Yet Another U.N. General Assembly Resolution Condemns U.S. Embargo (Blockade) of Cuba 

On November 1, 2018, the United Nations General Assembly again overwhelmingly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo (blockade) of Cuba. The vote this year was 189 to 2 (the two negative votes were registered by the U.S. and Israel while Moldova and Ukraine did not vote).[1]

Also on November 1, the General Assembly overwhelmingly rejected all of eight amendments that were proposed by the U.S. with only Israel and Ukraine (plus the Marshall Islands on one of them) joining the U.S. in their support while 113 voted against them with 65 abstaining. . However, some delegations said they were not opposed to the content of the amendments, but voted against them because the resolution on the embargo was not their appropriate venue.

Cuba’s Report on Prior U.N. Resolution[2].

The debate on the resolution was preceded by  Cuba’s report, dated June 2018, that was called for by the previous U.N. General Assembly resolution on the subject.

The report commenced by saying, “The economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States of America against Cuba for almost six decades is the most unfair, severe and extended system of unilateral sanctions ever applied against any country. From April of 2017 until March of 2018, the period with which this report deals, the blockade policy has intensified and it continues to be applied with all rigor.” (P. 48)

This report then alleged, “In the period considered by this report, the blockade has caused losses to Cuba for around $ 4.3 billion” and the “accumulated harm because of the blockade being applied for almost six decades reaches the figure of . . .  . $134.5 billion” (at today’s prices). (Pp. 48-49)

The Actual Resolution[3]

The actual resolution, “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (A/RES/73/8) had two principal operative paragraphs.

It reiterated “its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures [like the U.S. embargo against Cuba] . . . 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.” (¶ 2). It also urged “States 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.” (¶ 3).

The resolution’s preamble reaffirmed “the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of international trade and navigation, which are also enshrined in many international legal instruments” and recited the previous General Assembly resolutions against the embargo.  It then recalled “the measures adopted by the Executive of the United States [President Obama] in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 [by President Trump] to reinforce its implementation.”

The U.S. Proposed Amendments.[4]

Prior to the Session, the U.S. proposed the following eight amendments to the Cuban resolution:

  • The first called for the Cuban government to “grant its citizens internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information.”
  • The second manifested “serious concern that in Cuba the serious lack of access to information and freedom of expression, the total absence of judicial independence, and arbitrary arrest and detention, are undermining collective efforts to implement Goal 16 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The third expressed “concern that in Cuba the absence of women in the most powerful decision-making bodies . . . seriously undermines the collective efforts to implement Goal 5 of Sustainable Development.”
  • The fourth asserted concern over a Cuban “trade union monopoly . . ., the prohibition of the right to strike and restrictions on collective bargaining and agreements . . . [which] seriously undermine collective efforts to implement Goal 8 Sustainable Development.”
  • The fifth urged Cuba to “create and maintain, in law and in practice, a safe and propitious environment in which an independent, diverse and pluralist civil society can operate without undue obstacles and insecurity.”
  • The sixth urged Cuba “to put an end to the widespread and serious restrictions, . . . on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, association and peaceful assembly . . . .”
  • The seventh urged Cuba to “free arbitrarily detained persons for the legitimate exercise of their human rights, consider rescinding unduly harsh sentences for exercising such fundamental freedoms . . . .”
  • The eighth called for Cuba “to initiate an integral process of accountability in response to all cases of serious human rights violations. . . .”

The above mentions of  Sustainable Development Goals are references to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda that were adopted by U.N. Member States in September 2015.

On October 30, the Cuba Foreign Minister said the U.S. amendments “are aimed at “creating a pretext to tighten the blockade, and attempt to present the illusion that there is international support for the policy. . . . The U.S. delegation to the UN seeks to disturb, consume time, create confusion and hinder the adoption of the resolution calling for the end of the blockade against Cuba.

The Foreign Minister  added that these amendments “manipulate the issue of human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.” But Cuba is “confident that the amendments will be rejected, and that the resolution will receive overwhelming majority support, as has happened in the past.”

 The Debate on the Resolution and Amendments[5]

According to an U.N. Press Release, on the morning of October 31, representatives of many countries “overwhelmingly called on the [U.S.]to end its economic,commercial and financial embargo against Cuba . . . amid demands for the cessation of unilateral coercive measures.” They said,”the nearly six‑decades‑long blockade imposed on the Caribbean island by Washington impedes its right to development and its ability to participate fully in the global economy.  They stressed that the [U.S.] must heed the Assembly’s repeated calls to lift its restrictive policies.”

