Economic Embargoes: Barry’s Gleanings

The U.S. started its embargo of North Korea in 1950.  In A Full Life: Reflections At Ninety, President Jimmy Carter says imposition of sanctions or embargoes on “unsavory regimes is most often ineffective and can be counterproductive. . . .

The situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is more tragic [than in Cuba].  The U.S. embargo, imposed on North Korea sixty-five years ago [my emphasis], at the beginning of the Korean War, is being strictly implemented, with every effort being made to restrict and damage the economy as much as possible.  During my visits to Pyongyang I have had long talks with government officials and surprisingly outspoken women’s groups who emphasized the plight of people who were starving.  When I checked with the UN World Food Program, they estimated that at least 600 grams of cereal per day was needed for a “survival ration,” and that the daily food distribution in North Korea had at times been as low as 128 grams.  Congressional staffers who visited the country in 1998 reported ‘a range of 300,000 to 800,000 dying each year from starvation.’  The Carter Center arranged for North Korean agriculture leaders to go to Mexico in 2002 to help them increase production of their indigenous crops, and the U.S. contribution of grain rose to 589,000 tons after I went to North Korea in 1994 and relations improved between our two countries with an agreement under President Clinton.  However, U.S. food aid was drastically reduced under President George W. Bush and terminated completely by President Obama in 2010.

I visited the State Department at that time and was told that the North Korean government would not permit any any supervision of food deliveries, which was the main problem.  In April 2011 I returned to North Korea, accompanied by former president Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, former president Mary Robinson of Ireland, and former prime minister of Norway Gro Brundtland, who was a physician and had been director of the World Health Organization.  We stopped first in Beijing for briefings from World Food Program officials, who said there were no restraints on monitoring food deliveries to families.  They followed us to Pyongyang and accompanied us to rural areas where food was being distributed.  The government sent an official guarantee that all such food deliveries could be monitored by America and other donors.  I reported to Washington that one-third of children in North Korea were malnourished and stunted in their growth and that daily food intake was between 700 and 1,400 calories, compared to a normal American’s of 2,000 to 2,5000, but our government took no action.

There is no excuse for oppression by a dictatorial regime, but it is likely that the degree of harsh treatment is dependent on the dissatisfaction of the citizens.  Hungry people are more inclined to demand relief from their plight, and more likely to be imprisoned or executed.  As in Cuba, the political elite in North Korea do not suffer, and the leader’s all-pervasive propaganda places blame on the United States, not themselves.

The primary objective of dictators is to stay in office, and we help them achieve this goal by punishing their already suffering subjects and letting the oppressors claim to be saviors.  When nonmilitary pressure on a government is considered necessary, economic sanctions should be focused on travel, foreign bank accounts, and other special privileges of government officials who make decisions, not on destroying the economy that determines the living conditions of oppressed people” (188-189).

President Carter

Image from: <;

President Carter makes a good argument.  If North Korea is still considered an enemy sixty-five years after the U.S. began the embargo there, shouldn’t the U.S. (and other nations) be trying other ways to bring North Korea and its people into the global world?  When we in the West feel sorry for the poor people in North Korea, we should know that we are a reason for the extreme poverty and hunger there.  Our policies could change; North Korea could change too.

Aloha, Barry (& Renée)






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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

2 responses to “Economic Embargoes: Barry’s Gleanings”

  1. Rosita says :

    Cuba’s still a socialist nation, but I’m pretty sure that it’ll change on a near future… Socialism is an utopia, the dream of equality’s very idyllic at the paper, but it’ll never be true at the reality, because our minds are capitalists. The most closely related with utopian socialism was USSR, but it ended. When USSR ended, the socialistic dream ended, and there are only some dictatorships that insists they’re socialists, but dictatorships are a crime against humanity, not true equality! I’m very happy now that Cuba and USA’ll finally end embargo! 🙂 To say the true, socialism is very beautiful at the paper, but it isn’t nothing more than a utopia. Only it. Politic is pretty complicated, I think, and it may influence us of varyous different forms, although some are good, others are crime against humanity, like dictatorships and nazism. I’m not saying that I’m against politics, I’m just saying that it’s a complicated thing, who can be good or bad, it only depend of the form of how and for what you use it. It’s just my humble opinion. I admire so much more people who do good things to those who’re in need than politicians. I have to agree that embargoes only improve poverty, misery and all those bad things, because countries don’t have structure to close for the whole world. It’s all a question of logic 😉 Cubans are pretty happy with the end of embargo, no? 😀 hahaha I can imagine their happiness with that notice, who was a surprise – and a long awaited surprise – for them. USA should be happy with it also ☺️ Although some conservationists aren’t too happy with the end of embargo with Cuba, I may presume… But it’s just radicalism, and the end of embargo is the most humane thing to do. Embargoes aren’t nothing more than a retrocession on History.

  2. Rosita says :

    Happy Christmas, Renée, Barry and all of yours! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼🎅🏼 I have heard that NK (North Korea) is the poorest communist nation, even more than Cuba. Communism is nothing more than an flawed utopia of equality in which governments installes dictatorships hidden of equality instead of incentive true equality, who have to go to from people, not from government. Dictatorships are crimes against Humanity, because it blocks freedom of expression and usually are very cruel. Sad. But NK have a cute side, the KJs (Korean Jindo), who’re a dog breed that looks like a shorthaired KBD (Kintamani Bali Dog) and can be of various colors, as opposite as KBDs, that only can be white, although other colors can be found. Weh, stopping to talk about dogs and NK, I’ll talk you about the true essence of Christmas. It isn’t only about gifts or being a good or bad person. It’s about family and union with friends and humbleness. It’s sad that a true original Christian commemoration became very commercial and capitalist. True essence of Christmas is union with family and friends, not all those gifts. Christmas don’t depend of material things, but yes the true essence of all Christian commemorations are about familiar reunion and helping the near, independently of specie, because is that what Jesus would do. And He would like that we do also 😉 what’s your conception about Christmas nowadays? It became much more materialist and lost its humble essence, no? happy Christmas to you and your family.

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