On October 26th the United States for the first time abstained from voting on UN resolution calling for the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba”.
The vote passed overwhelmingly: 191 countries voted in favour; US and Israel abstained. “When the vote was shown on the electronic board, – AP correspondent said – diplomats from the 193 U.N. member states burst into applause.” However, it is not the first time that the United Nations proposes a revision of trade embargo against Cuba: the General Assembly has voted on the issue every year since 1992 – and it has always condemned the United States. For the first time this year the UN has arrived to an historic decision, enthusiastically endorsed by the whole General Assembly.
United States had imposed the embargo on Cuba in 1960, one year after Fidel Castro seized power in Havana. The Cuban President was responsible for the nationalization of American companies’ properties in on the island. Consequently, in the early 60s US-Cuba relations were extremely strained. The two country belonged to two opposing bloc of the Cold war and during the so-called “Cuban missile crisis” a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union was about to start.
US policy of economic and diplomatic isolation against Cuba continued also after Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. In 1996 the US Congress approved the Helms-Burton Act, which aimed to “strengthen international sanctions against the Castro government”. This fundamental act states: “the embargo may not be lifted until Cuba holds free and fair elections and transitions to a democratic government that excludes the Castros” (Council on Foreign Relations).
Nonetheless, Obama administration has showed his willingness to open a dialogue with Cuba on sanctions. Furthermore, Cuban exiled community in Florida (around 5% of the State’s population) seems to agree on Obama’s decision, who won their vote in in 2012. As the US Ambassador to the United Nations,Samantha Power, recently said, “under President Obama, we have adopted a new approach: rather than try to close off Cuba from the rest of the world, we want the world of opportunities and ideas open to the people of Cuba. After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement”.
It takes almost 75 years for the two countries to reconcile and after eighteen months of secret talks they reached an historical agreement. In 2014 Barak Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro, and announced the restoration of full diplomatic relations between the countries. Even Pope Francis showed his support and solidarity for the conclusion of this deal. The United States eased restrictions on remittances, travel and banking, while Cuba promised to allow more Internet access and release some political prisoners.
“President Obama’s decision deserves the respect and acknowledgment of our people”, President Castro said. “However – he added – even if the progress made in our exchanges proves that it is possible to find s
olutions to many problems, this in no way means that the heart of the matter has been resolved”. In fact, since the Republican majority in Congress strongly opposed Obama’s new policy towards Cuba, it was impossible to finally lift the embargo.
On July, 20th 2015 embassies in both countries were re-opened. One year later, in March 2016, President Obama had a historic trip to Cuba. However, the abstention of the United States during the last UN General Assembly session marked a milestone in the normalization process between the United States and Cuba. Even if the resolution is not enforceable and non-binding, Samantha Power, in her remarks to the United Nations about the issue, admitted: “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. Instead of isolating Cuba […] our policy isolated the United States. Including right here at the United Nations. “Nevertheless, The US ambassador also added, “abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people.”
Finally, The Cuban government saw the abstention as a huge victory, even if just symbolic. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said: “a change in vote by the United States is a promising signal […]We hope it will be reflected in reality.” The future of the US-Cuba relations, as well as many other issues, now depends on whether the newly elected US President, Donald Trump, will follow his predecessor and his Cuban counterpart willingness to collaborate.
“US abstains from UN vote against Cuba embargo”, BBC News, October 27, 2016
“U.S.-Cuba Relations”, Council on Foreign Relations, September 7, 2016
“Latino Voters in the 2012 Election”, Pew Research Center, November 7, 2012
“Remarks at a UN General Assembly Meeting on the Cuba Embargo”, U.S Embassy in Cuba, October 26, 2016
“US abstains in UN vote on Cuba embargo for the first time”, Fox News, October 26, 2016
“U.S. Relations With Cuba”, U.S. Department of State, September 7, 2016