On Tuesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted, for the twenty-second consecutive time, to condemn the United States’ economic blockade against Cuba by a vote of 188 to three, with two nations abstaining. This time, no nations were listed as “not voting.”

The three countries that voted against the Cuban resolution were the United States, Israel (population 8 million), and Palau (population 21,000). Abstaining were the Marshall Islands (population 68,000) and the Federated States of Micronesia (population 111,000). The three Pacific Island nations do not have full control over their own foreign policies, not only because they are dependent on US aid, but because of specific arrangements which put their defense wholly in the hands of the United States through the “Compact of Free Association.” All the countries comprising the rest of the world, or about six billion, eight hundred thousand people, voted to condemn the US policy. These included all of our country’s trading partners, neighbors, and NATO allies.

When the vote was announced, there was fervent applause. Governments whose delegations voted “yes” are angered by the arrogance of the U.S. policy, which not only blocks most Cuban trade with the United States, but tries to prevent other countries from trading with Cuba also. Recently, the United States fined a Netherlands’ company, the ING Bank, a total of $619 million for its transactions with Cuba. Such fines are assessed on the pretext that the foreign company in question has economic relationships with U.S. companies, such as using U.S.-made components in its products. The Cubans call the U.S. policy a “blockade,” and not merely an embargo, because of these extraterritorial claims.

This is the highest vote yet to condemn the blockade. The series started in 1992 with a vote of 59 to three with 71 abstentions and 59 countries not voting. It has steadily built up since then. Last year, the vote was 186 to two with three abstentions.

In the lead up to the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez gave a detailed report on the harm that the blockade has done to the Cuban people.

U.S. representative Ronald Godard claimed that the economic problems that Rodriguez had outlined were not caused by the U.S. economic blockade, but rather by failed socialist policies in Cuba, and that the U.S. policy is designed to pressure Cuba into allowing its citizens to freely choose their government, and will not be changed. There was not even polite applause for Godard.

During the weekend before the UN vote, the National Network on Cuba, an umbrella group of U.S. based organizations that work to change the U.S. government’s anti-Cuba policy, issued a statement calling for the Obama Administration to waive elements of the blockade so that Cuba can purchase construction supplies and other items that it sorely needs to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy hit the city of Santiago and Environs in Eastern Cuba, doing vast damage and costing 11 lives. The statement also reiterates the Network’s longstanding demand that the entire blockade be ended.

Before it went on to devastate New Jersey and New York, Sandy also hit Haiti and Jamaica hard, but only Cuba is not allowed to purchase most reconstruction materials in the United States.

It remains to be seen if the results of the U.S. general election will herald any change in U.S. Cuba policy. The Obama administration loosened some restrictions on travel, and eliminated restrictions that George W. Bush had imposed on Cuban-Americans’ visits to their relatives in Cuba and remittances they send to the island, but had not changed the main trade prohibitions, which in fact have been intensified. Had Romney won, this small progress would certainly have been reversed.

All members of the Senate and the House who have called for a softening of the U.S. Cuba policy were re-elected if they chose to run. However, the biggest hardliners on Cuba, from both the Democratic and Republican parties, were also re-elected. These include, on the Republican side, people like Congresspersons Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz Balart (both of Florida), and on the Democratic side, Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida). Ros-Lehtinen still chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Wasserman-Schultz is the chair of the National Democratic Committee.

For years, public opinion in the United States has favored a rapprochement between the United States and Cuba. Conventional wisdom has indicated that the continued hard line under both Democratic and Republican administrations has had to do with the electoral votes of Florida, seen to be under the control of intransigent Cuban exile sectors.

However, this year, Obama won nationally even before it was seen that he had also taken Florida. Furthermore, changes in the political attitude of Cuban-Americans may open up possibilities for the administration modifying the U.S. policy without fearing the wrath of the exiles. Taking Cuba off the list of “state sponsors of terrorism” is one, and letting Cuba buy what it needs to reconstruct after Sandy, another.


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.