Published on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 by Inter Press Service
by Haider Rizvi
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations General Assembly Tuesday snubbed the United States for its hostility towards Cuba, amid fresh calls for an end to the 45-year economic and financial embargo imposed on the socialist island.
On Tuesday, as many as 184 countries voted in favor of a General Assembly resolution demanding the U.S. lift 45-year-old restrictions on international trade with Cuba.
The vote broke last year’s record, when 183 countries endorsed the resolution against the U.S. embargo. The 192-member General Assembly has adopted 16 similar resolutions since 1992.
Like last year, in addition to the United States itself, the negative votes were cast by just three countries: Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau. The only abstention was the small island nation of Micronesia.
Before and after the vote, speaker after speaker deplored the U.S. policy and said the sanctions against Cuba violate international law and the U.N. Charter.
The U.N. support for Cuba comes just a week after the U.S. President George W. Bush described Cuba as a “tropical gulag” and signaled his administration’s readiness to take more hostile measures to force an economic and political change on the island’s people.
In a major policy speech last Wednesday, Bush assured his support for those in and outside Cuba seeking to replace Cuba’s socialist democracy with a pro-U.S. economic and political system.
“Now is the time to support the democratic movements growing on the island,” Bush said, calling for the world “to put aside its differences and prepare for Cubans’ transition to a future of freedom and progress and promise.”
“The dissidents of today will be the nation’s leaders tomorrow,” Bush added in his speech, with family members of Cuban dissidents seated behind him on stage. “When freedom finally comes, they will surely remember who stood with them.”
For their part, Cuban leaders said Bush was trying to harass Cuba and threatening its entity as an independent and free nation.
“Mr. Bush: Your genocidal blockade, your support of terrorism, your murderous Cuban Adjustment Act, your wet-foot/dry-foot policy, your protection of the worst terrorists in this hemisphere, your unjust punishment of the Five Cuban Heroes who denounced the dangers for citizens of the United States and other countries to be killed in mid-flight, all these must cease,” wrote the Cuban leader Fidel Castro in a brief response on Oct. 21.
“Sovereignty is not negotiable,” he said. “The shameful tortures being carried out in the occupied territory of Guantánamo must also cease. We have never been intimidated by your threats to launch pre-emptive and surprise attacks against sixty or more dark corners of the world. Do not attack other countries; do not threaten humanity with a nuclear war.”
On Tuesday, speaking on behalf of the G77 and China, the largest political bloc of developing nations, Pakistani deputy ambassador Farukh Amil described the U.S. sanctions against Cuba as “a means of political and economic coercion”.
“The continued imposition of an economic, commercial, and financial embargo against Cuba violates the principles of the sovereign equality of states and of non-intervention in each other’s domestic affairs, international human rights law and the U.N. Charter,” he told delegates.
Explaining why the European Union (EU) voted in favor of the resolution, Portuguese diplomat Jorge de Lemos Godinho said the U.S. measures against Cuba were “not acceptable.” In Godinho’s view, although the embargo against Cuba is a bilateral issue, the U.S. has extended it to other territories.
The embargo provisions contained in the 1992 Cuban Democracy Act and the 1996 Helms-Burton Act put limits on EU countries’ trade relations with Cuba.
“The EU cannot accept unilateral measures imposed by the U.S.,” Godhino said, adding that in 1996, the EU Council of Ministers adopted a Regulation and Joint Action to protect the interests of natural and legal residents of the EU against the extraterritorial effects of the Helm-Burton Act.
The EU representative recalled that in 1998 at a summit, the U.S. had agreed to grant waivers to certain sections of the Helms-Burton Act. “The EU continues to urge the U.S. to implement its side of that understanding,” he said.
Among many others, diplomats from China and Russia, South Africa, Mexico, India and Mexico also made strong statements in support of the Cuban demand for the lifting of U.S. embargo.
Meanwhile, Ronald Godard, the U.S. State Department’s senior adviser for Latin American affairs, argued that, “The embargo was caused by Cuba in its denial of freedoms to its people” and that the “purpose of the embargo is to end the grip of the Cuban government on the Cuban people.”
Claiming that the U.S. is one of Cuba’s largest trading partners, accounting for more than 2 billion dollars in medical and agricultural commerce, he said the U.S. is also “the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people.”
“Rather than voting for the resolution against the United States,” Godard added in a short statement, “the member states should oppose the Cuban government’s embargo on freedom, which is the real cause of the embargo.”
The Cuban government says the commercial and financial blockade imposed by the U.S. since 1962 has caused losses of over 89 billion dollars, which, at the current dollar value, account for no less than 222 billion dollars.
“Anyone can understand that the blockade is the main obstacle of the well-being of the Cuban people,” Cuban minister of foreign affairs Felipe Perez Roque told delegates. “It has constituted a systematic, blatant and massive violation of rights.”
“President Bush has urged Congress to maintain the embargo,” he said. “Indeed seven in 10 Cubans have lived their lives only knowing aggression against their country. The U.S. has ignored with arrogance and political blindness the 15 resolutions calling for the lifting of the blockade.”
© 2007 Inter Press Service