The problem with many economic sanctions, particularly those aimed at drug lords, is that they wind up hurting the wrong people. Consider the case of the designation of the inaccurately named John Angel Zabaneh by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (“OFAC”) as detailed in this excellent Reuters news story. OFAC put Zabaneh on the SDN List based on its belief that Zabaneh is connected with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, head of Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel, although Zabaneh denies this.

Because drug lords do not live by drugs alone, targeted narcotics kingpins in Central America often have other, and sometimes quite significant, legitimate business interests. In this case, Zabaneh was also a banana farmer in Belize and his farms contributed a significant portion of Belize’s banana exports. It should probably come as no surprise that bananas constitute about 20 percent of all of Belize’s exports.

So when OFAC designated Zabaneh, it ultimately resulted in shutting down his banana farms when his customers became unwilling to deal with him. This resulted, according to the Reuters article, in a 13.5 percent plunge in banana exports from Belize and the loss of 900 jobs previously held by workers on the Zabaneh farms.

There is no evidence that this caused Mr. Zabaneh to exit the drug trade, if he ever was in it, or crimped his lifestyle in any fashion. The only effects, it would appear, of the OFAC sanctions was that it allowed the U.S. government to feel good about itself and caused a bunch of people in Belize, with no connection to any drug trade, to wonder where there next meal might be coming from.

Copyright © 2016 Clif Burns. All Rights Reserved.

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