As United States, Israel Abstain from Vote for First Time, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for Lifting of United States Embargo on Cuba

GA/11846
26 October 2016
Seventy-first Session, 32nd & 33rd Meetings (AM & PM)

As United States, Israel Abstain from Vote for First Time, General Assembly Adopts Annual Resolution Calling for Lifting of United States Embargo on Cuba

In a near‑unanimous vote, the General Assembly today adopted a resolution on the necessity of ending the United States economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba, despite the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries two years ago.

 While 191 countries voted in favour, the United States and Israel abstained rather than vote against the text for the first time, during a year that also saw the first visit to Cuba by a United States President in almost 90 years and the reopening of embassies in those respective capitals.

Included in the text’s terms, the General Assembly reiterated its call upon States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures, such as the Helms‑Burton Act, in line with the obligations under the United Nations Charter and international law, which, among other things, reaffirmed the freedom of trade and navigation.  In addition, the Assembly once again urged States to repeal or invalidate such laws as soon as possible in line with their legal regimes.  

Introducing the resolution, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla said that while progress had been made in terms of dialogue and cooperation, the blockade on his country persisted, seriously harming the Cuban people and impairing the country’s economic development.  The human damages caused by the embargo were simply incalculable, he added, emphasizing that there wasn’t one Cuban family that had not suffered from its effects. 

He called the blockade a systematic violation of the human rights of all Cuban men and women and said it qualified as an act of genocide pursuant to the 1948 Geneva Convention.  The United States Congress had yet to approve any of the 20 amendments or bills that, with bipartisan support, were intended to eliminate some of the restrictions imposed by the embargo.

“They should understand that we are already free, precisely because in 1959, we rid ourselves of US imperialism and the dictatorship it imposed on us,” he said.  “We don’t need dreams that are alien to our culture or our history.”  Cuba would continue to struggle to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic and sustainable nation.  “We will never go back to capitalism,” he added.

The representative of the United States, which had refrained from voting, said that “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”.  However, it was time for a new chapter in cooperation.

“After more than 50 years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement,” she said, describing a number of changes to the United States policy under President Obama.  That included reopening embassies, resuming commercial flights, easing business restrictions and stopping limiting how often Cuban‑Americans could visit their families. 

The United States had work to do in fulfilling the rights of all of its own citizens, and had, in the past, used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that had left a deep legacy of mistrust, she continued.  Nevertheless, it continued to have profound concerns about Cuba’s human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of those who criticized the Government.

Delegates welcomed the new era of diplomatic relations between United States and Cuba and several urged the next United States President to exercise executive power to lift the embargo, as it stood in the way of Cuba’s humanitarian work and socioeconomic advancement. 

Thailand’s representative, speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that from April 2015 to April 2016, the impact of the embargo had amounted to $4 billion in losses for the Cuban people and had wide‑reaching humanitarian consequences for the country.  If the blockade continued, Cuba’s development potential would be unfairly undermined and its sustainable development ambitions threatened.  Cuba’s emergency assistance to the Ebola‑affected countries in Africa was a testament to its longstanding commitment to humanitarianism.  With the lifting of the embargo, Cuba would also be empowered to continue its aid operations worldwide.

Echoing that sentiment, Jamaica’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), encouraged Cuba and the United States to continue to explore ways to increase the type of cooperation that had been evident during the Ebola crisis.  While the stated purpose of the blockade was to bring about political change, it had only brought undue hardship to the people of Cuba.

The representative of the Dominican Republic, speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), said that the blockade ran contrary to the principles of the Charter and international law.

It was vital that Cuba engage in global commercial and financial transactions, several delegations pointed out, with South Africa’s representative saying that banking institutions in Cuba must be equipped to make transactions in United States dollars.  Member States must support Cuba and its people and they must continue to condemn any obstacles to Cuba’s quest to realize its development aims.  “The international community cannot and should not wait for this matter to be resolved if we are truly committed to leaving no one behind,” he said.

Several countries also rejected unilateral measures as a blatant violation of national sovereignty, with the delegates from Syria and Sudan, among other speakers, saying that the path to peace was through cooperation and multilateralism.

Also speaking today were Niger (on behalf of the African States), Singapore (on behalf of Association of South-East Asian Nations, Russian Federation, Kuwait  (on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation), Venezuela (on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement), Mexico, China, Viet Nam, Bolivia, India, Tonga, Egypt, Brazil, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Israel, Slovakia (on behalf of the European Union), Democratic People Republic of Korea, Belarus, Colombia, Argentina, Uruguay, Myanmar, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Iran, Mozambique, Costa Rica, Angola, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Indonesia, Algeria, El Salvador, Malaysia, Libya, and Namibia.

The General Assembly will meet again at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 27 October, to take up report of the International Court of Justice, programme planning, and the review of efficiency of the administrative and financing functioning of the United Nations. 

