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Friday, November 6, 2015

UN condemns US embargo of Cuba for 24th time

The UN General Assembly for the 24th year condemned a U.S. trade embargo on Cuba. Only two countries voted against the resolution this time around, Israel and the United States.
In spite of easing of tensions with Cuba, and renewed diplomatic ties, the United States voted against the resolution. There were 191 votes in favour of the resolution in the 193 member General Assembly with no abstentions. General Assembly resolutions are not binding but many claim they have some political influence. However, since the resolution has been passed every year for decades without the U.S. withdrawing sanctions, the influence on U.S. policy must be slight.
This July, the US and Cuba restored diplomatic relations after a break of over half a century. While Obama has eased trade and travel restrictions, only the U.S. Congress can lift the full embargo and that has yet to happen. In spite of the U.S. vote against the condemnation of the embargo Obama told the Assembly that he was "confident our Congress will inevitably lift an embargo that should not be in place anymore." Given that is his position, one would think that the U.S. would have voted to condemn the embargo to put pressure on the Congress. The U.S. earlier had suggested that it might abstain if the language differed significantly from earlier resolutions. The General Assembly has voted for the resolution ever since 1992. Last year there were three abstentions along with the Israel and US vote against the resolution but this year there were none. The US usually puts pressure on small countries to oppose or abstain when the resolution comes up. Last year it was Marshall Islands, Micronesia, and Palau who abstained. This year they voted for the resolution.
The resolution was changed this year to welcome the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and also noted Obama's expressed will to do away with the embargo. For some reason these changes did not convince the US that it should abstain. Ronald Godard US senior adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, said:"The text falls short of reflecting the significant steps that have been taken and the spirit of engagement President Obama has championed.If Cuba thinks this exercise will help move things forward in the direction both governments have indicated they wish, it is mistaken."
In other words, almost universal condemnation of the embargo will not help remove the embargo.
The Cuban government has made it clear that while they also want to improve ties with the U.S., full normalization would require not only a complete lifting of the embargo but the return of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. The U.S. has made it clear that the latter demand is not likely to be met in the near future. Even if the prison facility should be closed, the U.S. intends to keep the base.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said he was disappointed that the U.S. voted against the resolution. He said given that Obama has reversed the course on Cuba followed by 10 previous presidents, "one would have expected" he would vote in favour of the resolution. Reuters reports that Cuba estimates the economic damage to Cuba to be at $121 billion over the life of the embargo. The Times of Israel cites a much higher amount of $830 billion.


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