HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 30 (IPS) – The administration of President Barack Obama, which has vowed to improve relations with sanctions-hit Cuba, refused to break away from the traditional stand taken by successive U.S. governments and voted against a U.N. resolution calling for an end to the 47-year-old U.S. economic, commercial and financial embargo against the Caribbean island nation.
Of the 192 member states, an overwhelming 187 voted Wednesday in favor of the resolution (as against 185 last year), with only three against (the United States, Israel and Palau), and two abstentions (Marshall Islands and Micronesia).
This was the 18th consecutive year the United States remained largely isolated in a General Assembly vote on one of “the most enduring trade embargoes in history” imposed on Cuba back in 1962.
The annual vote is routinely viewed as a political and moral victory for Cuba because diplomatic support for the United States has progressively declined over the last 18 years.
The widespread reaction, both inside and outside the United Nations, was directed against the United States – and this year, specifically against the Obama administration.
Image Change Not Possible Without Cuba Policy Shift
Bill Fletcher, Jr., executive editor of BlackCommentator.com, told IPS the question for the Obama administration is whether it is committed to transforming the image of the United States around the world or whether it is committed to transforming the substance of U.S. foreign policy.
“Without breaking with the decades-long, criminal blockade of Cuba, there will be no actual transformation of U.S. foreign policy,” Fletcher said.
He said the U.S. blockade of Cuba is an embarrassment; for the people of Cuba, however, it is the source of continuous stress and difficulty.
“The fact that the Cuban people have been able to withstand the blockade is a tribute to them. The Obama administration needs to step into the 21st century,” said Fletcher.
Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Centre for Democracy in the Americas, said: “President Obama should take this U.N. vote for what it is – a sign that our country needs to act in the world like it’s 2009 and not 1959, drop the embargo, and engage openly and directly with Cuba.”
John McAuliff, executive director of the New York-based Fund for Reconciliation and Development, said in a statement released Wednesday: “U.S. hypocrisy in defense of the embargo is equaled by Israel’s hypocrisy in voting with us. Its own citizens, unlike Americans, vacation, invest and work in Cuba.”
Speaking during the U.N. debate, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China told delegates the U.S. embargo not only constituted a serious violation of the purposes and principles of the U.N. charter but it also immensely undermined the Cuban people’s right to survival and development.
The Group of 77, the largest single coalition of developing nations, called on the United States “to bring an end to the five-decades-old embargo and to fully adhere to the principles of mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of a sisterly country.”
Speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, Sudanese Ambassador Abdalmahmood Abdalhaleem Mohamad, said: “The deepening impact of the global economic crisis on Cuba and the continued embargo by the United States will continue to further aggravate the hardships for the people of Cuba.”
US Loses Moral Authority
Dayan Jayatilleka, until recently Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the office of the United Nations in Geneva and a widely-regarded expert on Cuba, told IPS that every year since the resolution saw the light of day, the United States has “suffered a diplomatic Bay of Pigs in full view of the world”.
It is a pity and a paradox that this continues even under the Obama administration, he said.
“President Obama has sought to restore the United States to the moral high ground, combining ethics with realism,” Jayatilleka said.
But the decades-long embargo of Cuba is neither ethical nor beneficial to the United States, said Jayatilleka, author of “Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: the Moral Dimension of the Political Thought of Fidel Castro”, co-published by the University of Michigan Press in the U.S. and Pluto Press, London.
He said the embargo deprives the United States of the moral high ground and weakens its standing in general while damaging the credibility of its stand on other international issues.
“It shows a continuity of policy in a matter where no benefit is reaped by such continuity, not least because it places the USA at sharp variance with the whole of Latin America, the progressive administrations of which should be the natural allies and partners of the Obama presidency,” he said.
He pointed out that the voters of the U.S. state of Florida, home to the country’s largest Cuban American community, have also shown their willingness to depart from the old rigid policy on Cuba.
Trying to soften the negative voting, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice told delegates that in recent months the Obama administration has undertaken several steps to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future.
“We have promoted family visits and the free flow of information to and from the Cuban people,” Rice said.
She also pointed out that the United States lifted restrictions on family visits and remittances and expanded the amounts of humanitarian items that U.S. citizens can donate to individuals in Cuba.
The Obama administration has enhanced the ability of U.S. telecommunications companies to pursue agreements to provide service to Cuba and has made it easier for U.S. agricultural producers to pursue contracts with Cuban buyers.
“These are important steps and we hope they can be the starting point for further changes in the relationship,” Rice added.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla provided a long list of urgently needed medicines that U.S. companies are barred from selling to Cuba because of the embargo.
“Since the election of President Obama, there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba. The blockade remains intact,” he told delegates.
“It continues to be an absurd policy that causes scarcities and sufferings. It is a mass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights,” Parrilla said.
The foreign minister said that in the Geneva Convention of 1948, it was classified as an act of genocide: “It is ethically unacceptable.”
Rice responded by saying the United States regrets Cuba’s attempts to label “inappropriately and incorrectly U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba as an act of genocide”.
“Such an egregious misuse of the term diminishes the real suffering of victims of genocide elsewhere in the world,” she added.