The United Nations General Assembly on October 27 voted on Cuba’s resolution calling for “an end to the economic, commercial, and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” Approval was almost unanimous: 191 nations voted in favor and two nations, the U.S. and Israel, voted against. There were no abstentions.
This was the 24th year for such a vote and the 24th time overwhelming approval was expressed. Cuba’s Foreign Ministry had earlier provided delegates and the international media with a comprehensive summary of the blockade’s harmful effects on both Cuba’s economy and people. The report, issued every year, indicated the U.S. blockade violates both Cuban independence and international law. Taking inflation into consideration, its authors say that the half-century-long blockade has deprived the Cuban economy of $834 billion.
Voting this year took place under new circumstances. The U.S. and Cuba in July re-established diplomatic relations after having exchanged key political prisoners. The U.S. State Department in May removed Cuba from its list of terrorist-sponsoring nations, and restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba have been eased. Certain U.S. financial institutions and businesses, particularly telecommunications ones, operate legally on the island now.
Although Presidents Raul Castro and Barack Obama on December 17, 2014 jointly announced their shared goal of improved binational relations, Cuba has declared that for normalization to occur the U.S. must end its blockade. Pres. Castro made that point in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 28 and declared also that territory occupied by the Guantánamo Naval Base must be returned, U.S. attempts to build a political opposition inside Cuba must stop, and U.S.-instigated human and economic damages must be compensated.
In the weeks prior to the Assembly’s vote, reports circulated that the U.S.might abstain. That posture would have been consistent both with Pres. Obama’s announcement on December 17 and with his urging the U.S. Congress to exercise power gained with the Helms Burton Law of 1996 to end the blockade. Congressional Republicans opposed the idea of abstention, and Cuban diplomats refused to modify their resolution to suit U.S. tastes.
In the weeks preceding the vote, Cuban media critics of the blockade had a field day. “The blockade is the air,” claimed one of them. He explained that since 1959 “130 radio stations sponsored by 43 Florida-based counter-revolutionary organizations” or by the U.S. government have been broadcasting to Cuba. The U.S. government’s “Televisión Martí” broadcasts began in 1990. The International Telecommunications Union of the United Nations condemns such radio and television broadcasting as violating international norms.
Cuban spokespersons emphasized that education, accounting for 13 percent of Cuba’s GDP, is under the gun just as are the medical and financial sectors. The necessity to import education supplies from distant countries instead of from the United States leads to increased costs, for example, $771,600 between April 2014 and March 2015.
Critics have focused on blockade manifestations newly evident during the past year. A Cuban reporter indicated that “from March 2014 to the same month of 2015, the U.S. blockade has cost Cuban agriculture… $451,520,000 dollars.” The U.S. Gen Tech Scientific company recently refused to sell gaschromatography units for use by Cuban researchers and medical diagnosticians. In June 2015 Sigma-Aldrich Company refused to supply essential chemicals to Cuba’s Quimimpex Company and the Colombian Boiler Company denied Quimimpex the pressurized containers it needs for shipping chlorine used for water purification.
In late 2014 the Commerzbank of Germany agreed to pay a $650 million fine to the U.S. Treasury Department because of its financial transactions with Cuba, and withIran, Myanmar, and Sudan. Similarly, U.S. authorities in October 2015 announced a $787 million fine imposed against the French bank Crédit Agricole for forbidden transactions with the same countries. New York District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. explained that “financial institutions must comply with sanctions against rogue nations.”On the day of the vote, AFP news service described children dying of cancer in Cuba who need chemotherapy agents available only from the United States.
In the end, the UN vote marks the beginning of one more year of the blockade hanging on despite wholehearted worldwide rejection, also despite majority disapproval in the U.S. Analyst Sergio Rodríguez had already highlighted the contradiction between the General Assembly’s expected approval of the Cuban resolution and Pres. Obama’s talk. It would have been better, he indicated, if the U.S. had abstained or if its delegates had left the chamber. U.S. opposition to the resolution will serve as “an expression of the weakness that has been manifest in [Obama’s] recent foreign policy decisions.”
Well-known Cuban political writer Esteban Morales looked farther afield. He condemned “the historic messianic tendency of the United States and its high-handedness allowing it to regard the rest of us as fools. They are so used to manipulating others…that they sometimes end up displaying a foolish diplomacy.”
Photo: In his talks with President Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro has made it clear that Guantanamo, where the U.S. operates a military base and prison, must be returned to Cuba. | wemu.org