U.S. Abstains On United Nations Vote To Condemn Cuba Embargo

U.S. Abstains On United Nations Vote To Condemn Cuba Embargo

For the first time in nearly 25 years, the United States has decided to tacitly support the annual United Nations resolution to condemn the trade embargo against Cuba—a signal of the Obama Administration's sensitivity to world opinion on the U.S. trade sanctions, and of the ongoing normalization of relations between Washington and Havana.

The historic vote today was 191 to 0, with two abstentions: Israel and the U.S. As the tally was announced, the General Assembly burst into applause.

In her statement to the U.N., U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said that decades of U.S. efforts to isolate Cuba diplomatically had instead "isolated the United States, including here at the United Nations." The decision to abstain after decades of voting "no," she suggested, reflected the Obama Administration's commitment to permanently change U.S. policy towards Cuba. "After 55-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation," she stated, "we are choosing to take the path of engagement."

Limited trade sanctions were first imposed by President Dwight Eisenhower and then expanded to a full economic embargo by President John F. Kennedy in February 1962. For 34 years, the embargo was an executive order that could be rescinded by presidential decree. However, after Fidel Castro's decision to shoot down two small planes that entered Cuban airspace in February 1996, President Bill Clinton agreed to let the U.S. Congress codify the embargo into law.

Although President Obama has used his executive authority to poke major holes in the trade restrictions—most recently with his October 14 Presidential Policy Directive—the 55-year-old embargo cannot be fully rescinded without a majority vote in the House and Senate.

Since 1992, Cuba has presented an annual resolution to the U.N. General Assembly denouncing the embargo as a violation of international law and an assault on Cuban sovereignty. Every year, the world community has voted overwhelmingly to condemn the sanctions. Last year's vote was 191-2, with only the U.S. and Israel opposing.

As the vote approached, Cuban officials led demonstrations of thousands of university students to condemn the continuation of "el bloqueo," as the embargo is called in Cuba. At the U.N. today, Cuba's foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla called the continuing sanctions "unjust, inhuman, immoral and illegal" and demanded that they "unconditionally cease."

But Rodríguez also acknowledged the importance of the U.S. decision to abstain. "A change in vote by the United States is a promising signal," he said. "We hope it will be reflected in reality."

Ambassador Power characterized the abstention as "another small step" in U.S. efforts to normalize relations with Cuba. "May there be many more," she told the General Assembly, "including, we hope, finally ending the U.S. embargo."

"Hopefully he will!" —November 11, 2016 18:32 PM
"Progress! Until our mentally disabled president elect undoes it all." —November 10, 2016 18:55 PM
"PROGRESS!" —October 26, 2016 22:28 PM