The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has delivered a strong rebuke of the United States embargo on Cuba, which Havana has demanded be lifted amid an economic crisis on the Caribbean island.
Overwhelmingly, 185 countries on Thursday voted in favour of a non-binding resolution condemning the embargo, with the US and Israel voting against and Brazil and Ukraine abstaining.
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It was the 30th time the UN has voted to condemn the US policy, which has been in place for decades.
“The United States opposes this resolution, but we stand with the Cuban people and will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to them,” US Political Coordinator, John Kelley, told the UNGA on Thursday.
“If the United States government was really interested in the welfare, human rights and self-determination of Cubans, it could lift the blockade,” countered Yuri Gala, Cuba’s deputy representative at the UN.
The US imposed the embargo in 1960, following the Cuban revolution led by Fidel Castro and the nationalisation of properties belonging to US citizens and corporations.
Two years later the measure – which prohibits trade between the two countries, among other restrictions – was strengthened.
US President Barack Obama took considerable steps to ease tensions with Cuba during his time in office, including formally restoring US-Cuba relations and making a “historic” visit to Havana in 2016.
That year, the US also abstained for the first time during a UN vote condemning the embargo.
Former US President Donald Trump, however, scrapped such efforts and took a more hardline approach, stepping up sanctions and rolling back steps towards normalisation.
Current President Joe Biden’s administration has not deviated substantially from Trump’s policies but has taken a handful of steps to relax restrictions on remittances and flights to Cuba.
Tensions between Havana and Washington also have escalated over issues such as migration, security, and regional relations in recent months.
Ahead of Thursday’s UN vote, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accused the Biden administration of continuing down a path of “maximum pressure”. Rodriguez said that during Biden’s 14 months in office, the embargo had cost the Cuban economy about $6.35bn.
US representatives countered that economic penalties were a response to human rights abuses by the Cuban government, which cracked down on protests in July 2021 demanding political freedom and better economic conditions.
Cuba has sanctioned nearly 400 people for participation in the protests, giving many lengthy prison sentences.
The crackdown prompted condemnation from rights groups as well as new sanctions from the US.
Havana has pushed back against criticism of its human rights record. “Cuba does not need lessons on democracy and human rights, much less from the United States,” Gala said on Thursday.