UNITED NATIONS — The United States — for the first time in 25 years — declined to vote on Wednesday against a UN General Assembly resolution calling for an end to a nearly 60-year-old economic embargo against Cuba.
“For more than 50 years, the United States had a policy aimed at isolating the government of Cuba,” said Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, who received a round of applause in announcing the change in policy.
“For roughly half of those years, UN member states have voted overwhelmingly for a General Assembly resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo and calls for it to be ended. The United States has always voted against this resolution. Today the United States will abstain.”
But Power also said that the abstention is not an acceptance of every provision of the measure, titled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” which calls on member states to dissolve laws that contradict the UN Charter.
Power said the United States has been in sync with the UN’s founding document and that the vote does not translate to an acceptance of Cuba’s actions since the United States has serious misgiving with Cuba’s record of human rights violations.
“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government,” she said. “We do not.”
With just two abstentions, the United States and Israel, the resolution was adopted 191-2.
Power said the asymmetry of the vote demonstrates the reverse of the U.S. intentions of highlighting Cuba as a rogue state through the embargo. Instead, she said, it showed the United States has been out of sync for decades with its international counterparts on the Cuba question.
“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,” she said. “Instead of isolating Cuba, as President Obama has repeatedly said, our policy isolated the United States. Including right here at the United Nations.”
The resolution has been introduced in the General Assembly since 1991, and both Israel and the United States have been steadfast against it ever since, as the United States adhered to a policy adopted in parts since October 1960. The legal apparatus that developed in U.S. law over the decades sought to strangle the Communist government of Fidel Castro, who took power in January 1959 in a violent revolution that overthrew Fulgencio Batista, a favorite of the United States who was also widely regarded as a dictator.
But over the past two years, Obama has developed warm relations with Castro’s brother and successor, Raul Castro, and the two countries last year announced a formal resumption of full diplomatic relations and a relaxation of restrictions on trade and travel. Obama visited the country in March, becoming the first sitting president to do so since 1928.
Cuba’s Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, said the embargo had crippled Cuba’s economy, costing it nearly $5 billion between April 2015 and March 2016 alone, with a total tally of $125 billion since the embargo was imposed, he said, adding that the human cost has been incalculable.
“The blockade is the main obstacle to the economic and social development of our people,” he said.
Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, said the change in policy reflects the drastically improved relations between Cuba and Israel’s closest partner, the United States.
“Israel welcomes the progress achieved in the relations between the U.S. and Cuba and hopes it will lead to a new era in the region,” he said. “The U.S. has no more steadfast and loyal ally than Israel and we will continue the close cooperation between our two countries at the UN.”