For the first time in a quarter century of voting on it, the United States on Wednesday declined to oppose a United Nations resolution condemning the American trade embargo against Cuba, drawing harsh criticism from South Florida lawmakers, who called it another example of the Obama administration’s bending to the will of the Castro government.
“The United States has always voted against this resolution. Today, United States will abstain,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said to applause from the U.N. General Assembly.
The vote, the 25th time the U.N. has voted to condemn the embargo, was overwhelming, with 191 nations voting in favor and two – the United States and Israel – abstaining.
Despite the nearly unanimous approval, the practical impact of the vote will be small. While U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called the embargo the “most unjust, severe and long-lived system” of sanctions ever applied against a country, lifting the embargo can be accomplished only by the U.S. Congress.
But the U.S. abstention aligns the Obama administration with the international community against the laws imposing the embargo, which continues to be backed by Republicans in Congress.
Florida Republican Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart and Sen. Marco Rubio blasted the abstention, saying the Obama administration had failed to honor and defend U.S. laws in an international forum.
Diaz-Balart said the U.S. should stand in solidarity with the Cuban people, “rather than siding once again with their oppressors.” Rubio accused the United Nations of giving “voice and legitimacy” to America’s adversaries.
“It’s no surprise the United Nations would endorse economic concessions to the Castro regime,” Rubio said. “But it is shameful for the Obama administration to refuse to abide by existing U.S. law and to dismiss the will of the American people.”
Mauricio Claver-Carone, the executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, a political action committee, called it “perhaps the most egregious breach” of President Barack Obama’s constitutional responsibilities and oath of office.
Those working to lift the embargo said the vote acknowledged that the “obsolete” policy had no place in international affairs.
It is shameful for the Obama administration to refuse to abide by existing U.S. law and to dismiss the will of the American people.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
“As Cuba continues to play a growing and constructive global role, our policy of isolation not only weakens our international credibility but threatens our national security, as well as our economic and human rights interests in the region and around the world,” said James Williams, the president of Engage Cuba, a coalition of people and organizations working to lift the embargo
The United states has always voted against this resolution. Today, United States will abstain.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power
A U.N. report estimated that the embargo has inflicted more than $1 trillion in accumulated economic damage over more than 50 years.
In its own critical report, the Cuban government claims the embargo has put lives at risk because of sanctions that restrict access to diagnostic equipment for leukemia patients and devices crucial for pediatric heart surgery. It chides the U.S. government for blocking kids from getting Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Wilson baseballs and forcing Cuban schools to pay three times as much for beginner violins that it could get from the United States for $79 apiece.
Power called the abstention a “small step” by the United States toward eventually lifting the embargo. She defended the legality of the embargo and said it conformed with the U.N. Charter and international law, but said the resolution illustrated how the U.S. policy toward Cuba hadn’t worked.
“The resolution voted on today is a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve,” Power said. “Instead of isolating Cuba, as President Obama has repeatedly said, our policy isolated the United States. Including right here at the United Nations.”
Bruno Rodriguez, the foreign minister of Cuba, called the United States’ decision a “positive step” toward improving relations between the nations. But he said the vote didn’t change the fact that the embargo was still in place and continued to hurt the Cuban people. And he criticized the United States for allowing Americans to purchase unlimited quantities of Cuban-made cigars and rum, while limiting U.S. companies from investing in Cuba.
“We recognize that the executive measures adopted by the U.S. government have been positive steps, but with a very limited scope and effect,” Rodriguez said, referring to Obama’s recent issuance of new regulations governing relations with Cuba. “ . . . The president of the United States has ample executive prerogatives that he has not fully used, as he could still do to substantially modify the practical implementation of the blockade and its economic and humanitarian impact.”