Statements

ABDALLAH WAFY (Niger), speaking on behalf of the African States, said that for more than two decades the matter had been brought in front of the General Assembly against the background of overwhelming appeals to end the embargo.  “Today these appeals have assumed a new dimension,” he said, welcoming the new era of diplomatic relations between the Governments of Cuba and the United States.  The African States called for those positive and “ground‑breaking” steps to go further towards the lifting of the economic embargo, which continued to make sustainable development a near impossible task.  He reiterated the African Union’s call for the lifting of the longstanding, unjust commercial and financial blockade of Cuba.

VIRACHAI PLASAI (Thailand), speaking on behalf of the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, welcomed the reestablishment of diplomatic relations and the reopening of the United States Embassy in Cuba.  While those were positive steps, they remained inadequate.  The Group believed that the future President of the United States should execute his or her executive power to lift the economic embargo.  The Group reiterated its commitment to the principles and spirit of the United Nations Charter, including freedom of international trade and navigation.  It was the duty of Member States to uphold those principles and repeal every action that violated them. 

From April 2015 to April 2016, the impact of the embargo had amounted to $4 billion in losses for the Cuban people and had wide‑reaching humanitarian consequences for the country, he said.  Social and economic reforms had also been hampered by the embargo.  If the embargo continued, Cuba’s development potential would be unfairly undermined and its sustainable development ambitions threatened.  Cuba’s emergency assistance to the Ebola‑affected countries in Africa was a testament to its longstanding commitment to humanitarianism.  With the lifting of the embargo, Cuba would also be empowered to continue its aid operations worldwide.  He reiterated his call for the financial and economic embargo to cease and appealed to the international community to further step up efforts to lift it.

E.COURTENAY RATTRAY (Jamaica), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), aligned himself with the statements on behalf of the Group of 77 and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).  The stated purpose of the all‑encompassing economic, commercial and financial blockade was to bring about political change, but that desired outcome had failed while bringing undue hardship to the people of Cuba.  CARICOM welcomed the re‑establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and President Obama’s stated desire to “bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas”.

He said CARICOM and Cuba had had a fruitful relationship that predated the embargo.  CARICOM had also enjoyed friendly relations with the United States. Improved relations between Cuba and the United States could only bode well for the nations of CARICOM.  He encouraged both countries to continue to explore ways to increase the type of cooperation that had been evident during the Ebola crisis.  He said CARICOM would once again unreservedly support the draft resolution before the General Assembly and expressed hope that it would be the final time the Assembly would consider that agenda item.

BURHAN GAFOOR (Singapore), speaking on behalf of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), said ASEAN Members had voted unanimously in favour of the resolution for the past 15 years and in 2015 ASEAN made a statement at the Assembly calling for the unilateral embargo against Cuba to be lifted as soon as possible.  It was ASEAN’s firm belief that differences between States should be settled through engagement, not confrontation, and by inclusion, not isolation.  All that needed to be done, bearing in mind the fundamental principles of sovereign equality, non‑interference and non‑intervention as enshrined in the Charter.

ASEAN welcomed the restoration of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, he said.  United States President Barack Obama’s state visit to Cuba in March, the relaxation of travel restrictions for United States citizens to Cuba and the resumption of direct flights between the two countries were important steps towards the normalisation of bilateral relations.  A more important step would be for the United States to end its economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba, which would significantly improve the quality of life and living standards of the Cuban people and contribute to the country’s economic and social development.  The embargo’s end would also advance the Assembly’s efforts towards achieving an inclusive 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

SERGEY B. KONONUCHENKO (Russian Federation) said the United States embargo against Cuba must be lifted immediately, as it flew in the face of the Charter.  Indeed, it showed the short‑sightedness and counter‑productivity of applying unilateral coercive measures to achieve political gains.  Such blockades negatively impacted ordinary individuals and the most vulnerable people in particular, and they constrained and undermined Cuba’s capacity to mobilize resources for the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The international community, having assumed the obligation to leave no one behind, did not have the moral right to tolerate the blockade, he stressed, recalling that the Russian Federation had called repeatedly for its termination.  Noting that the Cuban people were upholding their freedom and sovereignty despite those major challenges, he reaffirmed his country’s willingness to foster an equitable and fair international order, and urged all countries to vote in favour of today’s resolution.

FRANCISCO CORTORREAL (Dominican Republic), speaking on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), welcomed progress made in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, which represented “the beginning of a new chapter in the history of peace and coexistence among the American nations”.  However, CELAC regretted that the blockade remained a reality for the Cuban people and constituted a major obstacle to the country’s development.  The economic, commercial and financial blockade ran contrary to the letter, spirit, principles and purposes of the Charter and international law, he said, expressing the bloc’s particular rejection of such laws as the Helm‑Burton Act as well as their extraterritorial effects.

Recalling that CELAC had adopted a Special Declaration on the necessity of ending the blockade, he said that the Charter enshrined the rights, obligations and principles that had become part of the legal heritage of international law and humanity.  “This should not be subject to violation or impairment by any Member,” he said, adding that the bloc would once again strongly support the adoption of the resolution before the Assembly.  “We insist on the inconsistency between the application of unilateral measures, which are not supported by international law, and the letter, spirit, principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter,” he concluded.

