As it has every year since 1991, the United Nations General Assembly will vote Wednesday on a Cuba-promoted resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against the island and predictably it will once again pass.
The only suspense was whether the United States would revert to its no vote for the 25th time, and on Tuesday the State Department confirmed that U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley will vote no on the nonbinding resolution.
The Wednesday vote is the first on the embargo since President Donald Trump outlined his new Cuba policy. “We plan to vote against this revolution to underscore this new approach to Cuba. The Trump administration policy gives greater emphasis in advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba, while maintaining engagement that advances U.S. interests,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman .
Last year under President Barack Obama, the United States broke with tradition and abstained — sending a signal about warming relations with Cuba. U.S. ally Israel, which votes with the United States on the embargo question, also abstained, making the vote in favor of the resolution 191 to two abstentions.
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But since then, the rapprochement between the two former adversaries that began on Dec. 17, 2014 has stalled, especially after the United States said Cuba was responsible for failing to protect its diplomats from mysterious sonic attacks that have harmed the health of 24 diplomats that were stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Havana.
Cuba denies it bears responsibility for the attacks, but the United States pulled 60 percent of the personnel at its embassy and also expelled 15 Cuban diplomats (by Cuba’s count 17) from the Cuban Embassy in Washington. The United States also issued a travel warning for Cuba.
Trump outlined a harder approach to Cuba during a June speech in Miami in which he said he would restrict almost all U.S. business dealings with enterprises owned or controlled by the Cuban military and discontinue individual people-to-people travel to Cuba. The regulations on those changes are still being written.
Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to Trump urging the president to direct Haley to vote no at this year’s U.N. session. “While I recognize the U.N. General Assembly’s vote would be only symbolic, it would send the wrong message to human rights defenders and pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba [if the United States doesn’t vote no],” Rubio said in the letter.
A group of 10 U.S. senators, led by Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy, however, sent a letter to Trump Tuesday urging him to direct the United States to abstain.
They acknowledged that “because the embargo is still U.S. law, the administration is unlikely to support the resolution.” But they nevertheless urged an abstention, saying: “Our failed embargo against Cuba has been repeatedly and publicly condemned by the international community as ineffective and harmful to the people of Cuba. The longer we maintain this outdated Cold War policy the more our international and regional credibility suffers.”
They added that a no vote would “neither reflect the will of the American people, nor would it represent the voices of the hundreds of U.S. companies, universities, state and local agencies, and cultural institutions that have already started to engage with and invest in Cuba.”
Even though in recent years the General Assembly has roundly condemned the embargo, Cuba still wages an extensive publicity campaign every year, rallying people at home and on social media to support the resolution. The government’s Twitter campaign uses the hash tags #Unblock Cuba and #NoMas Bloqueo.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi