By Sebastian Smith | AFP
The UN General Assembly called overwhelmingly Wednesday on US President Barack Obama’s administration to end Washington’s Cold War-era trade embargo against Cuba.
This was the 18th year running that the UN General Assembly condemned US trade restrictions on the communist-ruled island.
The non-binding vote was backed by 187 countries, ranging from Latin American neighbors of Cuba to members of the European Union and other close US allies.
Only Israel and tiny Palau supported the United States, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The margin of opposition to the US embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005, 184 in 2007, and 185 last year.
The embargo was imposed nearly five decades ago at the height of the Cold War when Cuba was a Soviet client state.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, called the embargo “an absurd policy that causes scarcities and sufferings. It is a crass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights.”
He told the General Assembly that despite signs of a US-Cuban thaw since Obama’s election last year “there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade.”
Voting for the UN resolution would be “an act against aggression and the use of force. It would be an act in favor of peace,” he said.
However, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, dismissed the “painfully familiar rhetoric.”
“The hostile language we have just heard from the foreign minister of Cuba seems straight out of the Cold War era and is not conducive to constructive progress,” she said.
Rice said Washington was offering Havana “a new chapter” in their relations but had as yet received no answer.
She rejected assertions that the US embargo was responsible for Cuba’s crushing poverty, blaming the near permanent economic crisis in the country on government control over the economy and society.
“There are many things the government of Cuba could do,” she said. “Positive measures could include liberating the hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Cuban jails (and)... demonstrating greater respect for freedom of speech.”
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly reinforced Rice’s statement saying the US would consider lifting the embargo “when the government of Cuba starts to make some positive steps toward—toward loosening up its repression of its own people.”
Kelly said in Washington that the yearly UN vote “obscures the facts that the United States is a leading source of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba” that last year totaled 717 million dollars.
The US economic, trade and financial sanctions were imposed 47 years ago following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the Caribbean island nation by US-backed Cuban exiles.
Since taking office in January, Obama has moved to ease tensions with small steps such as relaxing rules on visits and money transfers to the island.
But so far, the US administration has not taken major strides in its approach to the Americas’ last remaining communist regime.
In July, the two countries officially restarted a dialogue on migration issues which had been suspended since 2003, and talks are also under way aimed at restarting bilateral mail service which was cut off in 1963.