MANSOUR AYYAD AL‑OTAIBI (Kuwait), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), welcomed significant steps by the Governments of the United States and Cuba to normalize bilateral ties between both nations.  Moving forward positively would be mutually beneficial for both peoples.  On the embargo, he said that such unilateral action had not only done harm to the Cuban economy but also to the Cuban people.  It had created unnecessary suffering for the Cuban people and affected not only Cuba but also other countries trying to do business with Cuba.  The OIC believed that such unilateral actions ran contrary to the principles of the Charter.  The continuation of such an embargo was seen as unjustifiable.  He called on Member States to vote for the resolution to end the economic, commercial and financial embargo as it truly reflected the international community’s view on the position.

RAFAEL RAMIREZ CARREÑO (Venezuela), speaking on behalf of the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the bloc had always reiterated its strong opposition to unilateral coercive measures with extraterritorial effects due to their illegality.  It had repeatedly reiterated its call to the Government of the United States to put an end to its unilateral, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, which ran contrary to international law, the Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States.  The embargo, which violated Cuba’s right to interact with the international community, also had adverse impacts on the wellbeing of the country’s people, affecting all crucial economic sectors.  It denied Cuba’s access to markets, development aid from international financial institutions and technology transfers, and created impediments for Cuba’s socioeconomic development.

At current prices, he said, the blockade had caused damages amounting to over $121 billion.  While the recent establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States was an initial positive step towards normalization, the blockade remained in place and had even been further tightened.  Indeed, despite President Obama’s historic decision to notify the United States Congress of his decision to remove Cuba from the so‑called List of State Sponsors of International Terrorism, the blockade’s prohibitions and restrictions had not been eased.  The 191 Member States that had voted in favour of last year’s resolution had constituted an expansion of the unanimity within the international community in demanding the end to the five‑decades‑old embargo, he said, urging the United States to yield to that overwhelming majority and immediately rectify its failed policies.

JUAN SANDOVAL MENDIOLEA (Mexico), associating himself with CELAC, reiterated his country’s rejection of the unilateral measures imposed against Cuba by the United States.  Emphasizing that friendship and cooperation must prevail between all States, he said Mexico would vote in favour of today’s resolution as it had done before.  Welcoming the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba —— two of Mexico’s most important neighbours and partners —— he stressed that total normalization would require lifting the blockade.  As Cuba undertook efforts to update its economic and commercial models, the blockade’s lifting would allow for the country to better access international trade flows and investment.  Indeed, while Cuba had maintained a high Human Development Index in such areas as labour, health, education and environment, the lifting of the blockade was required for the country to be able to fully comply with the 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  

LIU JIEYI (China), associating himself with the Group of 77, said that the 2030 Agenda, which required countries to work on the basis of equality and win‑win cooperation, also called for the immediate end of the economic embargo and sanctions imposed on Cuba.  It was regrettable that for so many years none of the relevant resolutions adopted by the General Assembly had been implemented and that the embargo continued impeding Cuba’s development efforts and undermining its commercial exchanges with other countries.  China opposed unilateral actions by one State against another in all forms.  Friendly cooperation between Cuba and China had been steady and ongoing.  During a time of economic polarization, exchange among countries on amiable terms represented the best way to resolve differences.  He acknowledged steps taken by the United States to normalize relations and said he hoped that would continue based on principles outlined in the Charter in the interest of peace and stability in the Americas.

NGUYEN PHUONG NGA (Viet Nam), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and ASEAN, said his country opposed the imposition of any unilateral embargo and coercive measures by one State on another.  By voting in favour of today’s resolution, Viet Nam would be reiterating its firm belief that the United States blockade against Cuba for more than five decades was contrary to international law.  The embargo ran counter to the common desire of all nations in the world to build sound and equal international relations, regardless of one’s political system.  Welcoming the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Cuba and the United States, he expressed hope that such progressive steps would create a political dynamic that would eventually repeal the blockade.  The United States must put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba as it would be beneficial not only for the people of both countries but also for peace, stability, and prosperity in the region and beyond.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia) said his country joined the concert of nations in energetically condemning the embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba for more than 50 years.  Paying tribute to former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who he said held a special place in the heart of people around the world, he recalled that Cuba had been the only non‑African country that had fought against a regime of apartheid.  The country had also contributed greatly to relief and development efforts across the globe; in Latin American and the Caribbean, there were countless people whose lives had been saved by Cuban doctors or who had been educated by Cuban teachers.  “They share the little that they do have,” he stressed, recalling that President Castro had also spearheaded the fight against nuclear weapons, the pilfering of the environment, diseases, hunger, inequality, imperialism and capitalism.  Today the international community was not only voting in favour of the resolution, but in favour of hope.

TANMAYA LAL (India) said that there was little doubt that the continued existence of the embargo, in contravention of world opinion as expressed by the Assembly, undermined multilateralism and the credibility of the United Nations itself.  Successive reports of the Secretary‑General had established that the United States’ embargo against Cuba, particularly through its extraterritorial effects, had adversely impacted the Cuban people.  At the same time, India acknowledged the notable socioeconomic and development achievements of the Cuban people, particularly their high Human Development Index ranking and Cuba’s achievement of the several Millennium Development Goals.  Yet the embargo would severely impact Cuba’s ability to implement the 2030 Agenda.  The international community must re‑double its efforts to promote an environment free of sanctions and embargoes.

