General Assembly Demands End to Cuba Blockade for Twenty-Second Year
As Speakers Voice Concern over Impact on Third Countries
Foreign Minister Cites Economic Damage;
United States Delegate Says Resolution Distracts from Real Problems
The General Assembly, voting nearly-unanimously, adopted its twenty-second consecutive resolution calling for an end to the United States’ decades-long economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.
By the text, adopted by a recorded vote of 188 in favour to 2 against (United States and Israel) with 3 abstentions (Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau), the Assembly expressed concern about the continued promulgation and application by Member States of laws and regulations, such as the 1996 “Helm-Burton Act”, the extraterritorial effects of which affected the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation.
The resolution reiterated the call on States to refrain from applying such measures, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter, and urged those that had applied such laws to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.
Introducing the text, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the human damages caused by the blockade were incalculable, with 76 per cent of Cubans living under its devastating effects since the day they were born. The resulting economic damages accumulated after half a century amounted to more than $1 trillion. The embargo was also the main obstacle to broader access to the Internet, the free circulation of persons, the exchange of ideas and the development of cultural, sport and scientific relations.
The blockade had been further tightened under President Obama’s administration, particularly in the financial sector, he said. The United States had historically used the enormous technological power of its recently denounced mass espionage system to persecute and monitor Cuba’s financial transactions and economic relations. From January 2009 to September 2013, fines imposed on 30 United States and foreign entities for relations with Cuba and other countries amounted to more than $2.4 billion.
The essence of the United States’ Cuba policy remained unaltered and anchored in the Cold War, he said. There were big differences between both Governments, but the only productive way to proceed would be to find a civilized way to relate to one another. Dialogue, negotiation and cooperation must prevail for the benefit of both peoples and hemispheric relations. The recent resumption of talks on migration, the reestablishment of direct post services and the development of contacts on issues of mutual interest, such as combating oil spills and maritime and air search and rescue missions, showed that such an approach was both possible and useful.
“Our small island poses no threat to the national security of the superpower,” he said. “Then, why can’t Americans have access to first quality Cuban products or Cuban last generation medicines? Why are their business people losing opportunities?” Cuba aimed to move towards normalization of bilateral relations and was willing to establish a serious, constructive dialogue on an equal footing and with full respect for its independence.
The representative of the United States, however, said the Cuban Government sought to identify an “external scapegoat” for its economic problems, which were actually caused by its own policies over the last half a century. It was unrealistic to expect Cuba to thrive unless it changed its policies, opened up for competitions, respected international property rights and allowed unfettered access to the Internet, among other things.
As a “deep and abiding friend” to the Cuban people, the United States placed high priority on strengthening the connections between American and Cuban citizens. In 2012, around $2 billion in the form of remittances and private support were sent from the United States to Cuba. His country was also the largest supplier of food and agricultural products to the island country as well as its principal trade partner. In addition, United States companies were among the leading providers of humanitarian assistance to Cuba
The United States strongly supported the Cuban people’s desire to design their own future, he said. However, such an aspiration was obstructed by the Cuban Government. The Assembly should not ignore Cuba’s various human rights problems. The resolution only served to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people.
In the debate, many delegates lamented the severe consequences of the embargo on Cuba. India’s representative said since the island country was denied access to major markets with which it shared geography, Cuba had to pay enormous extra costs for sourcing products, technology and services from third countries located thousands of kilometres away and find markets for its own products. Citing the Food and Agriculture Organization, he pointed out that the embargo had very negative implications for Cuba’s balance of trade and foreign exchange earnings, and for the country’s supply of food and agriculture products as well as a direct effect on the food security of the vulnerable segments of the population.
The representative of Sudan said his own country had experienced economic, social and development blockades, just as Cuba had been deprived of importing spare parts for vital sectors that could have led to development in infrastructure, industry and medication. Embargoes had fuelled conflicts in Sudan, and all conflicts were attributable to underdevelopment, he said, raising the question: How could the United Nations achieve a road map for a post-2015 development agenda to combat poverty when there were laws that hindered international trade, imposing blockades on countries striving to achieve lives with dignity for their people?
Many speakers expressed concerns about the extraterritorial dimension of the blockade. The representative of Lithuania, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said United States’ legislation had extended the effects of the embargo to third countries. The European Union continuously opposed such extraterritorial measures. While appreciating small measures that lifted remittance obstacles, she could not accept unilaterally imposed restrictions that were contrary to international trade rules and impeded the European Union’s economic and commercial relations with Cuba.
Several speakers commended the progress that Cuba had achieved despite the difficulties, as well as the assistance it had provided for other countries. The representative of Saint Kitts and Nevis, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), said that in the Caribbean alone, Cuba had built hospitals and clinics as well as provided medicines and healthcare professionals. Students from CARICOM countries had benefited from free university education in Cuba. The country had also extended generous help to Haiti after its devastating earthquake.
Some delegates called on the United States and Cuban Governments to work together towards a lasting solution. The representative of Zambia said the unilateral embargo had no role in an era of “setting the stage” for the post-2015 global development agenda. The time was ripe for the two countries to free themselves from a standoff of a long-gone era when the majority of their citizens had not even been born. “The present generations know little of the cause of the age old impasse, hence we must give them a chance to enjoy normalcy,” he said.
Also speaking today were representatives of Russian Federation, Fiji (on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China), Mexico, Chile (on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), Iran (on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement), Ethiopia (on behalf of the African Group), Djibouti (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Venezuela (on behalf of the Common Market of the South and in its national capacity), Ecuador, Egypt, Bolivia, China, Indonesia, Algeria, Viet Nam, Brazil, Angola, South Africa, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, United Republic of Tanzania, Argentina, Solomon Islands, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Syria, El Salvador, Myanmar, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Uruguay.
Cuba’s representative also made a statement in exercise of the right to reply.
The Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on 30 October to take action on a by-election to fill vacancies resulting from four members from the Western European and other States relinquishing their seats, an election of seven members of the Committee for Programme and Coordination and an election of eighteen members of the Economic and Social Council.