Each year for as far back as I can remember, the General Assembly passes a resolution condemning the American embargo on Cuba. The resolution typically passes with only three no votes: The US, Israel, and the Palau. This year was no exception, despite the fact that the Obama administration has been inching ever closer toward a rapprochement with Cuba. Steve Clemons wanted the U.S. to abstain. As did UN Dispatch fave, Representative Jim McGovern. Alas, the Cold War rages on in the Caribbean.
Here is Susan Rice’e full explanation of the American vote:
Here we go again. I suppose old habits die hard.
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. We will not respond in kind to painfully familiar rhetoric that we have heard in years past – rather, I am prepared to acknowledge that there is a new chapter to this old story.
In recent months, since the start of the Obama Administration, the United States has undertaken several steps to reach out to the Cuban people in support of their desire to freely determine their country’s future. We have promoted family visits and the free flow of information to and from the Cuban people. The United States lifted restrictions on family visits and remittances and expanded the amounts of humanitarian items that the American people can donate to individuals in Cuba. The United States has enhanced the ability of U.S. telecommunications companies to pursue agreements to provide service to Cuba and has made it easier for U.S. agricultural producers to pursue contracts with Cuban buyers. These are important steps and we hope they can be the starting point for further changes in the relationship.
Mr. President, it is equally important to note that the United States has demonstrated that we are prepared to engage the Government of Cuba on issues that affect the security and well-being of both our peoples. Specifically, we have resumed bilateral discussions on migration, we have initiated talks to re-establish direct mail service between the United States and Cuba, and we stand by to provide assistance should Cuba be ravaged again by hurricanes as it was in 2008. We believe that any resolution commenting on the relationship between Cuba and the United States of American should reflect these constructive developments. Sadly, the resolution under discussion fails in that regard and regrettably, the Government of Cuba has not yet reciprocated these important steps taken by my government.
Mr. President, at the same time, we must point out that the United States of America, like all Member States, has the sovereign right to conduct its economic relationship with another country as it sees fit. The U.S. economic relationship with Cuba is a bilateral issue and part of a broader set of relations. The steps the United States has taken to improve communications and exchanges with the Cuban people are undertaken with a continuing firm commitment to encouraging the Cuban government to respect basic norms embodied in the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
As we discuss our differences on this subject, we must remember one important commonality – the United States, like most Member States, is firmly committed to supporting the desire of the Cuban people to determine freely their country’s future.
Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are part of this organization’s core values. We should not lose sight of that in a stale debate bogged down in the rhetorical arguments of the past. That kind of debate does nothing to help the Cuban people.
Mr. President, I must address two significant distortions in the Cuban position. First, my delegation regrets that the delegation from Cuba continues to label inappropriately and incorrectly U.S. trade restrictions on Cuba as an act of genocide. Such an egregious misuse of the term diminishes the real suffering of victims of genocide elsewhere in the world. Second, it is erroneous to charge that U.S. sanctions are the cause of deprivation among the Cuban people. The U.S. maintains no restriction on humanitarian aid to Cuba. In fact, the U.S. is a major source of humanitarian assistance to the Cuban people and the largest provider of food to Cuba.
In 2008, the United States exported agricultural products, medical devices, medicine, wood, and humanitarian items to Cuba. In agricultural products alone, the United States sold $700.1 million of goods to Cuba. Once again, in 2008, the United States was Cuba’s fifth largest trading partner.
As we have sought to reach out to the Cuban people, we have called upon the Cuban government to take steps to respond to the desire of its citizens to enjoy political, social, and economic freedoms. There are many things the Government of Cuba could do to signal its willingness to engage constructively with its own people and with the United States. Positive measures could include liberating the hundreds of prisoners of conscience in Cuban jails, ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, reducing the excessive charges on remittances flowing into the country, demonstrating greater respect for freedom of speech, ending the practice of arresting political opponents on vague and arbitrary charges such as “social dangerousness,” and permitting the visit of UN rapporteurs on human rights and torture.
As other delegations consider this resolution, we do hope that they will not lose sight of the undeniable fact that the Cuban government’s airtight restrictions on internationally-recognized social, political, and economic freedoms are the main source of deprivation and the primary obstacle to development in Cuba.
Mr. President, because it does not reflect current realities, my delegation will vote against this resolution. At the same time, the United States will continue to work to expand opportunities for the people of Cuba to empower themselves through access to information and resources. We will continue to engage the Government of Cuba on issues of mutual concern and national security. We await a constructive Cuban response to our initiatives. In the meantime, it is high time for this body to move beyond the rhetorical posturing of the past, to recognize the situation in Cuba for what it is today, and to encourage progress towards genuine change.