UN to (Again) Call on U.S. to End Cuban Embargo

Nov. 12, 2012 – The United Nations General Assembly will vote Tuesday on a resolution calling on the United States to end its 52-year embargo against Cuba, but there’s little reason to believe the outcome will alter the Obama administration’s Havana policy.

The U.S. bans its citizens from travelling to or doing business in Cuba.

Ending the embargo is seen as a move that could strengthen Obama’s relationship with his Latin American neighbors who are unanimously against “el bloqeo.”

The resolution has been approved every year since first introduced in 1990.

Brazil’s representative said after the vote last year that the embargo “went against international law and inhibited regional relations” while Argentina’s said “it went against the principles of international law and the UN charter.”

After Monday’s success in the General Assembly vote for election to the Human Rights Council, which the U.S. topped with 131 votes in the Western Group, Tuesday’s vote is likely to see the U.S in the tiniest minority when the votes are tallied.

Last year, 186 countries voted for the text while only Israel joined the U.S. in voting against it. Even Canada, normally a staunch ally of the U.S. and Israel, voted for lifting the embargo.

While President Obama has laxed some of the travel restrictions – making it easier for students and religious groups to visit and allowing Cuban-Americans to visit Cuba as much as they want – he has renewed the trade ban each year of his presidency.

Cuba is the only country placed on the U.S. Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 after the removal of North Korea in 2008.

There’s speculation that Obama’s strong showing among Cuban-Americans in last week’s election will harbor a change in policy but that’s unlikely to include a lifting of the trade embargo.

The continuing detention of Alan Gross is currently the main source of tension between Havana and Washington with the State department contractor reported to have lost 105 pounds since his arrest in December 2009 for crimes against the state.

Arguably, more important factors are that Havana-born Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R), who will continue as chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez (D), set to take over the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – should John Kerry get a cabinet post, – are both firmly opposed to any easing of the embargo.

The Senate’s two other Hispanic senators, recently elected Texas tea party candidate, Ted Cruz, and Florida’s Marco Rubio, both Cuban-American like Menendez, are also firmly opposed to lifting the embargo.

Cuba says as a result of the embargo the U.S. Treasury department has frozen $245 million in funds destined for Havana as of December 2011.

It also says the embargo is preventing Cuban medical facilities from importing artificial skin for burn patients and faces challenges importing replacement stent valves for heart patients, among other medical restrictions, that all result in delayed treatment and higher patient costs.

Havana made these claims in a report prepared by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon which is available here.

– Denis Fitzgerald 

Nov 13 Update: The resolution was adopted by a vote of 188 in favor and 3 opposed – the U.S., Israel and Palau.