U.N. votes against U.S. embargo on Cuba for 19th year


UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to urge the United States to lift a 48-year-old economic embargo against Cuba, making a now ritual call despite some U.S. easing toward the communist-run island.

The assembly passed a nonbinding resolution — with 187 votes in favor, two against and three abstentions — for the 19th consecutive year, reflecting the world’s disapproval of Washington’s long-standing effort to isolate Havana.

President Barack Obama’s administration has taken some steps to lessen hostility with Cuba, but has not come close to lifting the trade embargo — part of U.S. policy to promote human rights in Cuba — because it is seen as too risky in domestic politics.

The latest assembly resolution came just a week before U.S. congressional elections in which Obama’s Democrats are forecast to lose ground.

Introducing the measure, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez dismissed Washington’s moves. “Two years after President Obama pledged to seek ‘a new beginning with Cuba’, facts confirm that nothing has changed,” he said.

“It is obvious that the United States has no intention whatsoever to lift the blockade.”

Rodriguez charged that over the past half-century the embargo had caused Cuba economic damage of more than $751 billion according to the dollar’s current value.

“The White House continues to pay more attention to the well-funded ‘special interests’ of an exiguous minority that has turned the policy against Cuba into a very profitable business,” he said.

ISRAELI SUPPORT

Rodriguez also repeated previous accusations by Havana that the embargo constituted an act of genocide, a word that prompted an angry response from U.S. delegate Ronald Godard.

“Such an egregious misuse of the term diminishes the real suffering of victims of genocide elsewhere in the world,” he told the assembly.

Saying the embargo was part of a policy to promote human rights in Cuba and did not include humanitarian goods, Godard said the United States sold $533 million in agricultural products, medical devices, medicine and wood to Cuba in 2009.

He recalled that under Obama, Washington had lifted restrictions on family visits and remittances, increased the amounts of humanitarian items Americans can donate to Cubans and made it easier for U.S. telecommunication companies to pursue agreements to provide service to Cuba.

Last month, however, a U.S. congressional committee postponed a vote on a measure that would abolish a ban on travel to Cuba, leaving little time this year for the proposal to advance in Congress.

The only country to vote with the United States in the assembly this year was Israel, heavily dependent on U.S. support at the world body on Middle East issues. The tiny Pacific states of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained. Last year, Palau voted against the resolution.

The Cuba embargo is one issue on which most of Washington’s closest allies vote against it.

Speaking for the European Union, Belgian Ambassador Jan Grauls said the embargo “contributes to the economic problems in Cuba” and the EU rejected “all unilateral measures directed against Cuba that are contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade.”

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U.S. Embargo on Cuba Again Finds Scant Support at U.N.


UNITED NATIONS — The General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to condemn the American trade embargo against Cuba, with the speeches by the United States ambassador and Cuba’s foreign minister reflecting that little has changed despite an expected shift under the Obama administration.

The nonbinding resolution has been an annual ritual for 18 years. The vote this time of 187 in support, 3 opposed and 2 abstaining underlined the utter lack of support for the 50-year-old American attempt to isolate Cuba. (Israel and Palau joined the United States, while the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained.)

The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez Parilla, noted that while President Obama had taken steps to ease strained relations, many Bush-era policies remained intact, including barring the export of medical equipment and pursuing fines against companies all over the world that do business with Havana.

The United States has lifted some restrictions in recent months on Cuban-Americans visiting relatives or sending money, and opened the path for food and telecommunications companies to trade. But in September Mr. Obama extended the trade embargo for another year.

“The economic blockade has not met, nor will it meet, its purpose of bending the patriotic determination of the Cuban people,” Mr. Rodríguez said.

“But it generates shortages,” he added. “It is, no doubt, the fundamental obstacle that hinders the economic development of our country.”

Susan E. Rice, the American ambassador to the United Nations, said the resolution ignored the oppression that she called the real cause of Cubans’ suffering.

“The Cuban government’s airtight restrictions on internationally recognized social, political and economic freedoms are the main source of deprivation and the primary obstacle to development in Cuba,” she said.

Ms. Rice called it regrettable that Cuba had not made any move to reciprocate the “important steps” taken by the Obama administration.

Analysts said Mr. Obama had not gone nearly as far as some of his Democratic predecessors in changing the restrictions on Cuba. Under President Bill Clinton there were extensive academic and artistic exchanges, while President Jimmy Carter lifted the travel ban entirely.

The problem, said Julie E. Sweig of the Council on Foreign Relations, is that the two sides tend to talk past each other. For the United States, reciprocating would mean implementing greater civil rights in Cuba and freeing political prisoners, she said. The Cuban foreign minister noted in his speech that his country had already responded by proposing ways to improve bilateral ties.

Mr. Obama has said that the embargo will be maintained until Cuba eases its domestic oppression, but that he wants to “recast” the relationship.

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Cuba calls for end to US economic embargo


Asia News Network:

The government of Cuba will seek international support as it calls for an end to the US commercial and financial embargo against the island nation, even as positive signs emerge for US-Cuban relations, according to the Cuban Ambassador to Laos.

Ms Ivonne Suarez Roche made the statement on Friday, saying the Cuban government still believed the latest moves by the US government to loosen control over visits by Cuban expatriates and the sending of remittances to their families in Cuba did not constitute a concrete measure in improving US-Cuba relations.

“Although these measures are a positive step, they are also extremely insufficient and limited. The complex framework of laws and adm inistrative provisions which make up the legal basis of the policy, which is designed to destroy the Cuban economy, remains in place,” she said as quoted in her speech.

