Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemning the U.S. Embargo of Cuba                                                                                    

U.N. General Assembly, 10/27/15
U.N. General Assembly, 10/27/15

On October 27, 2015, the United Nations General Assembly adopted Resolution 5 (A/RES/70/5), 191 to 2 {the U.S. and Israel against with no abstentions) on the necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the U.S. against Cuba. This was the 24th consecutive year that the Assembly has condemned the embargo, this time with the largest number of members voting for the resolution.[1]

This post will review the resolution itself and the debate leading to its adoption and preliminary documents filed with the General Assembly before concluding with observations about where we go from here.

The Resolution

These are two key provisions of this resolution:

  • First, the General Assembly reiterates “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to in the preamble to the present resolution, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law, which, inter alia, reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation.”
  • Second, the General Assembly “again urges States [e., the U.S.] that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

The Debate

Here we will look at Cuba’s arguments in favor of the resolution, the comments of other U.N. members supporting the resolution and those of the two countries opposing the measure (the U.S. and Israel).

Cuba[2]

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez

In presenting the resolution, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez, opened by acknowledging that last December 17 U.S. President Obama “recognized that the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba had failed, is obsolete, has not met the originally envisaged goals and causes damages to the Cuban people and isolation to the US Government.” To that end the U.S. President “has urged the Congress . . . to do so . . . [and has used] his executive prerogatives to modify its implementation.” Nevertheless, “the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed against Cuba is being fully and completely implemented.”

The U.S. removal removal of Cuba “ from the spurious list of States Sponsors of International Terrorism was the inevitable rectification of a nonsense, but this has hardly had any impact on the implementation of the blockade, which is supported by a far more comprehensive system of previously established sanctions and laws.”

“The blockade is a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of all Cubans; it is contrary to International Law; it has been described as  a crime of genocide by the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948 and is the main obstacle to the economic and social development of our people.”

“The human damages it has caused are inestimable.  Seventy seven per cent of all Cubans have been suffering the blockade since the day they were born.  The shortages and deprivations that it causes to all Cuban families cannot be accounted for.”

According to rigorous and conservative calculations, the economic damages it has caused after more than half a century amount to [US$ 833.755 billion (based on the price of gold) or US$ 121.192 billion (current prices).

“Historically, the United States has intended to establish its domination and hegemony on our homeland and, since 1959, it has tried to change the political, economic and social system that our people,   fully exercising the right to self-determination, has freely chosen.”

“The lifting of the blockade will be the essential element that will give some meaning to the progress achieved in the last few months in the relations between both countries and shall set the pace towards normalization.”

“Cuba is ready to accept the opportunities and face the challenges of a  new era in the relations between  both countries, but it will never negotiate its socialist system or its internal affairs, nor will it allow any blemish on its independence, which was conquered at the price of the blood of its best sons and daughters and after the huge sacrifices made by many generations since the beginning of  our independence wars in 1868.”

“As has been reiterated by President Raúl Castro Ruz, both governments must find the way to coexist in a civilized manner, despite their profound differences, and advance as much as possible for the benefit of the peoples of the United States and Cuba, through a dialogue and cooperation based on mutual respect and sovereign equality.”

“We appreciate and recognize the progress achieved recently with the re-opening of embassies, the visits paid by the Secretaries of State and Commerce and the exchange of delegations; the functioning of a Steering Committee; the expansion of the areas of dialogue and cooperation, particularly in the filed of air and aviation safety; the combat of drug-trafficking, illegal migration and traffic in persons; law enforcement, environmental protection and health, among others. We are really interested in developing fruitful relations; offering our hospitality to the US citizens who enjoy the freedom of traveling to Cuba; expanding enriching, cultural, sports, scientific and academic exchanges; promoting a multifaceted cooperation in areas of common interest, trade and investments. We have initiated a human rights dialogue with a strict reciprocal character and despite our huge differences.”

“We have presented a new draft resolution that reflects the reality of the rigorous and oppressive implementation of the blockade against Cuba and also welcomes and recognizes, in the new preamble paragraphs, the progress achieved in the course of last year.”

On behalf of the heroic, self-sacrificing and fraternal people of Cuba, I ask you to vote in favor of the resolution.”

Other Countries.

Luxembourg, an U.S. ally, expressing the common position of the European Union members, said that the U.S. trade policy towards Cuba was fundamentally a bilateral issue, but that the effects and side effects of U.S. extraterritorial legislation and unilateral measures were also negatively affecting the EU’s economic interests. The EU’s Common Commercial Policy had firmly and continuously opposed such measures. The EU and the U.S. had agreed in 1998 to alleviate problems with U.S. extraterritorial legislation and the U.S. had to fully respect and implement that agreement.

Speakers from 37 other countries voiced their support for the resolution while many also welcomed the renewal of diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Cuba and the island’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. Some of these speakers, however, said the steps taken by the U.S. were still limited and that the embargo remained unchanged or had even been tightened since the historic rapprochement was announced last December.

Colombia’s permanent representative, for example, said her country was optimistic that Obama will obtain Congress to lift the embargo, which “runs counter to international law.” Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of CARICOM, said the embargo wasn’t only punitive against Cuba, “but an impediment to our shared regional development.”

United States of America[3]

Ronald D. Goddard
Ronald D. Goddard

A short explanation for the U.S. vote against the resolution was provided to the General Assembly by Ronald D. Goddard, U.S. Senior Advisor for Western Hemispheric Affairs. He mentioned last December’s historic announcement of a new era in U.S.-Cuba relations and some of the subsequent steps toward normalization. In addition, he said that U.S. President Obama had “called on Congress to lift the embargo as soon as possible and has taken executive action to adjust regulations to facilitate many transactions involving Cuba.”

