you travel the world, you'll find that your United States passport can be a very powerful thing. However, depending on how adventurous a traveler you are, you may sometimes find that your American passport isn't so warmly received in certain corners of the world.
If you travel the world, you’ll find that your United States passport can be a very powerful thing. However, depending on how adventurous a traveler you are, you may sometimes find that your American passport isn’t so warmly received in certain corners of the world. That could be in part because the US uses its economic might to sanction countries it believes to be bad actors.
In recent months, changes in relations with nations like Iran and Cuba — along with the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis – have prompted a second look at economic sanctions imposed by the US. Experts question whether sanctions actually encourage the political changes desired, or whether they unfairly hurt innocent citizens living under undesirable governments.
Here, we take a look at the sanctions the US currently imposes on 11 different countries or governments, through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, the State Department, and the Department of Commerce.
Date Imposed: March 7, 2003
Sanctions were imposed on “specifically identified individuals and entities in Zimbabwe, as a result of the actions and policies of certain members of the Government of Zimbabwe and other persons undermining democratic institutions or processes.” Citing destabilizing violence, the sanctions applied to a list of 80 people. In 2005, 80 more people — including family members of the people already identified – were sanctioned. After a “fundamentally undemocratic election” in 2008, even more people and sanctions were added to the previous policies. These sanctions include freezing assets on US property and prohibiting US citizens from performing transactions with these people.
Date Imposed: Dec. 18, 2014
In 2013, Venezuela lost its charismatic leader, Hugo Chavez, to cancer. In the time since Chavez’s death, the country continued dealing with deterioration of its economy, human rights, free press, and the tentative democracy that exists there. Violent protests in early 2014 led to the deaths of 43 people, and numerous others injured and unfairly detained. In response, the “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” was enacted through Congress, sanctioning members of the Venezuelan Government and others “responsible for ordering or otherwise directing, significant acts of violence or serious human rights abuses in Venezuela against persons associated with the antigovernment protests.” In an Executive Order from March 2015, President Obama named seven people specifically targeted by the sanctions, including the Director of the National Police.
Date Imposed: March 6, 2014
Respecting the integrity of international borders is an important component to peace and economic cooperation. When Russia invaded and annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine, and then again started conflict in the Donbass area, the US set up a list of individuals, businesses, and industries in Russia to be sanctioned. In addition to blocking property, travel restrictions were also introduced. “We have designated a number of Russian and Ukrainian entities, including 14 defense companies and individuals in Putin’s inner circle, as well as imposed targeted sanctions limiting certain financing to six of Russia’s largest banks and four energy companies,” according to a release on the State Department’s website. Since the initial sanctions were imposed, they have been expanded several times as Russia has not stopped its campaign in Eastern Ukraine. In addition to US sanctions, the European Union has also implemented economic sanctions on Russia.
Date Imposed: December 1979
Since 1979, Syria has been officially declared a State Sponsor of Terrorism, which comes with its own set of sanctions: “restrictions on US foreign assistance; a ban on defense exports and sales; certain controls over exports of dual use items; and miscellaneous financial and other restrictions.” Since then, additional restrictions have been added, in May 2004 and again in 2011, after the uprising in Syria. The US, according to the State Department, “intensely pursued calibrated sanctions to deprive the regime of the resources it needs to continue violence against civilians and to pressure the Syrian regime to allow for a democratic transition as the Syrian people demand.” These include preventing Americans and American businesses from dealing in any trade with Syria involving petroleum or petroleum products. Some of the newer sanctions were eased in 2013 in order to enable relief and reconstruction in opposition-controlled areas.
Date Imposed: August 12, 1993
Sudan is the second of three nations that fall under the State Sponsor of Terrorism category. Like Syria, in the years since that designation, increased sanctions have been created, in 1997 and 2006. All trade was blocked with Sudan starting in 1997. Additional freezing of assets and sanctions were imposed in 2006 in relation to the genocide in Darfur, when more than 400 villages were destroyed by state-sanctioned militias, killing more than 400,000 people and displacing more than 2.5 million people. The Human Rights Watch organization said in its annual report that Sudan’s “abysmal” human rights record continued into 2014, with new conflicts springing up. Since 2009, the Obama Administration has tried to find ways to lessen sanctions in order to help the Sudanese people, but continued violence and corruption have prevented normalization of relations.