“The media and diplomatic offensive unleashed by the US government could erroneously lead one to believe that the blockade against Cuba has started to be dismantled. This is not true.”

According to the ambassador, the US government prohibition on the export of goods and services from Cuba to the US and from the US to Cuba , including medicines, remains in force.

The US government prohibits US subsidiaries doing business in third countries to engage in any transaction with enterprises in Cuba .

It also prohibits enterprises in third countries from selling goods or services to Cuba, including medicines, if more than 10 percent of the product is sourced from the US, even though the owners of these enterprises are nationals of these third countries.

The US government continues to prohibit banks of third countries from opening US dollar accounts in Cuban entities. Neither can these banks make financial transactions in US dollars with Cuban entities.

The US also prohibits ships transporting goods from or to Cuba from calling at US ports within a period of 180 days after being in Cuban territory. This multiplies the cost of maritime transport and reduces the availability of freight transport for Cuban foreign trade.

Speaking at a press conference at the Cuban Embassy in Vientiane , Ms Roche said the Cuban government is planning to ask United Nations members to vote on whether they agree or disagree with the 17-year US economic blockade against Cuba .

UN members are scheduled to vote on a draft resolution entitled “Necessity of the ending economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba ” at the end of this month.

Ms Roche said the Cuban government expected that 185 UN members would vote in favour of the proposed resolution, as they had last year. It is believed that only three UN members including the USA will oppose the resolution.

She said the fact that the majority of UN member countries voted to adopt Cuba ‘s proposed UN resolution last year was an almost unanimous demonstration of the international community’s rejection of US government policy against Cuba and of the application of extraterritorial laws contrary to the United Nations Charter.

According to diplomats, such a resolution voted on at the United Nations General Assembly merely reflects the opinion of the international community and is not binding on member countries, especially those that oppose the resolution.

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Cuba accuses Human Rights Watch of being in US pay


GENEVA – Cuba’s U.N. ambassador in Geneva says Human Rights Watch and other groups are “mercenaries” paid by the U.S. government.

Juan Antonio Fernandez Palacios says groups criticizing Cuba in the U.N. Human Rights Council perform a “clown act.” The groups had accused Cuba of trying to silence critics.

HRW spokesman Philippe Dam said, “Human Rights Watch receives zero percent of its funding from public money, and 100 percent from private money. This is evidence that we are fully independent of any government, and that Cuba’s remarks are totally unfounded.”

The New York-based group says Cuba violates the right to fair trial, free expression and political association.

Several Cuban and Chinese groups praised Cuba’s human rights achievements Wednesday.

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US, China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia elected to UN rights pane


UNITED NATIONS (AFP) — The United States was Tuesday elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council as were China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia in a balloting criticized by rights groups for not being competitive enough.

The United States received 167 votes and was elected by secret ballot along with Norway (179) and Belgium (177) in the three-way contest in the Western States group.

A total of 20 countries were contesting the 18 seats up for grabs on the 47-member, Geneva-based Council. Candidate nations require an absolute majority, or 97 votes, in the 192-member assembly, to be elected to staggered three-year terms.

US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice immediately welcomed her country’s election to a body that had been immediately shunned by the previous American administration for harboring notorious rights violators and showing a perceived anti-Israel bias.

“We are gratified by the strong support we received,” she told reporters after the vote.

She said that although the council was “a flawed body”, President Barack Obama’s administration was looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of members to make it more effective.

Kenya and Azerbaijan were shut out of their respective groups.

Council seats are allocated according to regional representation (13 for Africa, 13 for Asia, six for eastern Europe, eight for Latin America and the Caribbean and seven for Western states.

The five seats up for grabs this year in the African group went to Cameroon, Djibouti, Mauritius, Nigeria and Senegal.

Five seats were also contested in the Asia group and they went to Bangladesh, China, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia.

Cuba, Mexico and Uruguay were elected to the three seats on offer in the Latin America and Caribbean group while Russia and Hungary edged out Azerbaijan for the two seats in the Eastern Europe group.

Steve Crawshaw, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, however criticized the balloting for not being competitive enough, notably in the Asia group.

“Elections without competition don’t make sense,” he told reporters.

A report released early this month by two Western rights groups — Freedom House and UN Watch — indicated that nearly two-thirds of the 20 countries which ran for seats on the UN rights panel “either have poor or questionable human rights records.”

It found seven countries not qualified: Azerbaijan, Cameroon, China, Cuba, Djibouti, Russia and Saudi Arabia and noted that the governments of China, Cuba and Saudi Arabia “rank among the world’s most repressive regimes, suppressing nearly all fundamental political rights and civil liberties,” according to Freedom House’s Worst of the Worst report.

An additional six countries — Bangladesh, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria and Senegal — have questionable or mixed human rights records, the study said.

Under council regulations, candidates are evaluated on the political rights, civil liberties and freedom of the press in their countries, as well as their approach to human rights promotion at the United Nations.

The council was created three years ago to replace the Human Rights Commission, which was discredited on grounds that governments with a record of abuse stifled concrete action

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Cuba Has New UN Ambassador


HAVANA TIMES, December 27.- The Cuban government announced that Abelardo Moreno has been appointed the island’s new ambassador to the United Nations. Moreno was a deputy minister of foreign affairs and served as interim ambassador since November when the former representative, Rodrigo Malmierca, was appointed minister of Foreign Investment and Economic Collaboration.

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