For the eighteenth consecutive year…
EVEN though many delegates expressed a newfound optimism that United States-Cuba relations could improve with the change of Administration in Washington, the United Nations General Assembly yesterday once again adopted a stern resolution calling on the United States to end a trade embargo, which had created human suffering and wreaked havoc with the economy of the island nation.
With a recorded vote of 187 in favour to 3 against (Israel, United States and Palau), and 2 abstentions (Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands), the 192-Member Assembly in its resolution urged the lifting of stiff commercial, financial and economic sanctions that were slapped on Cuba in the aftermath of the cold war.
This marked the eighteenth year the world body had adopted a similar resolution on the issue, according to a statement from the UN.
As happened last year, a burst of applause greeted the Assembly’s passage of text that reaffirmed the sovereign equality of States, the non-intervention and non-interference in their affairs, and the freedom of international trade and navigation. The two-page document again called upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures such as that promulgated in the 1996 “Helms-Burton Act” which carried extra-territorial effects that impacted the sovereignty of other States.
Introducing the resolution on the Cuban trade embargo, Bruno Rodriguez Parrila, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, called the blockade an “uncultured act of arrogance” that had hampered the development of Cuba’s economy and was also applied to other countries that wanted to carry out business with the Caribbean nation.
He said it was an “absurd policy” that caused suffering and led to shortages of basic necessities. The embargo was a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights. In the Geneva Convention of 1948, it was classified as an act of genocide, he added.
With executive powers, President Obama had an historical opportunity to lead a policy change and lift the blockade. He was vested with the executive powers to substantially modify the implementation of the measures by granting “special license” or waivers, making humanitarian exceptions, or acting for the sake of the United States national interests.
Speaking ahead of the vote, the United States’ representative said “here we go again”. The Cuban Government’s hostile language seemed straight out of the cold war and the United States would not respond in kind to such familiar rhetoric. She would, however, acknowledge “a new chapter to this old story”.
In recent months, the United States had taken several steps to reach out to Cubans to help ensure they could freely determine their country’s future. Like all countries, the United States had the sovereign right to conduct economic relations with another country as it saw fit, and the embargo was part of a broader set of relations.
She drew attention to distortions in the Cuban position and said she regretted that Cuba continued to incorrectly label trade restrictions as an act of “genocide.” It was equally erroneous to charge that sanctions were the cause of Cuba’s deprivation. The United States maintained no restrictions on humanitarian aid — it was the largest provider of food to Cuba and exported other items like wood and medicine. Given that scenario, she called on Cuba to take steps to respond to the desire of its citizens to enjoy social, political and economic freedoms.
The representative of St. Kitts and Nevis, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), opposed the embargo and said the unilateral imposition of extra-territorial laws on third States was contrary to both the letter and spirit of the United Nations.
The Caribbean Community was especially concerned by the punitive embargo as it impeded the region’s overall development. CARICOM maintained close relations with Cuba through a wide range of programmes in areas from trade to health care to infrastructure. Yet the delegation believed that a new beginning was possible in United States- Cuba relations even with the long history of dashed hopes.
The representative of Indonesia also expressed hope that the once icy relations between the two countries would end and a new era of cooperation would blossom in coming years. “This year, we have reason to be optimistic”, he said, citing recent steps taken. He said relations between States would constantly be tested as countries faced the challenge of balancing cooperation and competition.
Providing a view from another hemisphere, the representative of South Africa said the embargo’s relentless consequences had created untold suffering and the time to end it was long overdue. He lauded Cuba’s support to other nations around the world, notably in the areas of health, education and biotechnology, and said the island nation’s role in South Africa’s liberation history was celebrated last year. He welcomed the rapprochement initiated by the current United States administration and called on Washington to end the embargo and engage in meaningful dialogue.