Some speakers added “concern over recent policy shifts in Washington that are undoing progress made in 2015 and 2016 to normalize bilateral ties with Cuba.  The current [U.S.] Administration is pursuing efforts to strengthen the blockade, they warned.”

The Associated Press added that 135 countries spoke in favor of Cuba’s resolution and against the U.S. embargo and its proposed amendments.

The debate continued the next day and, according to another U.N. press release, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodríguez said “the human damage caused by the United States‑led blockade against his country qualifies as an ‘act of genocide’ and creates obstacles for cultural, academic and scientific engagement throughout the island.”

He said the quantifiable damages caused by “the blockade amount to $933.678 billion and that over the past year losses in Cuba add up to $4.3 billion.  Still, Cuba has managed to achieve economic progress and offer extensive international cooperation.  ‘The blockade continues to be the main obstacle to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals,’ . . . [and] violates the right of Cubans to self‑determination.  ‘It is an act of oppression and an act of war.’”

“Mr. Rodríguez said there is a ‘ferocious intensification’ of the extraterritorial implementation of the blockade, particularly the persecution of Cuba’s financial transactions.  The embargo goes against the [U.N.] Charter and international law.”

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said that the resolution “does not help a single Cuban family”and was “one more time that countries ‘feel like they can poke the United States in the eye’ . . . [while] the sorry state of liberty and human rights in Cuba is not lost on anyone.”

“She went on to say that the [U.N.]does not have the ability or the authority to end the [U.S.] embargo on Cuba.  It does, however, have the power to send a moral message to Cuba’s regime [and]  that the [U.S.’] proposed amendments are ‘your words’ . . .[i.e.] the words expressed by delegations on Cuba’s oppression and lack of freedoms.”

“Throughout the morning, speakers regretted that after 27 years of near‑unanimous support for the yearly resolution in the General Assembly, there is still no indication that Washington, D.C. will lift the embargo.”

Reactions to the Resolution [6]

After the passage of the resolution and rejection of the U.S. amendments,  Ambassador Haley said to the General Assembly, “I’m always taken aback when I hear applause in this chamber in moments like this, because there are no winners here today. There are only losers.The [U.N.] has lost. It has rejected the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights. The UN Charter commits every country here to the promotion of peace, security, and human rights. And that Charter was betrayed today.”

“Once again, we were reminded why so many people believe that faith in the [U.N.] is often misplaced. The countries that profess to believe in human rights have lost, too. They have earned a justified measure of doubt that they will act to defend their beliefs. And most of all, the Cuban people have lost. They’ve been left, once again, to the brutal whims of the Castro dictatorship. They have been abandoned by the United Nations and by most of the world’s governments.”

“But the Cuban people are not alone today. The [U.S.] stands with them. The people of Cuba are our neighbors and our friends, and they are fellow children of God. The American people will stand with them until they are restored the rights that God has given us all. Rights that no government can legitimately deny its people.”

“While today’s votes were not admirable, they were highly illuminating. And that light contributes to the cause of truth, which is the essential basis of freedom and human rights”.

The previous day (October 31), the U.S. Embassy in Cuba accused the Cuban regime of using the embargo as a justification for its failed economic model and demanded that it stop blocking the development and progress of Cubans, It also said that in 2017 the U.S. exported food, agricultural products, medicines, medical devices, fertilizers, parts of civil aircraft, telecommunications equipment and other products to Cuba and that Cuba was free to trade with any other country.”

Conclusion

As an U.S. citizen-advocate for ending the embargo as soon as possible, I am not pleased with the U.S. opposition to this resolution and to the very hostile tone of Ambassador Haley’s remarks.[7]

Moreover, too many in the U.S. believe the Cuban damages claim from the embargo is just a crazy Cuban dream, but I disagree. Given the amount of the claim, Cuba will not someday tell the U.S. to forget it, nor will the U.S. write a check for Cuba in that amount. A prior post, therefore, suggested that the two countries agree to submit this claim and any other damage claims by both countries for resolution by an independent international arbitration panel such as those provided by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague in the Netherlands.

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[1] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); U.N. Press Release, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for End to Embargo on Cuba, Soundly Rejects Amendments by United States (Nov. 1, 2018); Assoc. Press, The Latest: UN General Assembly Condemns US Embargo of Cuba, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Reuters, U.N. Urges End to U.S. Embargo on Cuba, U.S. Raised Rights Concerns, N.Y. Times (Nov. 1, 2018); Whitefield, U.S. highlights Cuba’s problematic human rights record but U.N. still supports lifting embargo, Miami Herald (Nov. 1, 2018).