Therefore, Goddard continued, the U.S. regretted “that the Government of Cuba has chosen to proceed with its annual resolution. 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.”

Israel.

Israel, the only other U.N. member to join the U.S. in opposing the resolution, merely said that it had followed the adoption of the resolution with great interest and welcomed the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. Given Israel’s special relationship with the latter, it had voted against the resolution.

Preliminary Documents Regarding the Resolution

Cuba’s Report to General Assembly. In June 2015 Cuba submitted a 37-page report to the General Assembly on its last year’s resolution on the embargo (blockade). This report contains a list of the U.S. statutes and regulations imposing the embargo and blockade and asserts that these U.S. actions have violated the Cuban people’s right to health and food; education, sports and culture; and development. In addition, this U.S. policy allegedly has damaged Cuba’s foreign commerce and investments; and finances, especially with its extraterritorial applications. These alleged damages total US$ 121.192 billion (in current prices) or US$ 833.755 billion (adjusted to reflect the depreciation of the US Dollar against the value of gold).[4]

These alleged damages include the alleged blocking of Cuban access to diagnostic equipment for monitoring the treatment of leukemia patients; preventing the sale to Cuban hospitals of devices critical for pediatric heart surgery patients; and hindering efforts by the U.N. Development Program getting medicine and support into Cuba for its over 18,000 patients living with HIV/AIDS.

U.N. Secretary-General’s Report to General Assembly. On July 30, 2015, the U.N. Secretary-General submitted a 178-page report to the General Assembly summarizing the comments on the resolution from 156 governments and 33 U.N. agencies and entities.[5] The U.S. and Israel, the only two countries to vote against the same resolution last year, had not submitted any comments at the time of the publication of this report, and the Holy See merely stated that it had “never drawn up or applied economic, commercial or financial laws or measures against Cuba.”

The other 155 governments basically supported the resolution with the European Union and Japan emphasizing that the U.S. “trade policy towards Cuba is fundamentally a bilateral issue,” but that “the extraterritorial extension of the [U.S.] embargo . . . violate commonly accepted rules of international trade.”

Of the 33 U.N. agencies and entities, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights says that generally coercive economic sanctions justified on human rights grounds more often than not fail to improve those conditions; instead they punish the poorest people, the intended beneficiaries of the sanctions, at the cost of increased unemployment and poverty and risks to their health.

Conclusion

This blog consistently has called for the U.S. to end its embargo (blockade) of Cuba. It also has recommended that Cuba’s claims against the U.S. for alleged damages from the embargo be submitted for determination to the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands. In such a proceeding the U.S. could mount any and all arguments it has against (a) the major premise of the claims (the embargo is illegal under international law) and (b) the amount and causation of the alleged damages from the embargo. In the meantime, this blog has pointed out that as a matter of financial prudence the U.S. should end the embargo as soon as possible to reduce the amount of this contingent liability.[6]

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[1] United Nations, Despite Resumption of Relations between United States, Cuba, General Assembly Adopts, Almost Unanimously, Resolution Calling for Blockade to Be Lifted (Oct. 27, 2015); Assoc. Press, UN Overwhelmingly Condemns US Embargo on Cuba, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Reuters, Amid Renewed U.S., Cuba ties, U.N. condemns Embargo for 24th Year, N.Y. Times (Oct. 27, 2015); Whitefield, United Nations Votes 191-2 to condemn U.S. embargo against Cuba, Miami Herald (Oct. 27, 2015). As an example of the very limited U.S. coverage of this important U.N. action, the StarTribune, which is the major newspaper in the State of Minnesota, merely stated the following in an 8th page column of “nation+ world” news in the October 28th print edition: “UNITED NATIONS: Vote condemns embargo on Cuba In the first U.N. vote on a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba since the two countries renewed diplomatic ties, the U.N. voted 191-2 in favor of the condemnation. The United States said that it couldn’t support the resolution because it failed to take into account ‘the significant steps in the spirit of engagement’ undertaken by the United States.”

[2] Bruno Rodriguez: “We will continue to present this draft resolution for as long as this blockade persists,” CubaMinRex (Oct. 27, 2015) (official Cuban Foreign Ministry English translation). On the day the resolution was debated in the General Assembly, Cuba’s newspaper, Granma, and its website, Cubadebate, had a minute-by-minute reporting of the proceedings starting at 08:33 a.m. (CDT). The Cuban Foreign Ministry has a separate website, “CubavsBloquero,” regarding the embargo (blockade). Another special Ministry website focuses on Cuba-EEUU {United States} relations.

[3] U.S. Mission to U.N., Explanation of Vote at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo (Oct. 27, 2015)  In the weeks before the General Assembly vote, the U.S. reportedly considered abstaining on the resolution this year. Last week, however, the U.S. decided it would not abstain because the text did not fully reflect the new spirit of cooperation between the two countries

 [4] Report by Cuba On Resolution 69/5 of the United Nations General Assembly entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (June 2015). The Report breakdown for some, but not all, of the components of these alleged damages, but does not explain how the alleged gold standard dollar figures were calculated.

[5] U.N. Gen. Assembly, Report of the Secretary General: Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (July 30, 2015)

[6] E.g., Letter to President Obama Regarding Cuba (Aug. 17, 2012) (recommends ending embargo); Senator Klobuchar Introduces Bill To End Embargo of Cuba (Feb. 13, 2015) (Cuba’s “damage claim must be recognized as a contingent liability of the U.S., and ending the embargo will minimize the amount of that liability”); Resolution of U.S. and Cuba’s Damage Claims (April 6, 2015).

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dwkcommentaries

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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