SUKA MANGISI (Tonga) said that the United States’ embargo against Cuba, as the longest lasting system of unilateral sanctions ever applied to one country, unjustly hindered the development of the Cuban people and Tonga therefore joined the call to end it.  “Our solidarity for the hardships and challenges upon the Cuban people are understood at a personal level given we have nationals who are living side by side with the Cuban people”, he said.  As friends of the United States, Tonga wished to reiterate that the effect of that country’s archaic form of interference had an impact on both Cuban and Tonga nationals.  The steps the United States had taken to date had not been enough as people in Cuba were still experiencing challenges.

IHAB MOUSTAFA AWAD MOUSTAFA (Egypt), aligning himself with the statements made on behalf of the Group of 77, the Non‑Aligned Movement and OIC, welcomed recent improvements in bilateral relations between the United States and Cuba, but regretted that the embargo still took a “staggering” toll on the Cuban people and economy.  Egypt would always be a steadfast supporter of the rights and demands of the Cuban people to end an illegal policy, he pledged, hoping it would pave the way to complete normalization of relations between the two countries.

EPHRAIM LESHALA MMINELE (South Africa), associating himself with the Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said that his country had a longstanding relationship with Cuba dating back to the struggle against apartheid.  Welcoming the visit to Cuba by a sitting President of the United States for the first time in 90 years, he expressed hope that the President’s successor would take action to deal with the outstanding issue.  It was critical that the banking institutions in Cuba be able to make transactions in United States dollars.  Member States must support Cuba and its people and they must continue to condemn any obstacles to Cuba’s quest to realize its development aims.  In the midst of current global challenges which continued to hamper the development of the global South, Cuba was instrumental in affirming South‑South cooperation.  Currently, over 2,800 South African students were receiving medical training in Cuba.  He reiterated his unconditional support to the resolution and the redoubling of efforts to further the progress of the Cuban people.  “The international community cannot and should not wait for this matter to be resolved if we are truly committed to leaving no one behind,” he said.

CARLOS SERGIO SOBRAL DUARTE (Brazil), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said that for decades his Government had defended normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States.  It was particularly symbolic that after more than 90 years, a United States President had visited Cuba.  He expressed support for concrete measures that would directly affect the lives of both peoples, including air and mail links.  Poor people continued to be most affected by the embargo.  It was essential for the United States Congress to start a conversation about lifting it.  Brazil remained hopeful that dialogue and cooperation could promptly lead to the end of the blockade.

HORACIO SEVILLA BORJA (Ecuador) said the unilateral blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba for more than 56 years was a blatant example of the reprehensible effects of “power politics” and the abuse of a superpower over a proud sovereign people.  Year after year, the international community had almost universally demanded the end of the embargo.  Recalling that Cuba had joined its allies to defeat Nazism and fascism and fought for equality of human beings regardless of the colour of their skin, as well as contributing to many other important causes, he said the adoption of today’s resolution would once again condemn the United States “anti‑historic stubbornness” in refusing to lift the blockade.

MARÍA RUBIALES DE CHAMORRO (Nicaragua) expressed her country’s unconditional solidarity with the Cuban people, saying the island nation’s socialist and humanist values always led it to be the first to respond to the needs of its neighbours.  While her country was delighted with the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba, it remained concerned at the persistence of the blockade, which was designed to impose regime change and interfere in Cuba’s domestic affairs.  That anachronistic measure —— which represented the major obstacle to Cuba’s development —— had continually been rejected by the majority of Member States.  Today, the General Assembly would continue to demand the total dismantling of that “inhuman, illegal and criminal” blockade, which was supported by only two countries.  Noting that Nicaragua would vote in favour of the resolution, she expressed hope that, in 2016, the text would be adopted without a vote and the blockade would finally be lifted.

SAMANTHA POWER (United States), recalling that her delegation had always voted against the Assembly’s resolution calling for an end to the Cuban embargo, announced that today it intended to abstain.  Stressing that all of the United States actions had been in conformity with international law, and categorically rejecting the draft resolution’s language that suggested otherwise, she nevertheless recalled that President Obama had frequently made clear his opposition to the embargo, which was not working and in fact undermined the very goals it had set out to achieve.  Indeed, instead of isolating Cuba’s Government, the embargo was isolating the United States, “including right here at the United Nations”.

“After more than 50 years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement,” she said, describing a number of changes to the United States policy under President Obama.  Among other things, her country had re‑established diplomatic relations with Cuba, reopened embassies, resumed commercial flights, eased business restrictions and stopped limiting how often Cuban‑Americans could visit their families.  President Obama had memorably become the first sitting United States President to visit Cuba since 1928.  Nevertheless, she stressed, “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”.  Her delegation continued to have profound concerns about Cuba’s continuing human rights violations, including the arbitrary detention of those who criticized the Government, which were committed with impunity.

