UN General Assembly denounces U.S. blockade of Cuba

For the 18th consecutive year, the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday voted to condemn the economic blockade that the United States has maintained against socialist Cuba since shortly after the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in January of 1959.

The United States calls the policy an embargo, but Cuba points out that since it does not merely prevent U.S. persons and enterprises from doing business in Cuba, but strives to punish foreign companies who trade with Cuba also, it amounts to a blockade.

The vote in favor of the resolution to condemn the blockade and ask for its reversal was higher than ever, with 187 votes in favor of the condemnation, 3 votes against (the United States, Israel and the tiny Pacific Ocean nation of Palau), and two abstentions (The Marshall Islands and Micronesia, also tiny Pacific states which, like Palau, are highly dependent on U.S. aid).

This means that every single country that has representation in the UN – there are 192 in all – voted against the United States on this matter. The “yes” vote on the anti-blockade resolution included two new countries compared to last year’s vote: El Salvador, which elected a left-center government in March, and which had for many years previously been used by the CIA as a base for subversion against Cuba, and, interestingly, the U.S. supported government of Iraq. Every single one of the U.S.’s NATO allies voted to condemn the U.S. policy.

In the lead up to the vote, the Cuban delegation had provided General Assembly delegates with a detailed account of the ways in which the blockade had harmed ordinary Cuban people by forcing Cuba to pay higher prices for imported goods and by denying sick Cubans access to medicines and medical devices. Delegates from a number of other countries took the podium to denounce the U.S. policy.

During the debate, U.S. ambassador to the UN Susan Rice mentioned some actions of the new Obama administration aimed at reducing tension with Cuba, but defended the blockade, or embargo, as a legitimate pressure mechanism to get Cuba to change some of its internal policies. About the impending vote, she asserted that “old habits die hard”. Responding to comments by Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez, namely that “the blockade is an uncultured act of arrogance,” Rice replied that Rodriguez’s statement was a throwback to the Cold War. But by their vote, it is obvious that the General Assembly see the blockade itself as such a throwback.

Rodriguez had also pointed out, as the Cuban government has on a number of occasions, that the Obama administration has a unique opportunity to change this policy.

Because the real power center in the UN is not in the General Assembly but the Security Council where the U.S. and other permanent members have a veto, the value of the vote is largely symbolic. But it certainly is an indication of the degree to which, not Cuba but the United States is isolated on this issue.

Photo: Governo da Bahia Credit


Emile Schepers
Emile Schepers

Emile Schepers is a veteran civil and immigrant rights activist. Born in South Africa, he has a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Northwestern University. He is active in the struggle for immigrant rights, in solidarity with the Cuban Revolution and a number of other issues. He writes from Northern Virginia.