For the 21st straight year, the United Nations General Assembly voted Tuesday to condemn the United States' 50-year embargo against the small Caribbean island nation of Cuba.
Reuters reports that an overwhelming majority of the world's nations condemned the crippling US embargo. The vote was 188-3, with only the United States, Israel and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau (population 20,000) voting against the measure. Last year, Washington could not convince any nation besides Israel, which relies heavily upon billions of dollars in annual US military aid, to vote on its side.
Addressing the General Assembly, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez expressed his disappointment in President Barack Obama's failure to work toward lifting the embargo, which he called a "massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of an entire people."
"There is no legitimate or moral reason to maintain this embargo that is anchored in the Cold War," Rodriguez said.
He added that the embargo's "extraterritorial" nature-- the US pressures other nations to comply with the blockade-- is a violation of international law.
The Cuban government estimates that the embargo costs the nation about $685 million annually. Interestingly, the US Chamber of Commerce has urged the Obama administration to lift the embargo, arguing that it costs the United States more than it does Cuba. According to the Chamber, the US loses $1.2 billion each year due to the blockade.
US envoy Ronald Godard argued that Cuba's communist government was responsible for the country's economic woes. Godard accused Cuba's leaders of seeking "an external scapegoat for the island's economic problems."
While 53 years of communist rule have stymied economic development, US efforts to damage the Cuban economy have proved equally disastrous. American political and business interests benefited greatly during the reign of the brutal but pro-US dictator Fulgencio Batista. After Fidel Castro's popular revolution ousted Batista and began nationalizing US holdings, President John F. Kennedy declared his intention to unleash "the terrors of the earth" upon Cuba.
The ill-fated 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion was just the beginning. For decades, US-backed anti-Castro terrorists, mostly based in South Florida, carried out a campaign of terrorism against the Cuban people that resulted in thousands of deaths. At the same time, the CIA, under Operation Mongoose, tried to assassinate Castro dozens of times.
US-backed terrorism committed by anti-Castro militants included strafing attacks on Cuban villages and tourist hotels, toxic contamination of Cuban crops and livestock, the assassination of a foreign diplomat and his American aide in Washington, bombing attacks against moderate Cubans in the US, a Cuban factory bombing that killed 400 workers and the bombing of Cubana Airlines Flight 455, which resulted in the deaths of 73 innocent civilians. The perpetrators of that attack, the worst episode of air terrorism in the Western Hemisphere until 9/11, were hailed as heroes among the Cuban exile community in Florida. And thanks to their political ties to the Bush family and prominent Republican lawmakers, they were allowed to live as free men in the United States despite the fact that the Justice Department called one of them "an unrepentant criminal and admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks."
While there was some hope that President Barack Obama would work toward ending the embargo, his administration has done little besides easing travel and remittance restrictions. Powerful Republican leaders, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, an unapologetic and enthusiastic backer of anti-Castro terrorism, remain rabidly opposed to any attempt to ease the stranglehold on Cuba.
Godard, the US envoy, argued that the embargo is not meant to punish the Cuban people. He pointed to the $2 billion in annual remittances sent from Cubans in the United States to relatives on the island, as well as more than $1.2 billion in humanitarian assistance for Cuba approved by the US government.
But Washington's hypocrisy in targeting tiny, harmless Cuba for ostracism and embargo has been noted by many observers. While Cuba is ruled by an authoritarian government that does imprison around 150 of its citizens for political reasons, President Raúl Castro has been slowly easing restrictions on Cubans' liberty since taking over from his ailing brother in 2006. By contrast, numerous countries considered US allies and lavished with billions of dollars in American aid are ruled by some of the world's most brutal dictators. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuals, adulterers and those who renounce Islam are executed by beheading, women cannot vote or drive cars and members of the royal family financially support anti-American Islamic terrorists. In Bahrain, peaceful pro-democracy protesters and medical professionals face murder and brutal torture and have been forced to eat their own excrement. In Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, who has ruled since Soviet times, boils his political opponents alive. In Equatorial Guinea, the ruthless Teodoro Obiang tortures and murders many of those who challenge his corrupt rule. These, and other, dictators enjoy Washington's support, while Cuba, which has not executed anyone in nearly a decade, is demonized.
In his UN address, US envoy Godard repeated Washington's call for the release of Alan Gross, an American contractor imprisoned in Cuba for setting up sophisticated satellite communications systems for Cuban dissidents in contravention of Cuban law.
No mention was made of the Cuban Five, a group of Cuban intelligence agents who were arrested in Florida in 1998 after infiltrating anti-Castro terrorist groups in an attempt to thwart further attacks on Cuba. The Cuban Five were tried and convicted of conspiracy in Miami, the most hostile venue possible, and sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging from 15 years to life. A federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled that the Cuban Five did not receive a fair trial in Miami, but under pressure from the Bush administration their convictions were allowed to stand.
Despite Washington's decades-long history of supporting terrorism against Cuba, attempting to assassinate Fidel Castro and crippling the Cuban economy via embargo, Godard stressed that the United States was Cuba's "loyal friend." The US, Godard told the General Assembly, is working to "empower Cubans who wish to determine their own future."
The General Assembly was silent after Godard's speech. Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez, on the other hand, received a thunderous ovation following his address.