As President Obama had made clear, she said, the Cuban people were entitled to basic human rights, including the right to speak their minds without fear and the right to assemble, organize and protest peacefully.  That was true not because those rights reflected a United States‑centric view, but rather because they were universal in nature and enshrined in the Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Acknowledging that the United States also had work to do in fulfilling the rights of all of its own citizens, and that it had, in the past, used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that had left a deep legacy of mistrust, she nevertheless underscored the need to stand up against human right violations in Cuba.  United Nations Member States had too often remained silent on that issue.

Moving forward, she said, the United States and Cuba could work together in many ways to tackle global challenges, including assisting the world’s most vulnerable people.  “That includes here at the United Nations, where the decades‑long enmity between our nations had at best been a distraction — and at worst, an obstacle — to carrying out some of the most important work of this institution,” she said.  She recalled that, in 2014, when the world had been confronted by the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history, the international community had been slow to step up to act.  President Obama had decided to deploy more than 3,000 personnel to the epicentre of the outbreak.  One of the very first countries to come forward to help had been Cuba, which sent more than 200 health professionals to the region — an “awe‑inspiring” contribution for a country of just 11 million people.  In that regard, she spotlighted the particular story of Felix Sarria Baez, a Cuban doctor who had risked his life to combat the outbreak in Sierra Leone.

BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, introduced the draft resolution on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” (document A/71/L.3).

By its terms, the General Assembly would reiterate its call upon all States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures of the kind referred to resolution’s preamble, in conformity with their obligations under the Charter and international law, which, among other things, reaffirmed the freedom of trade and navigation.  The Assembly would also once again urge States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the steps necessary to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible in accordance with their legal regimes.

By other terms of the resolution, the Assembly would ask the Secretary‑General, in consultation with the appropriate organs and agencies of the United Nations system, to prepare a report on implementing the resolution in the light of the purposes and principles of the Charter and international law and to submit it to the Assembly at its seventy‑second session.  The Assembly would decide to include the item on the provisional agenda of its seventy-second session.

Mr. Rodriguez welcomed the United States new position of abstaining from vote, said that there was no doubt that progress had been made in terms of dialogue and cooperation and that a dozen agreements rendering reciprocal benefits had been signed.  However, the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba persisted, seriously harming the Cuban people and impairing the country’s economic development.  United States President Barack Obama had described the blockade as obsolete, useless to advance United States interests and a nonsensical policy.  However, most of the executive regulations as well as the laws that established it were still in force and were fully implemented by United States Government agencies.  While that Government’s executive measures had been positive, they were very limited in scope and effect.

Actions related to commercial operations with small private businesses were inspired by express political motivations and would not work on a substantial scale as long as the economic organization and commercial structures of Cuba’s foreign trade were not taken into account, he said.  New measures announced 12 days ago by the United States Treasury and Commerce Departments were positive, but aimed mainly at expanding previously authorized transactions, benefitting the United States rather than Cuba.  While United States citizens travelling to Cuba were allowed to take with them Cuban products with no limit in value, including rum and cigars, exports of those products to the United States continued to be banned.  United States exports to Cuba had not been expanded beyond the previously authorized limited sales which excluded key sectors of the Cuban economy; nor had any new changes been announced in the financial sector, which meant that Cuban banking institutions were still not allowed to open correspondent accounts in United States financial institutions.  The United States Congress had not approved any of the 20 amendments or bills that, with bipartisan support, were intended to eliminate some of the restrictions imposed by the blockade.

The human damages caused by the blockade were incalculable, he said, emphasizing that there wasn’t one Cuban family that had not suffered from its effects.  For instance, a United States company was unable to sign contracts with Cuban companies for the sale of deep brain stimulators to treat Cuban patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease.  The blockade had also affected the interests of United States citizens themselves, who could not benefit from various services offered in Cuba, including in health and education.  Other countries were affected as well.  For instance, during the Ebola outbreak, the deployment of Cuban medical assistance was hampered by the refusal of the British Standard Chartered Bank to make transfers between the World Health Organization (WHO) and Cuban doctors.  In August 2016, due to the refusal of correspondent banks Commerzbank in Germany and KBC Bank in Belgium, money transfers associated with maternal and child care services to Algeria were not authorized. 

The blockade continued to be a systematic violation of the human rights of all Cuban men and women and qualified as an act of genocide pursuant to the 1948 Geneva Convention, he said.  Between April 2015 and March 2016, the economic damages caused to Cuba directly by the blockade totalled more than $4.6 billion and damages accumulated for almost six decades amounted to $753 billion.  The blockade was a flagrant violation of international law and the Charter.  While the announcement allowing Cuba to use United States dollars in its international transactions was good news, so far Cuba had not been able to make payments or cash deposits in that currency.  Transfers in currencies other than the United States dollar that were made to pay Cuba’s membership dues to some international bodies had also been hindered by non‑United States banks in third countries.

