In a slap to the United States, the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution Thursday condemning the American economic embargo of Cuba and rejected proposed U.S. amendments strongly criticizing the lack of human rights in the island country.
Resolutions adopted by the 193-member world body are unenforceable, but they reflect world opinion and the vote has given Cuba an annual stage for the last 27 years to demonstrate the isolation of the U.S. on the embargo.
It was imposed in 1960 following the revolution led by Fidel Castro and the nationalization of properties belonging to U.S. citizens and corporations, and two years later it was strengthened.
The General Assembly’s vote on the Cuban-sponsored resolution on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was 189-2 with no abstentions. The U.S. and Israel voted “no” and Moldova and Ukraine did not vote.
In earlier separate votes on the proposed U.S. amendments, Ukraine and Israel were the only countries to join the U.S. in voting “yes” on all eight measures while the Marshall Islands backed one amendment. Some 114 countries voted against the amendments and about 65 abstained.
The proposed amendments expressed serious concern at the lack of freedom of expression and access to information in Cuba and the prohibition on workers’ right to strike. They called on Cuba to fully grant its citizens “internationally recognized civil, political and economic rights and freedoms,” to establish an independent civil society and to release people detained for exercising their human rights.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez called the U.S. embargo “a flagrant, massive and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban men and women” and denounced what he called the politicized U.S. amendments.
“The government of the United States doesn’t have the least moral authority to criticize Cuba or anyone when it comes to human rights,” he said.
Rodriguez accused the U.S. government of committing “crimes against humanity,” pointing to its dropping of the atom bomb in Japan in World War II, waging wars that “caused the death of millions, many of them innocent,” and carrying out what he claimed were “extrajudicial executions, kidnapping and torture.” He also accused the U.S. of violating the human rights of its citizens, singling out Afro-Americans, Hispanics, minorities, refugees and migrants.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley stressed before the votes that “our reason for the embargo is and has always been Cuba’s denial of freedom and the denial of the most basic human rights for the Cuban people.”
She urged the General Assembly to use its “megaphone” and “send a moral message to the Cuban dictatorship” that could help improve the lives of the Cuban people.
But the United States failed to get support even from Western nations.
The European Union said the U.S. amendments did not belong in a resolution dealing with a trade embargo, and its members supported the resolution calling for the United States “to repeal or invalidate” the embargo. Canada also spoke out against the amendments.
Before the vote Haley said: “We have no problem standing alone on behalf of the things that we believe in and will proudly do so again today if necessary.”
Following the U.S. defeat, however, Haley told the General Assembly: “There are no winners here today, there are only losers.”
She said the UN “lost the opportunity to speak on behalf of human rights,” but most of all the Cuban people have “been left, once again, to the brutal winds of the Castro dictatorship.”
“They have been abandoned by the United Nations and most of the world’s governments, but the Cuban people are not alone today,” Haley said. “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.”
The decision by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump to call for a vote on each of the eight amendments represents an escalation of its action last year and reflects worsening U.S.-Cuban relations.
Cuban President Raul Castro and then-President Barack Obama officially restored relations in July 2016. But Ambassador Haley and others have sharply criticized Cuba’s human rights record. In 2017, the U.S. returned to voting against the resolution condemning the American economic embargo after the Obama administration abstained in 2016, a first for the United States in 25 years.
Thursday’s vote came shortly before Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton announced in Florida that the administration is imposing new sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela and soon on Nicaragua, calling the three countries a “troika of tyranny.”
On Wednesday, diplomats voiced their support for the Cuban resolution.
Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Edrees, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 which represents 135 developing countries and China, pointed to “the positive steps … focused in the right direction” taken by the Obama administration and expressed regret at the Trump administration’s new policy “aimed at strengthening the embargo against Cuba.”
Ambassador Sheila Carey of the Bahamas reiterated the Caribbean Community’s “unequivocal opposition” to the embargo and said last year’s near unanimous vote in favour of immediately lifting the embargo “is a clear indication of prevalent disapproval by the UN membership.”
South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila expressed regret that the gradual relaxation of the embargo under Obama has been reversed “and the people of Cuba are once again faced with a monumental obstacle toward the fulfilment of their basic human rights, including the right to development.”
In 2017, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the Cuban-sponsored resolution by a vote of 191-2, with Israel joining the U.S. in voting “no.” That was the same vote as in 2015.