Once more, UN General Assembly rejects U.S. blockade of Cuba
The UN vote condemning the U.S. blockade of Cuba was 187 to 3, with two abstentions. Only the U.S., Israel, and Brazil supported the blockade. The U.S.-alled governments of Colombia and Ukraine abstained. | Richard Drew / AP

It happened again. For the 28th consecutive year, a Cuban resolution calling for an end to the U.S. economic blockade of that island was approved overwhelmingly in the United Nations General Assembly. The vote on Nov. 7 was 187 votes in favor, three votes against—the United States, Israel, and Brazil—and two nations abstaining, Colombia and Ukraine.

For all those years, the United States and Israel have been the two consistent naysayers. Some years, one or two other nations have joined them. Brazil, taking its turn this year, and Colombia, one of the abstaining nations, undoubtedly were signaling cooperation with the U.S. project of control over the entire region.

As happens every year, national delegations at the UN had reviewed a report Cuba’s Foreign Ministry prepares prior to the vote which documents the blockade’s devastating impact on the Cuban people and Cuba’s prospects for economic development. Cuban spokespersons and national representatives speaking in the General Assembly prior to the vote asserted that the U.S. purpose, with its blockade, was to cause suffering.

Those statements made reference to a U.S. State Department report from 1960 declaring that widespread distress and desperation among Cubans would cause them to rise up against their new revolutionary government. The blockade came into effect two years later. It’s continued and under the Trump administration has been tightened.

In remarks to the General Assembly prior to the vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez condemned new blockade rules. He emphasized the first-time implementation after 26 years of Title III of the Helms-Burton Law. It allows for judgments in U.S. courts that potentially put foreign investments in Cuba at extreme risk.

He cited these other items: cutting back on remittances Cuban-Americans can send to families on the island, denial of visas for Cubans wanting to enter the United States, reduction of consular services, cancellation of baseball agreements, tightened restrictions on U.S. travel to Cuba, cruise ships blocked from visiting Cuba, airline terminals in Cuba and elsewhere put off limits to airlines of several countries, prohibitions on Cuba renting airplanes with 10% or more U.S. components, halting “commercial, cultural, and education” interchanges, and interference with Cuban doctors serving abroad.

Rodríguez highlighted Cuba’s inability to gain access to life-saving medicines and equipment for both critically ill children and cancer patients. “There’s no Cuban family that doesn’t suffer consequences” from the tightened restrictions, he affirmed, adding that “the blockade has constituted the main hindrance for generations of Cubans and continues as the principal obstacle to our development.” He referred to imperialist domination of Latin America and the Caribbean and continuing application of the Monroe Doctrine.

The representatives of at least 12 countries spoke before the General Assembly prior to the vote. Denunciation of the United States for violations of international law, including the United Nations Charter, was a common theme. The United States, they said in various ways, was interfering in the affairs of a sovereign nation.

Finland’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the European Union, rejected activation of Title III of the Helms-Burton Law, declaring that doing so “violates commitments by the United States with the European Union in 1997 and 1998.”

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza objected to the U.S. practice of converting U.S. laws into universal laws. For him, the blockade represents “a criminal practice that fits perfectly as a crime against humanity. It’s collective punishment emanating from the whims and arrogance of those who think they are superior.”

Reacting to far-reaching condemnation from the world community, the U.S. government offered a few quibbles. Voice of America applauded “cash infusions received in Cuba from the United States”—a reference to remittances from Cuban Americans, now reduced as per new U.S. edicts.

Prior to the vote, Kelly Craft, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, asserted that “we get to choose which countries we trade with; this is our sovereign right.” She complained that “the international community, in the name of protecting sovereignty, continues to challenge this right.”

Reflections are in order. One is that from the vantage point of these dark times, the Obama administration deserves great praise for its opening toward Cuba. Now, the fact of U.S. abstention in the annual UN vote on the resolution in 2016 looks like a major milestone.

Further, this writer has been reporting on the UN vote on the U.S. blockade for more than 15 years, every year. That realization leads to speculation that long repetition of this and other such exercises might portend troubles ahead for the Cuba solidarity campaign, especially in view of the apparent stasis in U.S.-Cuban relations. The possibility of growing accommodation with terribly unjust U.S. policies is worrisome, especially the prospect of diminishing ardor among current activists and problems with recruitment.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.