There were other causes, in addition to the blockade, that determined Cuba’s economic difficulties, such as the unjust international economic order, the global crisis, climate change and “we do not hide it—— our own mistakes,” he said.  Both Cuba’s people and Government were struggling very hard to overcome that reality.   Looking back in history, the United States Government attempted the annexation of Cuba, and failing that, to exert domination on the country. “They should understand that we are already free, precisely because in 1959, we rid ourselves of US imperialism and the dictatorship it imposed on us,” he said.  “Our people conquered power,” he added, emphasizing that Cuba would never forget its past and had already chosen its path to the future, which would be long and difficult.  “We don’t need dreams that are alien to our culture or our history,” he said.  Cuba would continue to struggle to build a sovereign, independent, independent, socialist, democratic and sustainable nation. “We will never go back to capitalism,” he said.

Action on Draft Resolution

Speaking in explanation of position before the vote, the representative of Israel welcomed progress achieved recently in improving relations between the United States and Cuba, and expressed hope that it would lead to a new era in the region.

The Assembly then adopted draft resolution A/71/L.3 by a recorded vote of 191 in favour to 0 against with 2 abstentions (Israel, United States).

The representative of Slovakia, speaking on behalf of the European Union, welcomed the measures to end the embargo.  At the same time, fundamental restrictive measures were still in place affecting ordinary Cubans, their economy and European Union economic interests.  While recognizing the decisions by the United States Government to lift restrictions on remittances and family travel and allowing the provision of telecommunications, Internet and financial services to support the Cuban people, the European Union could not accept that unilaterally imposed measures would hinder its relations with Cuba.  The situation for European Union financial operators with interests in Cuba and targeted by the extraterritorial sanctions had not improved.  At a summit between the United States and the European Union in 1998, a package had been agreed that intended to alleviate problems with extraterritorial legislation, and it was urgent for the United States to fully implement that agreement.

Furthermore, the European Union reiterated its call on the Cuban Government to fully grant its citizens civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, he said.  The Union noted with concern the high frequency of short‑term arrests.  The embargo imposed by the United States contributed to Cuba’s economic problems, affecting living standards and impacting the humanitarian field, he said, expressing the Union’s rejection of all unilateral measures directed against Cuba, which also negatively impacted third parties’ interests and violated accepted rules of international trade.

RI TONG IL (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), noting that his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution, condemned in the strongest terms the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba.  That blockade was an encroachment of sovereignty, a criminal act against humanitarianism and an infringement on human rights in violation of the United Nations Charter.  The unilateral embargo, which had long threatened Cuba’s sovereignty and its right to existence, could be defined as the outcome of the United States’ hostile policies.  Noting that the economic losses that had been suffered by Cuba as a result of those measures had run into “astronomical figures”, he said, emphasizing that the United States’ overall scheme was to introduce regime change on the island nation.

ANDREI RZHEUSSKY (Belarus), welcomed positive steps that had been taken in restoring diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, including the decision made today by the United States to abstain from voting.  However, those steps were clearly insufficient as long as a trade embargo remained in place.  Unilateral actions to alter the political systems of other States were counterproductive and in direct violation of the United Nations Charter, he said.  The embargo was at odds with recent steps that had been taken by the President of the United States to normalize relations, he said, reiterated support for promptly lifting the economic, financial and commercial blockade.

MARÍA EMMA MEJÍA VÉLEZ (Colombia), said today marked a historic moment as some Member States had decided to abstain from voting.  The embargo ran contrary to the United Nations Charter.  For its part, Colombia, like all countries in Latin America and most countries in the world, had voted in favour of the resolution since it had first been tabled.  It had also supported ending the United States’ blockade policy for the past 50 years.  Reiterating a need to respect international law and principles of non‑interference in other States’ affairs, she noted with optimism the renewal of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the steps that had been taken in that regard.  A great deal still remained to be done and if followed, the new path would see a lifting of the embargo.

MARTÍN GARCÍA MORITÁN (Argentina), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said the embargo contradicted international law and must end immediately.  Argentina had been hopeful following the 2014 announcement that Cuba and the United States would restore diplomatic relations.  Since then, a new stage of bilateral Cuban‑United States relations had been achieved by the reopening of embassies in both capitals and the visit of a United States President.  He regretted, however, that the laws supporting the embargo still existed and that the rights of the Cuban people were still impeded.  He welcomed that there had been no negative votes on the resolution today, expressing hope that 2016 would be the last time that the General Assembly would vote on the embargo and that it would be relegated to the past.

ELBIO ROSSELLI (Uruguay), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, said his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution as in previous years, believing that the United States blockade of Cuba ran counter to international law and the principles of the United Nations Charter.  Rejecting all extraterritorial measures and unilateral actions aimed at stifling the rights of sovereign States, he welcomed recent steps that had been taken towards normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba and the withdrawal of Cuba from the list of States sponsoring terrorism.  Nevertheless, he called for the lifting of the blockade, which continued to negatively affect the Cuban people and deprive them of their right to development.

