Israel again only country to support US as UN condemns Cuba embargo

Jerusalem and Washington cast only ‘no’ votes on annual UN resolution calling to lift embargo on island nation; Biden administration refuses to return to Obama-era postion

Cuban anti-government protesters demonstrate outside the UN on June 23, 2021 as the UN holds a session on  the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)
Cuban anti-government protesters demonstrate outside the UN on June 23, 2021 as the UN holds a session on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the US against Cuba (Photo by TIMOTHY A. CLARY / AFP)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United States voted against a UN resolution Wednesday that overwhelmingly condemned the American economic embargo of Cuba for the 29th year, maintaining the Trump administration’s opposition and refusing to return to the Obama administration’s 2016 abstention.

The vote in the 193-member General Assembly was 184 countries supporting the condemnation, the United States and Israel opposing it, and Brazil, Colombia and Ukraine abstaining. Four countries did not vote — Central African Republic, Myanmar, Moldova and Somalia.

Before the vote, the US Mission’s political coordinator, Rodney Hunter, told the assembly that the Biden administration voted “no” because the United States believes sanctions are key to advancing democracy and human rights which “remain at the core of our policy efforts toward Cuba.”

“Sanctions are a legitimate way to achieve foreign policy, national security, and other national and international objectives,” Hunter said, “and are one set of tools in our broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights, and help the Cuban people exercise the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

“We therefore oppose this resolution,” he said.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused the Biden administration of following Trump administration policies that tightened economic, commercial and financial sanctions and restricted travel by U.S. citizens in a blow to its tourism sector, which caused the country record losses estimated at around $5 billion.

“All these measures remain in force today and are being fully implemented,” he said. “And paradoxically, they are shaping up the behavior of the current U.S. administration particularly during the months when Cuba has experienced the highest COVID-19 infection rate, the highest number of fatalities and a much worse economic impact.”

Rodriguez said the restrictions remain despite the Democratic Party platform that “promised voters to swiftly reverse the actions taken by the administration of Donald Trump, particularly the elimination of restrictions on travel to Cuba, financial remittances and the implementation of the bilateral migration accords, including the granting of visas.”

A man fishes along the Malecon seawall near the US embassy, left, in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, July 29, 2020. . (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)

He said “a large majority” of Americans support lifting the embargo, restoring freedom to travel and establishing normal relations.

“There are some who put the blame of this pernicious inertia on the electoral ambitions associated to Florida or the balances, in no way transparent, of the political and legislative elites,” Rodriguez said.

The General Assembly’s last vote in November 2019, during its 74th session, was 187-3 with the US, Israel and Brazil voting “no,” and Colombia and Ukraine abstaining. The assembly’s 75th session began in September 2020, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic the vote on the Cuba resolution was postponed from last fall to Wednesday.

Israel has for years followed the US’s lead on the annual resolution.

General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding and are unenforceable, but they reflect world opinion and the vote has given Cuba an annual stage to demonstrate the isolation of the US on the embargo.

It was imposed in 1960 following the revolution led by Fidel Castro and the nationalization of properties belonging to US citizens and corporations. Two years later it was strengthened.

Former Cuban President Raul Castro and then-President Barack Obama officially restored relations in July 2016, and that year the US abstained on the resolution calling for an end to the embargo for the first time. But Obama’s successor, Donald Trump, sharply criticized Cuba’s human rights record, and in 2017 the US again voted against the resolution.

Hunter, the US diplomat, said the United States recognizes “the challenges the Cuban people face.”

In this file photo taken on June 22, 2021 a woman walks near a wall depicting the Cuban flag in Havana. – The UN General Assembly condemned the nearly 60-year-old US embargo on Cuba for the 29th year in a row June 23, 2021, calling for it to end by a vote of 184 to two. (Photo by YAMIL LAGE / AFP)

“That is why the United States is a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to Cuba and one of Cuban’s principal trading partners,” he said. “Every year we authorize billions of dollars worth of exports to Cuba, including food and other agricultural commodities, medicines, medical devices, telecommunications equipment, consumer goods, and other items to support the Cuban people.”

Cuba’s Rodriguez sharply disagreed. He said the damage to Cubans from the embargo is “incalculable” and accused the United States of “a massive, flagrant and systematic violation” of their human rights, arguing that under the 1948 Geneva Convention this qualifies “as an act of genocide.”

In the health area, the foreign minister said, “there’s a lingering impossibility to access equipment, technologies, devices, therapies and the best-suited pharmaceuticals” from US companies. And the embargo, which Cubans call a “blockade,” has deprived the country’s industries of funds and restricted food imports from the US to specific volumes that create shortages, rising prices, and long lines day after day in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

“Cuba demands to be left in peace, to live without a blockade, and calls for an end to the persecution of our commercial and financial relations with the rest of the world,” Rodriguez said. “We call for an end to manipulation, discrimination and the obstacles to relations between Cubans living in the United States and their relatives in Cuba and the country where they were born.”

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