The U.N. General Assembly has overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling on the United States to end its economic embargo of Cuba.
For the 15th consecutive year, the General Assembly approved a non-binding measure criticizing Washington's embargo against Fidel Castro's Cuba. The vote this time was virtually the same as last year: 183-4, with only Israel and two small Pacific island states voting with the United States.
The vote on the resolution has become an annual exercise in the Assembly since 1992. This year's list of speakers condemning the embargo and America's human rights policies included such vocal U.S. critics as Zimbabwe, Sudan, Syria, Burma, Belarus, China, Vietnam and Laos.
Cuba's Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque personally represented Havana. He blasted the embargo, calling it tantamount to genocide.
"The economic war waged by the United States against Cuba, which is the most extensive and cruel war that has existed, and which can be qualified as an act of genocide, and is a clear violation of international law and of the United Nations charter, over these 48 years, the United States embargo has caused in Cuba economic damage in excess of $86 billion," he said.
The U.S. representative at the session, Ambassador Ronald Godard, rejected the charges. He called the embargo a bilateral issue between the United States and Cuba.
Godard told the Assembly Cuba must accept responsibility for its people's plight, and must change its policies before the embargo is lifted.
"The resolution inaccurately blames the U.S. trade embargo for the hardships of the Cuban people, while exonerating the Cuban government's own policies which deny the right of the Cuban people to a fair wage, to own and operate a business, to buy and sell property, to freely associate, and to freely express their opinions," he said.
At one point during the Assembly session, Australia's U.N. Ambassador Robert Hill proposed an amendment aimed at balancing the resolution. Hill said it is important to note that the embargo was motivated by valid concerns about the lack of freedom in Cuba.
"There is simply no point in repeating the same practice, year after year,” he said. “So this year we propose a different approach. We propose that the General Assembly pass an amended motion that on the one hand calls for an end to the embargo, but on the other hand calls on Cuba to improve its human rights performance.”
The Australian proposal was defeated, however, by a more than 2-1 margin. The 192-member General Assembly then went on to overwhelmingly adopt the resolution.
General Assembly resolutions have no legal effect, and they have had no effect in the past. But the vote is considered a barometer of international opinion.
The United States imposed the trade embargo after Fidel Castro defeated a failed CIA-backed assault on the Bay of Pigs in 1961.