Economists Blast Menendez for ‘False Narrative’ About Crises in Cuba, Venezuela

Jul 14, 2023
2:45 PM

View of San Lazaro street in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, March 21, 2023. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

More than 50 of the world’s top economists have slammed Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) for recent remarks he made about Cuba and Venezuela, asking that he “stop spreading the false narrative that there is no association between economic sanctions and the economic and humanitarian crises in” in the two countries.

First, a bit of backstory…

On May 10, Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), and 19 of their fellow Congressmembers sent a letter to President Joe Biden in which they call attention to the unprecedented number of migrants from Cuba and Venezuela arriving at the U.S. borders, arguing that the increase was the direct outcome of U.S. sanctions on both countries.

Sen. Menendez reacted by sending his own letter to the president, blasting his colleagues and urging Biden to keep the sanctions in place.

Then, on July 5, the economists sent a letter to Sen. Menendez, slamming him for his remarks and asking that he stop spreading “the false narrative.”

The letter to President Biden from Rep. Escobar and others underscored how the majority of modern-day Cuban and Venezuelan refugees weren’t leaving their home countries merely due to political ideology and repression, but primarily because of dire economic conditions brought about by U.S. sanctions enacted under former President Donald Trump and his predecessors, which the Biden administration has chosen to keep in place.

“While your administration enacted new temporary parole programs over the last year for both Venezuelan and Cuban migrants outside of the United States —and these programs have allowed a limited number of eligible Venezuelans and Cubans to be paroled into the country for a temporary period of up to two years— migrants continue to leave their home countries because of instability and dire economic uncertainty,” Rep. Escobar said in the letter to the president.

The letter went on to cite the administration’s commitment to identifying the root causes of irregular migration, its promise to support countries in the Western Hemisphere, and to create conditions to improve quality of life—promises that were made during the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles in June 2022.

“Cuba is experiencing the largest migrant exodus in its modern history, with more than 220,000 Cubans fleeing the country in 2022, far exceeding both the 1980 Mariel boatlift and the 1994 rafter crisis,” Rep. Escobar said. “Venezuelans, meanwhile, currently comprise the second-largest group of displaced people in the world, with more than 7 million having fled the country since the start of its economic crisis.”

Rep. Menendez responded in his letter to the president by saying that Venezuelans and Cubans were leaving because of “brutal dictatorships” in both countries. Instead of backing his claims with evidence, Rep. Menendez took the opportunity to promote his “Menendez Plan,” in which he calls on the United States to enact a more robust response to “secure the U.S. border, bolster humanitarian assistance, expand lawful migration pathways for migrant and refugee populations, and dedicate additional financial resources towards programs to help migrants integrate into communities hosting them across the Americas.”

“The truth is that Cubans and Venezuelans are leaving their homeland because of one simple fact: they are suffering under the yoke of brutal dictatorships that violently repress their citizens and that have destroyed their countries’ economies through widespread mismanagement and graft,” Rep. Menendez wrote.

Rep. Menendez then echoed similar right-wing talking points in mentioning the “failed states” of Nicaragua and Haiti, without addressing the decades of U.S. intervention in both countries leading to their continued instability. Similarly, he ignored the economic success Cuba experienced when former President Barack Obama began thawing relations with Cuba and the turmoil the island nation has seen since former President Trump added sanctions that crippled Cuba’s economic ambitions.

“Removing U.S. sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela will only betray our democratic values and further empower criminal dictators,” said Menendez. “Such an approach would do nothing to resolve the underlying factors driving these crises, nor address the broader hemispheric challenges that are leading to unprecedented levels of migration, including another criminal dictatorship in Nicaragua, a failed state in Haiti, worsening criminal activity in Mexico and Central America, and enduring economic challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The economists later responded to Menendez’s letter to the president with several studies and reports showing that economic sanctions are doing the most damage to Cuba’s economic and political stability.

“Unlike Rep. Escobar’s letter, your letter fails to cite any research or evidence supporting your central claim that U.S. economic sanctions have not been a significant driver of migration from Cuba and Venezuela,” reads the economists’ letter to Rep. Menendez. “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.”

As noted in the economists’ letter, U.S. Customs and Border Protection reported the arrival of 414,127 migrants from Venezuela and Cuba at U.S. borders in 2022—marking a 361 percent increase from the previous year. The U.S. has already seen nearly 280,000 arrivals from both countries so far this year.

“We respectfully ask that you 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 economists wrote. “If you truly believe in protecting the human rights of ordinary Cubans and Venezuelans, 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.”

In June, a separate group of House Democrats —including Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee— also sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, asking that they consider adopting measures to ease the ongoing economic and political crises in Venezuela, including the lifting of certain sanctions.


Arturo Domínquez is a first-generation Cuban American, anti-racist, journalist, and the publisher of The Antagonist magazine. Twitter: @ExtremeArturo