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Vol. 72/No. 45      November 17, 2008

UN resolution condemns U.S. embargo of Cuba
UNITED NATIONS—The UN General Assembly for the 17th year in a row called October 29 for an end to the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba. The vote was 185 to 3.

The resolution on the “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” was first introduced in 1992. It garnered just 59 votes in favor that year.

By 2007 the resolution was backed almost unanimously with 184 in favor, 4 votes against, and 1 abstention. This year, only the governments of Israel, the United States, and Palua, a former U.S. colony, voted no. The representative of the Marshall Islands, which voted with Washington last year, abstained, along with Micronesia.

Representatives of 18 governments, mostly from Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, spoke in the discussion to back the call for an end to the embargo. Many of them thanked Cuba for the aid the island’s revolutionary government has provided to semicolonial nations.

George Talbot, chargé d’affaires of Guyana, said, “It is remarkable that, even as Cuba struggles with its recent unfortunate string of natural disasters, it continues to assist other nations in the developing world.” He noted that thousands of students from the Caribbean “have attended Cuban universities without charge, thousands have received free surgeries and medical assistance in Cuba, and thousands more have been treated in their home countries by Cuban doctors and nurses.”

Only Ronald Godard, U.S. delegate to the session, spoke against the resolution prior to the vote. He cynically claimed that “the United States has been especially sensitive to the plight of the Cuban people” in light of the devastation wrought by hurricanes Gustav and Ike and has loosened some trade restrictions, including allowing what he said were agricultural purchases of $396 million since September 7.

He went so far as to take credit for packages that Cubans in the United States send to their relatives on the island, which he said amounted to $240 million in 2007, even though Washington restricts those to one a month.

Godard said it was “inappropriate” for the UN General Assembly to consider the resolution. Instead, he said the assembly should “focus on effecting a transition in Cuba,” code words for overturning the Cuban Revolution.

“If the United States government was really concerned about the well-being of the Cuban people, the only moral and ethical behavior would be to lift the blockade they have imposed on my country,” Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque replied.

Washington, under the administration of President John F. Kennedy, banned all exports to Cuba beginning Oct. 19, 1960, except for some food and medicine. In February 1962 Kennedy tightened the embargo even further, banning all U.S. trade. The embargo has been maintained by every U.S. president ever since.

The draconian measures aim to punish the Cuban workers and farmers for their 1959 revolution, which ended U.S. domination of the island forever, and to raise the price Cuba must pay for embarking on the road to socialism.

Pérez Roque told the assembly that the almost 50-year-long U.S. embargo has caused some $225 billion in losses. The embargo also “flagrantly violates the rights of the American people,” he added. “It destroys their freedom to travel.”

The embargo increases the difficulties faced after hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which ravaged the island in late August and early September, damaging one-third of planted farmland, 500,000 homes, and thousands of schools and health-care facilities.

The U.S. government is lying when it says it authorized relaxing restrictions after the storms, Pérez Roque said. The sale of agricultural produce is not new. Since 2001 Washington has allowed Cuba to purchase some food products, but only if it pays in cash in advance and “after a complicated and bureaucratic process of granting licenses, case by case,” he explained.

Washington has intensified some elements of the embargo over the last year, including heavier economic sanctions on companies that do business with Cuba and increased financing and support to groups inside Cuba that oppose the revolution.

In February, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control fined Bank Atlantic and RMO, Inc. for allegedly handling funds involving Cuba.

Even though Washington claims it has eased restrictions in the importation of food and medicine, Cuba has been unable to obtain equipment needed to insert catheters for repairing congenital heart defects. Syringes for administering insulin for diabetics have to be bought in Asia, at a higher cost.

While Cuba is allowed to buy some agricultural products, Washington has prohibited the purchase of high-yield seeds that could significantly increase Cuba’s food production.
Related articles:
‘Cuban Revolution gains importance in midst of world economic crisis’
Service Employees Int’l Union urges U.S. visas for wives of Cuban Five
San Francisco students discuss Cuba and Africa  
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