[2] Cuba Foreign Ministry, Report by Cuba on resolution 72/4 of the United Nations General Assembly  (June 2018).

[3] U.N. Gen. Assembly, A/RES/73/8, Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[4] The eight US amendments to the resolution on the embargo that the UN will vote, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 26, 2018); Bruno Rodriguez: “We are certain the amendments will be rejected,” Granma (Oct. 30, 3018). The Foreign Minister made essentially the same points at another press conference on October 24. (Cuban Foreign Minister denounces U.S. maneuver to undermine international support for an end to the blockade, Granma (Oct. 25, 2018).

[5] U.N. Press Release, Amid Demands for Ending Unilateral Coercive Measures, Speakers in General Assembly Urge United States to Repeal Embargo Against Cuba (Oct. 31, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuba Gets Support Before the UN Votes on Embargo, US Amendments, Wash. Post (Nov. 1, 2018); Cuba is not alone: Nations of the world highlight the absurdity of the U.S. blockade  against Cuba in the UN, Granma (Oct. 31, 2018).

[6] U.S. Mission to U.N., Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018); USA: The Government of Cuba ‘uses the embargo as an excuse for its failed economic model, Diario de Cuba (Nov. 1, 2018).

[7]  See posts listed in the “U.S. Embargo of Cuba” section of List of Posts to dwkcommentaries–Topical: CUBA.

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

U.N. General Assembly Voting Results Screen
U.N. General Assembly   Voting Results Screen

On October 28, 2014, the U.N. General Assembly by a vote of 188 to 2 again condemned the U.S. embargo of Cuba. The two negative votes were cast by the U.S. and by Israel while three small Pacific nations abstained–Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. All the other U.N. members supported the resolution. [1]

 The Resolution

The resolution [A/69/L.4] reiterated the General Assembly’s “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 [‘the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba’ and the Helms-Burton Act], 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.”

The resolution also “again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures [i.e., the U.S.] to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regime.”

Cuba’s Statement Supporting the Resolution

Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla
Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla

Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, the Cuban Minister for Foreign Affairs, introducing the resolution, said that in recent times “the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the [U.S.] against Cuba had been tightened, and its extraterritorial implementation had also been strengthened through the imposition of unprecedented fines, totaling $11 billion against 38 banks . . . for carrying out transactions with Cuba and other countries.” In addition, Cuba’s “accumulated economic damages of the blockade totaled $1.1 trillion . . . [and] human damages were on the rise.”

Nevertheless, “Cuba had offered every possible form of assistance to the [U.S.] in the wake of disasters there, such as in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Cuba had never been a threat to the national security of the [U.S.].  Opinion polls showed that there was increasing support from all sectors of [U.S.] society for lifting the blockade.  Religious leaders had citied legitimate, indisputable ethical and humanitarian reasons.“

In addition, ”the blockade was harmful to . . . the [U.S.]. The ‘absurd and ridiculous’ inclusion of Cuba on the [U.S.] list of States that sponsored international terrorism redounded to the discredit of the [U.S.].  Cuba would never renounce its sovereignty or the path chosen by its people to build a more just, efficient, prosperous and sustainable socialism.”  Neither, he continued, would his Government “give up its quest for a different international order, nor cease in its struggle for ‘the equilibrium of the world.’”

Rodríguez also invited the U.S. government “to establish a mutually respectful relation, based on reciprocity. We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way, despite our differences.”

Other Countries’ Statements Supporting the Resolution [2]

The following Latin American countries voiced support for the resolution: Argentina (MERCOSUR [3]) (embargo was “morally unjustifiable” and violated “the spirit of multilateralism and was immoral, unjust and illegal”); Barbados (CARICOM [4]); Bolivia (Group of 77 [5] and China); Brazil (Group of 77 and CELAC [6]); Colombia; Costa Rica (CELAC)); Ecuador; El Salvador (Group of 77 and CARICOM); Mexico; Nicaragua; St. Vincent and the Grenadines (CARICOM, Non-Aligned Movement, [7] Group of 77 and CELAC); Uruguay; and Venezuela.