YE GYAW MRA (Myanmar), associating himself with ASEAN, the Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said his delegation had voted in favour of the resolution in order to demonstrate its firm opposition to all unilateral economic and trade sanctions.  Recalling that Myanmar had suffered under such measures for decades, he said sanctions only hurt innocent people and ran counter to international law.  The relations between members of the international community should be based on mutual respect, with differences resolved through peaceful dialogue.  Welcoming the re‑establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States and the abstention of the latter in today’s vote, he expressed hope that such actions would lead to the earliest possible lifting of all remaining restrictions against Cuba.  Recalling that the world had gathered in New York in 2015 to adopt the 2030 Agenda and commit to its full implementation, agreeing in particular to “leave no one behind”, he emphasized the need to completely eliminate all sanctions in order to help countries to pursue those development goals.

KHIANE PHANSOURIVONG (Lao People’s Democratic Republic), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and ASEAN, said cooperation and engagement were key factors for peaceful co‑existence and mutual benefit in the current era of interdependence.  Welcoming important progress that had been made on the re‑establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, including the reopening of their respective embassies in both capitals and President Obama’s historic visit, he expressed strong hope that such actions would be further enhanced and lead in the near future to the lifting of the unilateral embargo.

MURTADA ABU OBAIDA (Sudan), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, the African Group, the Group of 77 and the OIC, said his country had contributed to the adoption of all resolutions focusing on ending coercive measures.  The recent diplomatic progress between Cuba and the United States and the visit of President Obama to Cuba were positive steps; he hoped more steps were to come to lift the embargo.  For far too long Sudan’s people had suffered from unjust unilateral sanctions, which had restricted banking operations, access to banks and loans, and affected opportunities to cooperate with other countries on development.  Sudan could empathize with how the embargo had affected the Cuban people.  “Of course, the poorest people suffer the most,” he said, calling for support and attention to the most vulnerable groups of society.

AMMAR ALARSAN (Syria), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, said today the international community had rejected the injustice suffered by Cuba.  As the General Assembly discussed unjust policies, United States administrations would continue to impose harsh economic conditions on populations that insisted on living in dignity and upholding their way of life.  “After the visit of the American President to Cuba —— and how Cuba had welcomed the President —— no one expected the American embargo to continue against the Cuban people,” he said.  Syria rejected unilateral measures by any country to “break the will” of other countries and “confiscate their sovereignty”.  Such unilateral measures constituted collective punishment of peoples and undermined the United Nations.

It was due time that those countries realized that their actions increased anti‑West sentiment and inspired terrorists, he said.  That in turn threatened international peace and security.  He was not surprised to see Israel abstain from today’s vote.  Israel had rejected the resolution against the embargo for 25 years which only reflected that Israel did not respect international law.  For its part, the General Assembly must take the necessary steps to end the embargo on Cuba and put an end to coercive, unilateral measures.  He also called on the United States and European Union to end their coercive measures against the Syrian people which violated the Syrian people’s rights and their access to food and other basic services.  He asked: “How can the United States and the European Union strike a balance between statements about democracy, human rights, and sustainable development, and policies based on the exploitation of people?”

MAHMOUD DIBAEI (Iran) said today’s vote demonstrated the international community’s wide opposition to the embargo, as well as signs of increasing sympathy with the Government and people of Cuba.  Stressing that the embargo served no purpose other than to inflict tremendous hardship on the Cuban people —— especially women and children —— he called for its immediate lifting, adding that differences between countries should be resolved through dialogue on the basis of mutual respect.  The embargo, which ran counter to the principles of international law and the Charter, continued to adversely affect the living conditions and human rights of the Cuban people, and would hamper their ability to achieve the internationally agreed development goals.  Noting that Iran had also experienced the effects of unilateral economic and trade measures, he underscored the need to fully implement the text adopted today.

ANTÓNIO GUMENDE (Mozambique), associating himself with all the countries that had voted in favour of the resolution, said the text reflected the unconditional support and solidarity of the international community to the cause of the Cuban people.  Recalling that Mozambique had never promulgated, applied or contributed to the application of any of the laws or regulations mentioned in relevant Assembly resolutions, he welcomed the re‑establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and other positive steps towards the normalization of bilateral relations between the countries.  It was crucial to definitely remove the existing economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba in order to allow the country to promote its national development more forcefully in line with the 2030 Agenda.  Cuba —— despite the enormous challenges arising from the blockade —— had played a principled role as a relevant development partner in the context of South‑South cooperation. 

JUAN CARLOS MENDOZA-GARCÍA (Costa Rica), associating himself with the Group of 77 and CELAC, commended both the United States and Cuba for their efforts in opening up political dialogue.  That would surely have positive repercussions on the Cuban people.  While also commending the United States from abstaining from the vote today, he categorically rejected any unilateral measures imposed on one State by another.  Costa Rica was friendly with the United States and Cuba and looked to deepen its relations with both countries as well as to deepen foreign trade with Cuba.  Building relationships and a deeper understanding among countries would connect mankind in the areas of economic, social, technological and political advancements.  He reiterated his call to lift the economic, financial and commercial embargo.

