Photo: A 2015 photo shows the US embassy in Havana. Photograph: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

23 June 2021 | Michelle Nichols | Reuters

NEW YORK, June 23 (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday continued Washington’s tradition of voting against an annual United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for an end to a U.S. economic embargo on Cuba.

The resolution was adopted for the 29th time with 184 votes in favor, three abstentions and two no votes – the United States and Israel. The U.N. vote can carry political weight, but only the U.S. Congress can lift the more than 50-year-old embargo.

The United States consistently voted against the U.N. resolutions for 24 years but abstained for the first time in 2016 under former President Barack Obama, as Washington and Havana forged a closer relationship.

Washington then returned to opposing the resolution under President Donald Trump’s administration. Trump also rolled back nearly all measures Obama had taken to ease the embargo and improve ties between the United States and its old Cold War foe.

Many delegates highlighted the incalculable damage of the sanctions, in place since 1962, including restrictions that have prevented critical medicine and supplies from reaching Cuba during the pandemic.  Some representatives raised concerns about the additionally damaging effects of the United States recent decision to add Cuba to its list of countries sponsoring terrorism.

Recalling that the Assembly has, since 1992, annually voted in favour of resolutions calling for an end to the embargo, many delegates said that failing to fully implement “L.97” and its previous versions will only undermine multilateralism and the credibility of the United Nations.  Delegates speaking on behalf of groups of countries resoundingly called for swift action.

Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, introduced the resolution, saying that nobody can overlook the fact that the blockade is the primary obstacle to his country’s quest for prosperity and well‑being.  It is unacceptable for the Government of the United States to ignore successive Assembly resolutions on this issue, he continued, adding that it is neither legal nor ethical for the Government of one Power to subject a small nation to a decades-long economic war aimed at imposing a political system of its own design.

The representative of Azerbaijan, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said the United States alone pursues its illegal policy while more than 190 nations engage with Cuba.  Indeed, the United States sanctions are a prime example of how such policies undermine people’s well-being and their human rights, he said, voicing strong opposition to unilateral coercive measures unauthorized by relevant United Nations organs or inconsistent with international law.  The embargo denies Cuba access to markets, remains the main impediment to Internet access and has caused more than $147.8 billion in damages since it was imposed, including $9.1 billion in the last year.

Adopting Annual Resolution, Delegates in General Assembly Urge Immediate Repeal of Embargo on Cuba, Especially amid Global Efforts to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic

Biden vowed during his campaign to reverse some of Trump’s Cuba measures that “have inflicted harm on the Cuban people and done nothing to advance democracy and human rights.” But he has yet to make good on that pledge and his administration has said a shift in policy toward Cuba is not among its top priorities.

U.S. diplomat Rodney Hunter told the U.N. General Assembly before the vote that sanctions were one set of tools in Washington’s broader effort toward Cuba to advance democracy, promote respect for human rights and help the Cuban people exercise fundamental freedoms.

“We therefore oppose this resolution,” Hunter said. “We recognize the challenges the Cuban people face. That is why the United States is a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners.”

Cuba said earlier this month the decades-old U.S. trade embargo cost it a record total of more than $9 billion over the last financial year, hurting its ability to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the General Assembly that sanctions had made it harder for Cuba to acquire medical equipment needed to develop its own COVID-19 vaccines and for other uses as well as equipment for food production.

“Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills, it must stop,” Rodriguez told the General Assembly.

The vote on Wednesday was originally set for October last year but was postponed due to the pandemic.

The General Assembly adopted the resolution as Cuba struggles with a severe economic downturn, marked by widespread shortages of basic goods and as COVID-19 cases hit a record of 2,055 on Wednesday.

Government critics say the real, underlying problem is the inefficient state-run economy and market-style reforms that have not been sufficiently radical.