The African supporters of the resolution that spoke were Algeria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77, Group of African States [8] and Organization of Islamic Cooperation [9]); Angola; Kenya (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Malawi (African Group); South Africa (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and African Group); Sudan (Group of 77, Non-Aligned Movement and Organization of Islamic Cooperation); United Republic of Tanzania; Zambia (Non-Aligned Movement) and Zimbabwe (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and African Group).

From Asia and the Pacific were Belarus; China (Group of 77); Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea); Indonesia (Group of 77);  India (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Iran (Non-Aligned Movement); Lao People’s Democratic Republic; Myanmar (Group of 77 and Non-Aligned Movement); Russian Federation; Solomon Islands; and Viet Nam (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

Middle Eastern countries speaking in favor of the resolution were Egypt, Saudi Arabia (Organization of Islamic Cooperation); and Syria (Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and China).

The sole European supporter of the resolution that spoke at the session was Italy (European Union [10]), which said the U.S.’ “extraterritorial legislation and unilateral administrative and judicial measures were negatively affecting European Union interests”).

U.S. Statement Opposing the Resolution

Although Israel voted against the resolution, it chose not to speak in support of its vote. Only the U.S. by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Advisor for Western Hemisphere Affairs, tried to justify the negative vote.

Ronald D. Godard
Ronald D. Godard

Ambassador Godard said the U.S. “conducts its economic relationships with other countries in accordance with its national interests and its principles. Our sanctions toward Cuba are part of our overall effort to help the Cuban people freely exercise their human rights and fundamental freedoms, and determine their own future, consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the democratic principles to which the United Nations itself is committed.”

Ambassador Godard also said, “the Cuban government uses this annual resolution in an attempt to shift blame for the island’s economic problems away from its own policy failures. The Cuban government now publicly recognizes that its economic woes are caused by the economic policies it has pursued for the last, past half-century. We note and welcome recent changes that reflect this acknowledgement, such as those that allow greater self-employment and liberalization of the real estate market. But the Cuban economy will not thrive until the Cuban government permits a free and fair labor market, fully empowers Cuban independent entrepreneurs, respects intellectual property rights, allows unfettered access to information via the Internet, opens its state monopolies to private competition and adopts the sound macro-economic policies that have contributed to the success of Cuba’s neighbors in Latin America.”

According to Ambassador Godard, the U.S. “remains a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people. The Cuban people continue to receive as much as $2 billion per year in remittances and other private contributions from the [U.S.]. This support . . . was made possible . . . by U.S. policy choices. By the Cuban government’s own account, the [U.S.] is one of Cuba’s principal trading partners. In 2013, the [U.S.] exported approximately $359 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine and humanitarian items to Cuba. Far from restricting aid to the Cuban people, we are proud that the people of the [U.S.] and its companies are among the leading providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba. All of this trade and assistance is conducted in conformity with our sanctions program, which is carefully calibrated to allow and encourage the provision of support to the Cuban people.”

Furthermore, the U.S. “places the highest priority on building and strengthening connections between the Cuban people and [our] people. U.S. travel, remittance, information exchange, humanitarian and people-to-people policies updated in 2009 and 2011 provide the Cuban people alternative sources of information, help them take advantage of limited opportunities for self-employment and private property and strengthen independent civil society. The hundreds of thousands of Americans who have sent remittances and traveled to the island, under categories of purposeful travel promoted by President Obama, remain the best ambassadors for our democratic ideals.”

Ambassador Godard continued, “[The U.S.] strongly supports the Cuban people’s desire to determine their own future, through the free flow of information to, from, and within Cuba. The right to receive and impart information and ideas through any media is set forth in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is the Cuban government’s policies that continue to prevent enjoyment of this right. The Cuban government now claims to share our goal of helping the Cuban people access the Internet. Yet the Cuban government has failed to offer widespread access to the Internet through its high-speed cable with Venezuela.  Instead, it continues to impose barriers to information for the Cuban people while disingenuously blaming U.S. policy.”

“Moreover, the Cuban government continues to detain Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for facilitating Internet access for Cuba’s small Jewish community. [[11]] The [U.S.] calls on Cuba to release Mr. Gross immediately, [[12]] allow unrestricted access to the Internet, and tear down the digital wall of censorship it has erected around the Cuban people.

 {T]his resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people. . . . Though Cuba’s contributions to the fight against Ebola are laudable, they do not excuse or diminish the regime’s treatment of its own people. We encourage this world body to support the desires of the Cuban people to choose their own future. By doing so, it would truly advance the principles the United Nations Charter was founded upon, and the purposes for which the United Nations was created.”

