U.N. General Assembly Again Condemns U.S. Embargo of Cuba

On October 25, 2011, the United Nations General Assembly debated a resolution: “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba.” It passed, 186 to 2 with 3 abstentions. Only Israel joined the U.S. in opposition while three small  Pacific island nations – Palau, Marshall Islands, and Micronesia – abstained.[1]

During the debate, the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said that the sanctions have caused direct economic damages of close to $1 trillion to the Cuban people over nearly half a century. In response, the U.S. Senior Area Adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Ronald D. Godard, said the embargo is a bilateral issue and “not appropriately a concern of this assembly.” Godard added that the sanctions represent “just one aspect of U.S. policy toward Cuba, whose overarching goal is to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

Before this year’s vote the U.N. Secretary-General, pursuant to a provision of last year’s resolution on the subject, invited U.N. members and agencies to comment on the embargo for a report by the Secretary-General. [2] Of the 193 U.N. Members, 142 (of 73.6%) responded, all criticizing the embargo as did the 20 U.N. agencies that replied; the U.S. and Israel did not comment. [3] Here are some of the strongest statements on the subject:

  • Australia. “Since 1996, the Government of Australia has consistently supported General Assembly resolutions calling for an end to the trade embargo against Cuba. Australia has no trade or economic legislation or measures which restricts or discourages trade or investment to or from Cuba.”
  • Brazil. “The Brazilian Government has consistently opposed the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba. Accordingly, Brazil has also continued to foster and pursue a growing economic relationship with Cuba. . . . The maintenance of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba is inconsistent with the dynamic regional policy that has recently been marked by the return of Cuba to dialogue and cooperation forums of the Americas.”
  • China. “This [embargo] is not only a serious violation of the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of relevant United Nations resolutions, but also a source of immense economic and financial losses for Cuba. It is an impediment to efforts by the Cuban people to eradicate poverty, to promote their economic and social development and to attain the Millennium Development Goals, it impairs the Cuban people’s right to survival and development, and it adversely affects normal economic, commercial and financial relations between Cuba and other countries.”
  • European Union. “…the European Union and its member States have been clearly expressing their opposition to the extraterritorial extension of the United States embargo, such as that contained in the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996.”
  • Holy See. “The Holy See has never drawn up or applied economic, commercial or financial laws or measures against Cuba.”
  • Japan. “Japan shares the concern, arising from the . . . (the Helms-Burton Act) and the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992, that, if application of such legislation causes undue hardship in relation to the economic activities of the enterprises or nationals of a third party, the legislation is likely to run counter to international law regarding the extraterritorial application of domestic laws.”
  • Mexico. “Mexico emphasizes that [the embargo] has serious humanitarian consequences that are contrary to international law and, moreover, signify the abandonment of diplomacy and dialogue as the appropriate ways of settling disputes between States. . . . The Government of Mexico has also consistently opposed Cuba’s economic and political-diplomatic isolation. It has therefore firmly supported Cuba’s inclusion in all regional integration machinery in order to promote economic and commercial exchange, cooperation and development.”

This is the twentieth straight year the General Assembly overwhelmingly has adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo. In 2010, for example, a resolution that called upon the U.S. to repeal the embargo was approved by 187-2, again with only Israel joining the U.S. in opposition and the same three Pacific island nations abstaining.

Here are some of the reasons why the U.S. should end the embargo:

