Lebanon has been in turmoil as of late, with the fiscal crisis and COVID-19 tearing the country apart. The recent explosion in Beirut’s port has made matters worse, leaving hundreds dead, thousands injured and as many as 300,000 homeless. 

The destruction of the port will also have long-reaching impacts on Lebanon, as it processed 70 per cent of all trade and nearly all overseas imports for the country. Now, without an adequate port to process imports and no large grain silo, Lebanon has less than a month of grain reserves, as 90 to 95 per cent of the country’s wheat is imported.

English-language press has focused on the Lebanese government’s role in exacerbating the country’s economic crisis and hampering a potential relief effort. Moreover, the Canadian government recently announced that it won’t deal directly with the Lebanese government when distributing relief monies, citing corruption, and will instead rely on “trusted” partners. This is a clear violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. It’s even more disturbing considering Canada and its allies have played a role in bringing Lebanon where it is now. 

In 2006, Canada joined the United States and the European Union in imposing sanctions on Lebanon, which have remained in place ever since. The sanctions nominally target Hezbollah, which has garnered popular support from a variety of groups in Lebanon for its decisive role in repelling the Israeli invasion in August 2006. Canada is effectively punishing Lebanon for defending itself. 

These sanctions were introduced as part of the wider “War on Terror” national security framework, yet there is little evidence that Hezbollah poses a threat to Canadians. Nor can it be said that the sanctions are genuinely out of opposition to Hezbollah’s “radical Islamic” ideology, as Canada has close relations with repressive Gulf monarchies, even selling them weapons to use in the war on Yemen.

Canadian sanctions nominally only target the sale of arms and technical assistance for manufacturing arms. Yet the generous interpretation of these sanctions means these prohibitions affect a whole range of sectors requiring technical expertise. 

A former United Nations under-secretary-general, Atif Kubursi, has stated that these sorts of sanctions are devastating to ordinary citizens, because they end up applying not just to weapons but to spare parts for civilian equipment, medical machinery and pharmaceuticals. All of these things are needed in Lebanon to help survivors of the Beirut blast and contain COVID-19. Despite this, Canada ignored United Nations calls to ease sanctions due to COVID-19, and shows no indication of doing so in response to the port explosion.

These sanctions are part of a centuries-long neo-colonial relationship between Lebanon and the industrialized, imperialist countries. 

Ever since the small republic emerged out of the Sykes-Picot agreement between France and Britain, Lebanon’s economic development — including the creation of a food industry capable of servicing its population — has been intentionally hobbled by its artificially imposed borders and by International Monetary Fund-mandated austerity to settle its debts. 

Lebanon accumulated many of these debts through financing resistance to Israeli invasion and containing sectarian conflict. The following debt restructuring through austerity has made western monopolies and a few Lebanese elites extremely wealthy while curtailing productive investment and encouraging financialization, precipitating the total fallout of the country’s banking sector. 

Sanctions are also a method for Western states to force Lebanon to organize its economy in a way that benefits capitalist monopolies rather than the Lebanese population. Canada’s aid announcement, for example, stated that help would be conditional on “significant fiscal and political reforms,” reminiscent of other instances of disaster capitalism where powerful countries have facilitated the plundering of post-colonial nations by imposing cuts to social spending and wages, and generally shaping the country’s policy to suit big business. 

This includes the Haiti “relief effort,” where the U.S. and Canada, in collusion with a number of supposedly reputable charities such as the Red Cross, siphoned billions of dollars in aid money toward subsidies for sweatshops.

If Canada is serious about aiding the people of Lebanon, it must cease all efforts to use the port explosion to exact concessions from the Lebanese government or advance ‘national security’ or narrow economic interests. However, no major party in Canada has yet brought attention to Canadian sanctions. 

Rather than waiting for politicians to come to this approach out of moral obligation, Canadians concerned with creating a world where responses to human tragedies are based on solidarity rather than elitist opportunism should demand sanctions be lifted immediately, as a first step toward a better future.

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