U.S. abstains from vote to lift Cuba trade embargo for the first time in history

Posted: 27-Oct-16 14:19

In a symbolic and historic move that mirrors the changed times we live it when it comes to the significantly improved relations between Cuba and the U.S., for the first time ever the U.S. abstained from voting against the lifting of their trade embargo on Cuba; which together with Israel’s abstention meant the UN resolution finally passed. Even if symbolic and not legally binding, it marked a crucial moment in history that was met by a burst of applause among all other participating UN nations, who have historically voted in favour of ending the embargo.

U.S. abstains from vote to lift Cuba trade embargo for the first time in history

Condemning their own embargo law on Cuba for the first time ever, the United States made history yesterday when at the annual UN General Assembly, it abstained to vote in favour of the lifting of their heavily criticised federal law, the rules of which Obama’s administration has considerably relaxed over the last two years as part of his policy to engage with the island nation in order to drive change.

With the restoring of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S. on July 2015 (and the reopening of embassies at both countries) preceding the ease of embargo rules, it wasn’t long before full direct commercial flights to Cuba from the U.S. were re-established and Americans able to travel to Cuba freely with the only precondition of ticking one of the boxes for the 12 allowed categories of travel.

So, it was only a matter of time before the U.S. made history once again by abstaining from a 25-year-old UN petition to end the embargo on Cuba. A dramatic turn from the U.S. previous unshakeable stance of voting “no” time after time (it did so only last year), it signals that times are definitely changing, and there’s only a minority of Congress Republicans left to convince for the actual ending of the widely unpopular embargo that the UN considers a violation of international law.

Joining the U.S. in its abstention was Israel, the only other country who had historically echoed the U.S. in voting “no”, which meant that with an unanimous 191 states voting yes, the resolution finally passed. While its passing is not legally binding and only symbolic, it does put added pressure on reluctant members of Congress who still oppose the embargo’s abolition and reflects the way the United States’ government’s rethinking their strategy towards Cuba.

Explaining the U.S. abstention, US ambassador, Samantha Power, illustrated how the embargo policy was long overdue and, if anything it only backfired on its enforcers.

“The resolution voted on today is a perfect example of why the US policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working – or worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve.”

Her words were warmly received with a longstanding applause by all member states’ representatives, not least of all Cuba, who had been waiting for this moment for decades.

Power added:

“Instead of isolating Cuba, as President Obama has repeatedly said, our policy isolated the United States, including right here at the United Nations.”

Indeed, it was President Barack Obama who strongly voiced his disregard for the U.S. government’s isolation of Cuba, a harsh stance they had been unsuccessfully maintaining over half-a-century, reaping no manner of rewards as a result, and driving no form of change within the island, which was, ironically, the embargo’s ultimate goal. As one of his last moves to advance on the thawing of U.S. Cuba relations, last January Obama called on Congress to lift the embargo at his final State of the Union Address.

Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bruno Rodriguez, positively embraced the abstention while petitioning for the embargo’s full removal. He described the move “a positive step for the future of improving relations between the United States and Cuba”, yet was quick to remind the world of the urgency with which the economic blockade needs to be removed:

“Lifting the blockade is the key to be able to advance towards the normalisation of relations with the United States. The blockade is unjust, inhuman, immoral and illegal and should unilaterally and unconditionally cease."

Most countries back Mr Rodriguez on this, as the vast majority of UN member states have been voting for the lifting of the embargo during the UN’s resolution’s 25-year history, reflecting the world’s rejection for the U.S. isolation policy toward Cuba.

Even if it’s just symbolic, Cubans celebrate this day, one they awaited for so long. It’s another victory for them and added hope that Congress will once and for all rescind the unfair and unproductive embargo law, freeing them of one (an important one) of the many shackles that have been holding them back.


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