  1. The embargo undermines U.S. foreign policy interests. It undermines the empowerment of Cuban citizens, harming them economically and depriving them of choices that could emerge from greater U.S. engagement with Cuba. (Steve Clemons, Washington Editor-at-Large, The Atlantic and Senior Fellow & Founder, American Strategy Program, New America Foundation.)
  2. The embargo hurts U.S. national security interests . It prevents normal trade and travel between our two countries. It prevents cooperation with Cuba on common security issues such as crime and terrorism. It hurts U.S. standing throughout the world by highlighting our aggression against a neighboring country that poses no threat. (John Adams, Brigadier General US Army (Retired).)
  3. The Cuba embargo runs counter to our experiences with China and Viet Nam. Both countries have Communist systems, and we fought a war with Viet Nam. Yet we trade with both. (John R. Block, Secretary of Agriculture under President Ronald Reagan and officer with Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz PC0.)
  4. The embargo isolates the U.S. government and cuts off contact between Cubans and Americans . The embargo isolates and weakens U.S. policy makers and U.S. policies at a time of increasing integration between Latin America and the Caribbean and the global south. U.S. citizens are denied ready access to highly praised Cuban achievements in the arts and culture, education, medical and technological advances, and deprived of sustained engagements with Cuban citizens and the Cuban government to share our national virtues. (James Early,Trustee, Institute for Policy Studies, and Director of Cultural Heritage Policy, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage.)
  5. The embargo undermines the image of the United States throughout the world. The embargo is senseless and irredeemable. It is the act of a bully, based on pique. It is an abysmal moral and political failure, diminishing not Cuba but the U.S. in world opinion and respect. It has achieved the opposite of what it has sought, hurting both the Cuban people as well as U.S. interests. The embargo is opposed by virtually the entire world as well as large domestic majorities, even Cuban exiles and dissidents; yet, the U.S. government persists with its petty punitive policy, not out of reasoned principle but for internal political posturing. (Rubén G. Rumbaut, ENCASA/US-CUBA, University of California, Irvine.)
  6. The embargo imposes great suffering on Cubans . The embargo continues to inflict gratuitous and pointless suffering on the Cuban people. Children dying from cancer are denied access to potentially life-saving drugs, heart patients cannot get U.S. manufactured pace-makers, and Cuba’s cutting-edge biotechnology institutes that provide important drugs at an affordable price to the rest of the world are denied the U.S. substrates they need. (Peter Bourne, Chairman of the Board, Medical Education Cooperation with Cuba (MEDICC).)
  7. The embargo hobbles our ability to protect the environment . Oil drilling in Cuban waters creates an unprecedented urgency to rethink U.S. policy toward Cuba. An oil spill in Cuba could be disastrous to shorelines, marine life, coastal communities and livelihoods in both countries. The U.S. should eliminate political and legal obstacles that hinder its ability to share expertise if an emergency occurs in shared waters. The Obama Administration has taken some positive steps to promote scientific exchange and dialogue on environmental protection with Cuba. Environmental diplomacy-done right and carried out in good faith-can lay a foundation for real and lasting improvement in Cuba-U.S. relations. (Daniel Whittle, Senior Attorney and Cuba Program Director, Environmental Defense Fund.)
  8. The embargo is not about principle; it’s about politics . The embargo is an international embarrassment to a country that continues to claim leadership in the realm of human rights. An unnecessary and sickening relic of the Cold War, the embargo has become a political football proving that elections – and electoral votes – mean more to American politicians than fairness, justice, the human needs of the Cuban people or the lives, health and education of Cuban children. (Mike Farrell, Actor and human rights advocate.)
  9. Ending the embargo would be doing the right thing. It is time for President Obama and Congress to do the right thing, cast off the failed embargo of Cuba, and embrace a policy of engagement that will provide economic opportunities for U.S. farmers and businesses as well the workers they employ. Doing the right thing will improve economic conditions in both the U.S. and Cuba and will also over time contribute to greater social stability in the Caribbean region. (Cal Dooley, President and CEO, American Chemistry Council.)
  10. 10.   Ending the embargo is long overdue . Lifting the U.S. embargo against Cuba is long overdue. (Katrin Hansing, Associate Professor of Black and Hispanic Studies at Baruch College (CUNY).)

[1] Assoc. Press, UN Condemns US Embargo of Cuba–Again, N.Y. Times (Oct. 25, 2011); Latin America Working Group, UN Cuba Vote–Happy 20th Anniversary (Oct. 25, 2011); CubaCentral Newsblast (Oct. 21, 2011). See also Post: The Ridiculous U.S. Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (May 20, 2011); Post: U.S. Repeats Its Ridiculous Designation of Cuba as a “State Sponsor of Terrorism” (Aug. 21, 2011); Post: The U.S. Should Pursue Reconciliation with Cuba (May 21, 2011); Post: Commutation and Release of Convicted “Spies” (Sept. 24, 2011); Post: Roots for Hope for U.S.-Cuba Relations (Sept. 27, 2011); Comment: Cuban Foreign Minister Attacks U.S. Policies (Sept. 28, 2011); Post: President Obama Is Wrong on Cuba (Sept. 29, 2011); Comment: Obama and Romney Out of Touch on Cuba Oct. 15, 2011); Post: U.S. and Cuba Discuss Exchange of Prisoners (Oct. 14, 2011); Comment: Cuban-Americans in Congress Criticize U.S. Willingness To Discuss Issues with Cuba (Oct. 15, 2011).

[2] U.N. Gen. Assembly Res. 65/6 (Nov. 23, 2010).

[3] Report of U.N. Secretary-General, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Aug. 16, 2011).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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