U.N. condemns blockade

Print edition : November 27, 2015

Bruno Rodriguez, Cuba’s Foreign Minister, shakes hands with fellow delegates at the U.N. General Assembly on October 27 after the vote on the annual draft resolution calling for an end to the U.S.-led five-decade blockade of the Caribbean nation. Photo: Richard Drew/AP

Cuban President Raul Castro addresses the U.N. General Assembly on September 28. Photo: SPENCER PLATT/AFP

DESPITE the apparent thaw in relations between Cuba and the United States following the decision of the two governments to re-establish diplomatic relations, the U.S.’ unjust economic blockade of the island has not been relaxed. On October 27, the United Nations General Assembly once again voted overwhelmingly in support of the Cuban resolution calling for “an end to the commercial, economic and financial blockade” against Cuba. The vote was near-unanimous, with only the U.S. and its all-weather ally, Israel, voting against the motion.

In fact, there was talk that the U.S. would abstain this time, but the Barack Obama administration did not want to rub the U.S. Congress the wrong way. The draconian sanctions against Cuba are mandated by Congress under a series of Acts, including the notorious Helms-Burton law passed in 1996. This was the 23rd time the General Assembly passed the annual resolution condemning the blockade. When the vote was displayed on the screen, the assembled diplomats gave a standing ovation. Speaking for the Caribbean community during the vote, Jamaica’s permanent representative, Courtenay Rattray, noted that Cuba “was the most popular state of the Caribbean”. He said the blockade not only adversely impacted on Cuba but was “an impediment to our shared regional development”. The Cuban government has estimated the economic loss on account of the blockade at more than $834 billion, and it believes, as does the international community—demonstrated by successive votes in the General Assembly—that the blockade is a violation of international law and state sovereignty.

Despite the December 17 agreement between the two countries to restore diplomatic ties, leading American banking institutions have refused to transfer money to Cuba. Some European banks have been heavily fined by the U.S. authorities for transferring legitimate funds to Cuba. The Commerzbank of Germany had to shell out $1.4 billion in fine in March this year. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, in his speech, stated that in the third week of October, France’s Credit Agricole agreed to pay a fine of $1.1 billion to settle allegations that it had transactions running to billions of dollars with Cuba. Cuba could not avail itself of essential materials needed for its health and biotechnology sectors after the European companies manufacturing the products cited U.S. laws against Cuba. Bruno Rodriguez said the “lifting of the blockade would be the essential element to give some meaning to the progress achieved over the past few months”. He added that the impact of the blockade on the Cuban people was “inestimable”. Seventy-seven per cent of the Cuban population was born after the imposition of the blockade, he said and described the blockade as “a unilateral act which should be lifted unilaterally, without asking anything in return”. He criticised Obama for not using his executive powers to scrap the blockade. According to U.S. legal experts, the President has the power to allow the selling of Cuban goods in the U.S.

The Cuban Foreign Minister, in his speech, acknowledged that some positive measures had been taken by the Obama administration in bilateral trade. But these measures, he emphasised, could not be implemented unless Cuba was allowed to export to and import products and services from the U.S freely. The Minister said Cuba should be allowed the use of American dollars in its international financial transactions and should have access to credit from private banks and international financial institutions.

President Raul Castro, addressing the General Assembly, said the normalisation of relations with Washington could happen only after the lifting of the blockade. He also demanded that the U.S. return the occupied territory of Guantanamo, where the U.S. has a military base and a high-security prison that houses “international terrorists”. The Cuban President was also critical of the Obama administration’s continuing attempts to prop up a political opposition on the island. Raul Castro also reiterated his government’s demand for reparations for the economic and humanitarian damage the blockade had caused to the Cuban people.

John Cherian

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