Steven Edwards , CanWest News Service
An annual United Nations vote on the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba saw support for the Caribbean island remain overwhelming Tuesday despite a call by President George W. Bush last week for countries to join Washington in pushing Havana towards democracy.
Canada was among 184 countries that supported the UN measure denouncing the embargo, which the world body passed for the 16th year.
Joining the United States in opposing it were close American allies Israel, Palau and Marshall Islands, while Micronesia abstained.
But despite the world denunciation, the United States argued more American goods are arriving in Cuba than at any time since Washington imposed the embargo in 1962 following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion.
“According to the Cuban government’s own trade statistics, the United States has exported nearly $2 billion in agricultural, medical and humanitarian goods to Cuba since 2002,” Ronald Godard, a senior U.S. representative at the UN, told world delegates.
“We are one of Cuba’s largest suppliers of food and one of Cuba’s largest trading partners.”
The exports to Cuba began after pressure from American farmers and others in the agricultural sector led the U.S. to relax the embargo in 2000 on grounds goods would be supplied for humanitarian reasons.
With deliveries of food and medicines totalling $270 million last year, Godard said the American people were the world’s “largest providers of humanitarian aid” to Cuba.
“We maintain our policy of directing aid and trade into the hands of the Cuban people to break the absolute control that the Cuban regime holds over the resources that its people need,” he said.
Cuba painted a sharply contrasting picture, saying the embargo had starved the Cuban economy of $89 billion - or $222 billion if adjusted for inflation.
“Anyone can understand the level of socio-economic development that Cuba would have attained had it not been subjected to this unrelenting and obsessive economic war,” Felipe Peres Roque, Cuba’s foreign affairs minister, told the General Assembly.
He charged the blockade attempts to “subdue the Cuban people through starvation and disease.”
While Canada did not address the assembly, Australia signalled its vote didn’t represent endorsement of the Cuban regime, which has a poor human rights record.
“The Cuban minister claims the blockade is the main obstacle to the rights of the Cuban people,” said Robert Hill, Australia’s ambassador to the UN. “He will, with respect, have greater credibility in pursuing this argument when he can show that the rights of all Cuban people are properly respected and protected by his own government.”
In a speech last week declaring the U.S. embargo would continue, Bush said the Cuban regime’s “communist system” - not the blockade - was the “source of Cuba’s suffering.”
But while he called on countries to help Washington create a multi-billion-dollar “freedom fund” to aid Cuba’s eventual transition to a free-market economy, the vote Tuesday denouncing the embargo was one more than last year’s.