Media Coverage of the Resolution and Debate

 U.S. media coverage of this important U.N. vote was almost non-existent. It was not mentioned in the “World” or “Americas” news sections of the New York Times, and only its “Opinion” section had a short article about the issue. It got no mention whatsoever in the Wall Street Journal. Not even the Miami Herald, which has a separate page for Cuba news, mentioned it. [13]

At 2:37 p.m. on October 28th the Associated Press published a release on the subject, and the Washington Post published it online while the StarTribune of Minneapolis/St. Paul picked it up the next day in its online, but not its print, edition.

Cuba’s state-owned newspaper, Granma, of course, headlined this vote while stating that the embargo has caused $1.1 trillion of damage to the Cuban economy and “incalculable human suffering.” Its article also emphasized that this was the 23rd consecutive such resolution with a table showing that the number of votes in favor of the resolutions has increased from 59 in 1992 to 188 in 2012-2014, that the largest number of votes against the resolutions was only 4 in 1993 and 2004-2007 and that the number of abstentions has decreased from 71 in 1992 to 1 in 2005-2007 and now 3 since 2010.

Conclusion

This overwhelming international opposition to the U.S. embargo in and of itself should be enough to cause the U.S. to end the embargo. Moreover, the embargo has not forced Cuba to come begging to the U.S. for anything that the U.S. wants. The U.S. policy is a failure. The New York Times recently called for abandonment of this policy as has this blog in urging reconciliation of the two countries, in an open letter to President Obama and in a rebuttal of the President’s asserted rationale for the embargo and other anti-Cuban policies.

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[1] This post is based upon the sources embedded above and upon U.N. General Assembly Press Release [GA/11574], As General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockade for Twenty-Thjrd Consecutive Year, Country’s Foreign Minister Cites Losses Exceeding $1 Trillion (Oct. 28, 2014); Londoño, On Cuban Embargo, It’s the U.S. and Israel Against the World, Again, N.Y. Times (Oct. 29, 2014); Associated Press, UN General Assembly Condemns US Cuba Embargo (Oct. 28, 2014); U.S. Dep’t of State, Explanation of Vote by Ambassador Ronald D. Godard on the Cuba Resolution in the General Assembly Hall (Oct. 28, 2014). The General Assembly also has videos of the debate (A and B). A prior post reviewed the 2011 General Assembly’s adoption of a similar resolution against the embargo.

[2] Many of the cited statements supporting the resolution were issued on behalf of, or aligned with, larger groups of nations as noted above. In addition, prior to the October 28th session of the General Assembly, the U.N. Secretary General submitted a report containing statements against the embargo from 154 states and 27 U.N. agencies.

[3] MERCOSUR (Southern Common Market) is a customs union and trading bloc of five South American countries with five other associate members in the continent.

[4] CARICOM (Caribbean Community) is a group of 15 Caribbean countries with five associate members for economic cooperation.

[5] The Group of 77 was established in 1964 by 77 developing countries to promote their collective economic interests and South-South cooperation; now there are 134 members that have retained the original name for historical significance.

[6] CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) is a group of 33 states in the region to deepen economic integration and combat the influence of the U.S.

[7] The Non-Aligned Movement is a group of 115 developing countries that are not aligned with or against any major power bloc. Its current focus is advocacy of solutions to global economic and other problems

[8] The African Group is a group of 54 African states that are U.N. Members.

[9] The Organization of Islamic Cooperation is a group of 57 states that seek to protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting peace and harmony in the world.

[10] The European Union is a group of 28 European states that have combined for a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe.

[11] The activities in Cuba by Mr. Gross are not so simple. A Cuban court in 2011 found him guilty of participating in a “subversive project of the U.S. government that aimed to destroy the revolution through the use of communications systems out of the control of authorities,” and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. According to his own lawsuit against the U.S. Government, and subsequent disclosures, Gross alleged the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and its contractor, DAI, sent him on five semi-covert trips to Cuba without proper training, protection or even a clear sense of the Cuban laws that led to his detainment. The case highlighted the frequent haste and lack of attention to the risks of the USAID programs in Cuba under the Helms-Burton Act, which allowed for money to be set aside for “democracy building efforts” that might hasten the fall of Fidel and Raúl Castro.

[12] In discussions with the U.S., Cuba already has expressed a willingness to exchange Mr. Gross for one or more of the three of “the Cuban Five” who remain in U.S. prisons.

[13] Nor did I find any mention of the vote in London’s Guardian or Madrid’s El Pais.