6. South Sudan
Date Imposed: April 7, 2014
South Sudan has been independent only since July 2011, but have struggled with maintaining positive international relations. Recruitment of child soldiers, interfering with peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, and human rights violations all led to South Sudan being added to the list of countries with sanctions. The young state found itself embroiled in a civil war beginning in December 2013, and UN investigators found human rights violations were committed by both sides during the conflict. The sides still have yet to settle, and the US is threatening additional sanctions, including assets being frozen and an arms embargo.
5. North Korea
Date Imposed: 1950
Diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were bad from the beginning; five years after the establishment of two separate Korean states, Soviet-backed North Korea invaded US-backed South Korea, beginning the Korean War. Since the armistice in 1953, the near-total economic embargo has not really thawed. Some sanctions have been lifted, but others have been implemented, including in 2008, 2010, 2011 and January 2015. The most recent sanctions were imposed following the hacking of Sony Pictures, allegedly sponsored by the North Korean Government. Other issues preventing the lifting of restrictions include North Korea’s continuation of a nuclear program, as well as alleged human rights abuses.
Date Imposed: 1979
Beginning with the capture of the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979, successive American presidents have implemented “unprecedented” sanctions against Iran. Iran is the third State Sponsor of Terrorism designee, being added to the list on January 19, 1984. In addition to the related sanctions that comes with being on that list, trade embargos were enacted in 1987, 1995, and 2010. Since 2010, most of the sanctions being placed on Iran dealt with concerns about the nation’s nuclear weapon program. US citizens and businesses cannot do business with Iranian banks or energy companies, and are unable to trade any goods other than gifts less than $100 in value. The nuclear deal reached between Iran, the US and allies could be the beginning of renewed diplomatic and economic ties with Iran, but no official moves have been made by the US yet.
3. Democratic Republic of Congo
Date Imposed: October 27, 2006
Rebel groups and outside forces creating conflicts in the DRC have been an ongoing issue since the end of the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, and sanctions were established in 2006 to target warlords trying to gain power in the natural-resources rich nation. Systematic rape and child soldiers were utilized in both of the First and Second Congo Wars. In July 2014, President Obama amended the original Executive Order to include violence against women as well as children as a sanctionable offense, as well as illegal trade of natural resources, known as “conflict minerals.” The different factions continue to recruit, bringing about UN sanctions as well as American sanctions.
Date Imposed: 1959
Late last year, President Obama announced that the US would begin to normalize relations with Cuba for the first time since Fidel Castro took control of the island. Sanctions had started out relatively slow, but by 1962, President Kennedy had instituted a full embargo of Cuba, and diplomatic ties were severed in 1961. Cuba was dropped from the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism in April 2014; Cuba had been on the list since 1982. Beginning this year, though, travel restrictions will be eased, and an embassy will be opened in Havana. Cuba estimated the embargo caused more than $1 trillion in economic loss since it was enacted. The easing of restrictions is not entirely popular, though; Cuba still has an autocratic government and has a very bad human rights record.
1. Burma (Myanmar)
Date Imposed: 1988
“The United States currently imposes sanctions specifically on Burma via six laws and five presidential documents. These sanctions can be generally divided into several broad categories, such as visa bans, restrictions on financial services, prohibitions of Burmese imported goods, a ban on new investments in Burma, and constraints on US assistance to Burma.” The first Executive Order, from 1997, is fairly straightforward, titled “Prohibiting New Investment in Burma.” President Clinton enacted the restriction to combat “large-scale repression of the democratic opposition.” But sanctions against the military junta-controlled nation started in 1988, after more than 3,000 protesters and dissidents were killed by the army. Political progress has included elections, though some were voided by the junta, and release of political prisoners, kick-starting American willingness to open dialogue. Currently, though, the nation is embroiled in allegations of ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingyas in the Rakhine State.
Bonus! Malicious Cyber Actors
Date Imposed: April 1, 2015
President Obama enacted an Executive Order this spring to create another tool in the arsenal for fighting cybercrime. The Treasury, Attorney General and Secretary of State are authorized to sanction any “individuals or entities that engage in malicious cyber-enabled activities that create a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.” Anyone that commits cybercrime — or enables or aids these criminals – can have their property seized, assets frozen, and are prohibited from doing business within the U.S. or with its citizens. Also, anyone accused of cybercrimes is not allowed to immigrate or enter into America.