Abandoned by close allies such as Canada and Denmark, the United States found itself more isolated than ever Wednesday as the U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn the continuing American trade embargo against Cuba.
The vote was 101 to 2 with 48 abstentions, the most lopsided vote against the United States since the General Assembly began voting on the issue two years ago.
Only Israel voted with the United States this time.
In 1993, the vote against the embargo was 88 to 4 with 57 abstentions; in 1992, it was 59 to 3 with 71 abstentions.
Although the resolution calls for an end to the embargo “as soon as possible,” General Assembly resolutions are not binding on U.N. members, and no one expects the Clinton Administration to comply.
Victor Marrero, one of the deputy American ambassadors to the U.N., insisted that the embargo is a bilateral matter between the United States and Cuba.
“We have made it clear, on many occasions, that reviewing our embargo depends upon whether the Cuban regime moves toward democracy and observes international norms regarding human rights,” he said. “The human rights situation in Cuba remains grim. It has not improved.”
Marrero cited the recent exodus of “boat people” as evidence of the lack of hope in Cuba, and he denied that the embargo is the cause of Cuba’s economic troubles. He said the real economic problem of Cuba “lies with the failed economic policies of the regime.”
The American diplomat contended that a vote in favor of the resolution was an endorsement of Cuban repression. But this argument was clearly rejected by the vast majority of members.
The most astounding shift in voting came from American allies who abstained under American pressure last year but decided to vote for the Cuban resolution this year.
These included Canada, Denmark, Panama, Luxembourg and Thailand. Russia, which had abstained last year, changed its vote to “yes” this time, accompanied by Ukraine and Belarus.
Other countries that shifted from an abstention to a vote in favor of the resolution included Antigua, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Finland, Malawi, Niger, Rwanda, Samoa and Sri Lanka. Despite the Clinton Administration’s operation returning President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power, Haiti also voted against the United States, as it did last time.
Two of the United States’ closest allies, France and Britain, did not change their votes, with France voting “yes” again, and Britain abstaining as it had before.
Much of the international impatience with the boycott was generated by the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 that prohibits foreign subsidiaries from trading with Cuba and prohibits foreign ships from calling at U.S. ports if they have called at a Cuban port within six months.
Canadian diplomat David Karsgaard told the General Assembly that Canada has refused to comply with the act.
Cuban Ambassador Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, who introduced the resolution, said the Cuban economy suffered more than $970 million in damages as a direct result of the embargo in 1993.
He said the daily suffering of the Cuban people, their difficulty in buying the most basic staple foods and the deterioration of health and education standards in Cuba “are inevitable consequences of the cruel blockade imposed against Cuba.”
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, which was split almost in half between those who supported the resolution and those who abstained, German Ambassador Gerhard Henze told the General Assembly: “The European Union cannot accept that the United States unilaterally determines and restricts European Union economic and commercial relations with any foreign nation.”