Israel is again sole US backer as world urges end to Cuba blockade

Jerusalem and Washington cast only ‘no’ votes on annual UN resolution calling to lift embargo on island nation; Israel also backs all eight failed US amendments

Members of the United States delegation attend a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, November 1, 2018 at UN headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations)
Members of the United States delegation attend a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Thursday, November 1, 2018 at UN headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations)

UNITED NATIONS — In a slap to the United States, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday condemning the American economic embargo of Cuba and rejected proposed US amendments strongly criticizing the lack of human rights in the island country.

Resolutions adopted by the 193-member world body are unenforceable, but they reflect world opinion and the vote has given Cuba an annual stage for the last 27 years 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, and two years later it was strengthened.

The General Assembly’s vote on the Cuban-sponsored resolution on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was 189-2 with no abstentions. The US and Israel voted “no” and Moldova and Ukraine did not vote.

In earlier separate votes on the proposed US amendments, Ukraine and Israel were the only countries to join the US in voting “yes” on all eight measures while the Marshall Islands backed one amendment. Some 114 countries voted against the amendments and about 65 abstained.

The Cuban interior ministry building with the image of Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the Cuban flag fluttering at half mast at Havana’s Revolution square, during Fidel Castro’s memorial, on November 28, 2016 in Havana. (AFP Photo/Adalberto Roque)

The proposed amendments expressed serious concern at the lack of freedom of expression and access to information in Cuba and the prohibition on workers’ right to strike. They called on Cuba to fully grant its citizens “internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms,” to establish an independent civil society and to release people detained for exercising their human rights.

Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the US embargo “a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban men and women” and denounced what he called the politicized US amendments.

“The government of the United States doesn’t have the least moral authority to criticize Cuba or anyone when it comes to human rights,” he said.

Rodriguez accused the US government of committing “crimes against humanity,” pointing to its dropping of the atom bomb in Japan in World War II, waging wars that “caused the death of millions, many of them innocent,” and carrying out what he claimed were “extrajudicial executions, kidnapping and torture.” He also accused the US of violating the human rights of its citizens, singling out Afro-Americans, Hispanics, minorities, refugees and migrants.

Cuba’s United Nations Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, second from left, and Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, second from right, meet with the delegation in the General Assembly, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018 at UN headquarters. (Manuel Elias/United Nations)

US Ambassador Nikki Haley stressed before the votes that “our reason for the embargo is and has always been Cuba’s denial of freedom and the denial of the most basic human rights for the Cuban people.”

She urged the General Assembly to use its “megaphone” and “send a moral message to the Cuban dictatorship” that could help improve the lives of the Cuban people.

But the United States failed to get support even from Western nations.

The European Union said the US amendments did not belong in a resolution dealing with a trade embargo, and its members supported the resolution calling for the United States “to repeal or invalidate” the embargo. Canada also spoke out against the amendments.

Before the vote Haley said: “We have no problem standing alone on behalf of the things that we believe in and will proudly do so again today if necessary.”

Following the US defeat, however, Haley told the General Assembly: “There are no winners here today, there are only losers.”

She said the UN “lost the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights,” but most of all the Cuban people have “been left, once again, to the brutal winds of the Castro dictatorship.”

Cubans pay homage to the late leader Fidel Castro during the last ceremony before his burial in Santiago de Cuba, the cradle of his revolution, on December 3, 2016. (AFP/Pedro Pardo)

“They have been abandoned by the United Nations and most of the world’s governments, but the Cuban people are not alone today,” Haley said. “The American people will stand with them until they are restored the rights that God has given us all, rights that no government can legitimately deny its people.”

The decision by the administration of US President Donald Trump to call for a vote on each of the eight amendments represents an escalation of its action last year and reflects worsening US-Cuban relations.

Cuban President Raul Castro and then-President Barack Obama officially restored relations in July 2016. But Ambassador Haley and others have sharply criticized Cuba’s human rights record. In 2017, the US returned to voting against the resolution condemning the American economic embargo after the Obama administration abstained in 2016, a first for the United States in 25 years.

Israel has for years followed the US’s lead on the annual resolution. In 2017, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the Cuban-sponsored resolution by a vote of 191-2, with Israel joining the US in voting “no.” That was the same vote as in 2015.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley talks with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon before a vote in the General Assembly June 13, 2018 in New York. (AFP PHOTO / Don EMMERT)

Thursday’s vote came shortly before Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton announced in Florida that the administration is imposing new sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela and soon on Nicaragua, calling the three countries a “troika of tyranny.”

On Wednesday, diplomats voiced their support for the Cuban resolution.

Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Edrees, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 which represents 135 developing countries and China, pointed to “the positive steps … focused in the right direction” taken by the Obama administration and expressed regret at the Trump administration’s new policy “aimed at strengthening the embargo against Cuba.”

Ambassador Sheila Carey of the Bahamas reiterated the Caribbean Community’s “unequivocal opposition” to the embargo and said last year’s near unanimous vote in favor of immediately lifting the embargo “is a clear indication of prevalent disapproval by the UN membership.”

South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila expressed regret that the gradual relaxation of the embargo under Obama has been reversed “and the people of Cuba are once again faced with a monumental obstacle toward the fulfillment of their basic human rights, including the right to development.”

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