JULIO HELDER MOURA LUCAS (Angola), associating himself with the African Group, Group of 77 and the Non‑Aligned Movement, said today’s decision translated international consensus into support for Cuba.  While welcoming President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and other encouraging steps, he said that outstanding barriers remained in place.  He reiterated concern over the persistence of the embargo and expressed hope that the restoration of diplomatic relations inspired the United States Government to take the necessary steps to lift it.  There remained obstacles to the full normalization of relations, particularly in the banking and financial sectors.  The embargo had an immense impact on the Cuban people, he said, stressing the need to lift the restrictions imposed by the United States in Cuba.  The blockade had posed major obstacles to Cuba reaching its development goals.  Angola reiterated its unconditional support for provisions in the resolution adopted and redoubled its appeal to the international community to take the necessary steps to help Cuba and the United States pursue a dialogue based on mutual respect and trust.

RHONDA KING (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), associating herself with the CARICOM, the Non Aligned Movement and the Group of 77, said United States policy in relation to Cuba had failed.  Indeed, it was viewed globally as a ridiculous anachronism, a cold war relic and an untenable, unnecessary and undesirable fissure in the hemispheric family.  While welcoming steps by President Obama, she said the commercial and financial blockade still remained.  It constituted the greatest obstacle to developing the full potential of the Cuban economy and the well‑being of its people.  Simply put, the blockade was morally unsustainable.  The opposition to the inhumane embargo was now almost universal.  Echoing the words of President Obama, she said that governments served people not the other way around.  Citizens across the United States were joining the international community by increasingly voicing their disapproval and calling for the lifting of the unilateral sanctions.  President Obama still had executive powers that allowed him to modify the application of the blockade.

ACHSANUL HABIB (Indonesia) expressed hope that the opening in diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba and the adoption of the 2030 Agenda by the world community could together serve as a foundation for cooperation and inclusive development between the two countries.  The embargo remained a concern at the United Nations, as it had created endless economic and social hardship for the Cuban people, especially women, children and the elderly.  “This blockade is also one of the main factors preventing Cuba from developing its full potential,” he said, stressing that Indonesia viewed the embargo as contradicting international law and the spirit of the 2030 Agenda of leaving no one behind.  Indonesia joined in the call for the immediate cessation of economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States.

SABRI BOUKADOUM (Algeria), drawing attention to the near unanimity of the international community in calling for the lifting of the embargo, welcomed the resumption of diplomatic relations between the two countries as well as President Obama’s bold decisions before, during and after his recent trip to Cuba.  Today’s vote had been extremely positive and comforting, he said, noting that only a few steps remained in the normalizing of relations between the United States and Cuba.  Indeed, the progress made recently was a victory for everyone —— not just Cuba, but also the United States and multilateralism itself.  “May it be a good omen for other conflicting issues at the United Nations,” he concluded.

RUBEN IGNACIO ZAMORA RIVAS (El Salvador), associating himself with CELAC and the Group of 77, said the outcome of today’s vote was a “historic milestone” which he hoped would serve as a step towards the embargo’s total lifting.  Welcoming recent changes in the United States policies towards Cuba, he nevertheless expressed concern that trade was still not fully open between the two countries.  Cuba was prevented from freely importing and exporting items from the United States and fines —— running into the millions of dollars —— were meted out against banks with ties to Cuba.  Appealing for the immediate lifting of the embargo, which was not only illegal and unjust but also lacked the backing of the entire international community, he emphasized the importance of full compliance with all resolutions adopted by the Assembly on the matter year after year.

RAJA ZAIB SHAH (Malaysia), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, Group of 77, OIC and ASEAN, said that today’s near unanimous recorded vote illustrated that unilateral actions ran counter to the United Nations Charter.  Unilateral coercive measures undermined multilateralism and the United Nations system.  An immediate end to the embargo was critical to improve the living standards of the Cuban people, particularly in view of the 2030 Agenda’s theme of “leave no one behind”.  He welcomed the recent visit of President Obama to Cuba in March and the United States decision today to abstain from the vote.  Much more remained to be done.  Cuba and the United States must continue to engage in an open and constructive dialogue, based on mutual respect and without preconditions.  The lifting of the embargo would not only improve the quality of life for the Cuban people but would also improve stability in the region.

ABDEL SHALTUT (Libya), associating himself with the Non‑Aligned Movement, African Group, Group of 77 and OIC, welcomed improved relations between the United States and Cuba, namely the visit taken by President Obama in March.  He hoped that further steps and measures would be taken to fully lift the embargo.  Libya was confident that the only way to solve differences between countries was through peaceful means and that imposing unilateral measures was contrary to the United Nations Charter as they disrupted the stability and prosperity of nations.  Libya had voted in favour of today’s draft resolution with the belief that unilateral measures should not be recurrent and repeated in the future.

LINDA ANNE SCOTT (Namibia), endorsing the Non‑Aligned Movement, said the embargo against Cuba ran contrary to international law and continued to create humanitarian hardships.  After 54 years, the embargo had become an artefact from a previous generation and was a burden on the current one.  She believed it would have been finally lifted following President Obama’s visit to the island nation, the establishment of diplomatic relations and some amendments to regulations, all of which still evinced hope for more changes.  She urged the Government of the United States to fully normalize relations through lifting of the entire embargo and other unilateral coercive measures.

For information media. Not an official record.