Speakers Denounce Cuban Embargo as ‘Sad Echo’ of Failed Cold War Politics
DIEGO LIMERES (Argentina), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, noted that last year’s announcement by the United States on the relaxation of travel restrictions and transfer of remittances had given hope that steps were being taken in the right direction. But a year later, it was clear that those measures had had only limited effect and that the embargo was still in place. Largely unchanged, it continued to impose severe economic and financial restrictions on Cuba that negatively impacted the well-being of its people. Further, it frustrated efforts towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.
The embargo against Cuba contravened the fundamental norms of international law, international humanitarian law, the United Nations Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among States, violating the principles of the sovereign equality of States and of non-intervention and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs, as the Group of 77 and China had pointed out many times before.
At the second South-South Summit in Doha in 2005, the Group had rejected the imposition of laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact and all other forms of coercive economic measures, including unilateral sanctions against developing countries. Recalling that last year a large majority - 187 Member States - had voted in favour of the draft resolution presented by Cuba, he said that the Group of 77 and China fully supported the current text calling for an end to the embargo and urged all Member States to do so.
MAGED A. ABDELAZIZ (Egypt), speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that, recently, “unexpected and profound” political changes in many parts of the world had been sparked by an entrenched longing for justice that had, for too long, been unduly denied. In that light, his delegation believed that the application of the principle of justice should not be confined to the national level, but should also extend to the international arena. It should not only govern relations between individuals, but also between Member States. For that reason, it was “utterly troubling” that, to this day, “the screws of an unfair and unwarranted blockade […] are still being tightened” against one of the Movement’s members.
He said that in the past, Washington claimed that it would reach out to the Cuban people and engage with them, but such encouraging words had regrettably not been translated into concrete actions. The punitive measures imposed against Cuba had persisted, “and with them endures the suffering of its brave people”. The direct and indirect damages caused by the embargo were enormous, affecting all sectors of the economy including health, nutrition, agriculture, banking, trade, investment and tourism. Moreover, the unilateral blockade had an extended effect on companies and citizens from third countries, thus violating their sovereign rights. The Movement reiterated its deep concern over those harmful impacts, he said, adding that they constituted additional arguments in favour of the prompt elimination of sanctions.
It was astounding that the embargo was maintained when a full 187 Member States had voted last year in favour of the General Assembly resolution that called for its immediate lifting, he said. “Why should the Cuban people continue to suffer when the international community is almost unanimous in its conviction that the cause of their anguish is unjustified and illegal?” he asked, adding that there were no credible answers to that question. The Movement once again urged the United States to immediately and fully comply with all General Assembly resolutions calling for the end of the embargo, and “once and for all” listen to the will of the overwhelming majority of the international community.
MACHARIA KAMAU (Kenya), speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that over the years the General Assembly had categorically and overwhelmingly rejected the imposition of laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact. Africa shared the views expressed by the international community in its continued opposition to sanctions against Cuba. The Assembly called upon all States, in accordance with the United Nations Charter and international law, to refrain from applying, and/or repeal, laws that had extraterritorial impacts affecting the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation.
Repeated calls by the international community remained unheeded and the “sad and tragic” decades-old United States embargo on Cuba had remained in force, he said. In the report of the Secretary-General before the Assembly, the majority of the United Nations Member States, including from the African continent and various United Nations entities, categorically rejected the imposition of the embargo on Cuba and called for its lifting. Given their proximity, Cuba and the United States should be natural partners in trade, commerce and investment. Given the large number of Americans of Cuban extraction, Cuba and the United States should enjoy warm and fraternal relations in social and cultural affairs among their populations.
Yet, the potential of such economic and commercial ties had sadly remained unrealized, he said, adding: “Whatever the historical roots of this intergenerational embargo, surely the time has come [for] nations to find the courage and sense of global citizenry to overcome differences and nurture coexistence.” In conclusion, he reiterated Africa’s opposition to unilateral measures that impinged on the sovereignty of another country, including attempts to extend the application of a country’s laws extraterritorially to other sovereign nations. Africa once again called for the complete and unequivocal lifting of sanctions and embargo against Cuba.
JANINE COYE-FELSON ( Belize), speaking on behalf of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), declared the group’s continued unequivocal opposition to the United States’ imposition of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba which had been opposed by the overwhelming majority of the international community for the past 19 consecutive years. The unilateral imposition of extraterritorial laws on third States was contrary to both the letter and the spirit of the Charter, and the embargo itself ran counter to the principles of multilateralism, international law, sovereignty and free trade that the Organization traditionally championed.
She said the stubborn persistence of the punitive embargo, “apparently impervious to the sustained chorus of international criticism - or logic”, was of particular concern to CARICOM, which shared a history, culture, solidarity and kinship with the Cuban people. Noting its regional status as the most populous State of the Caribbean region, and an integral part of the Pan-Caribbean process, she stressed that Caribbean ties with Cuba had historical significance, cemented by years of active cooperation at various levels, including in the areas of trade, health care, infrastructure and human resource development.
Continuing, she said the significance of the embargo on the Cuban economy continued to be of great concern to CARICOM, and its humanitarian impact on the Cuban people, especially in the health care and food areas, was particularly saddening. The inability of Cuba to acquire much needed medical equipment, spare parts and latest generation medications because of the embargo continued to affect adversely the island nation’s health care system. The situation had not been made any easier by the strengthening and more frequent storms and hurricanes wrought by climate change and Cuba’s geographical susceptibility to those natural disasters. Given Cuba’s peaceful, generous and cooperative international stance, CARICOM reiterated its support for the right of the Cuban people to self-determination, in a manner beneficial to their social and economic development. She remained hopeful, however, that the United States’ recent recommitment to multilateralism would result in an increased willingness to consider the opinions and concerns of its global friends and partners on that issue.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA (Kazakhstan), speaking on behalf of the Council of Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), said that her delegation stood for the rights of every nation to follow its own development, and in that context, condemned unilateral acts that affected sovereignty and State interests. “We do not agree with any national regulations that infringe, impede or retard the development of any country, including [in the] economic, commercial and financial spheres,” she said, underlining that the imposition of arbitrary unilateral laws contradicted World Trade Organization (WTO) rules prohibiting measures that hindered free trade and shipping. Like the “overwhelming majority” of the international community, she called for lifting the Cuban embargo in line with the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolutions.
JOSÉ LUIS CANCELA (Uruguay), speaking on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), regretted that the “blockade policy” against Cuba continued unchanged, and had in fact recorded an increase in the restrictions to Cuba’s financial transactions with third countries, and that conditions were again obstructing the way of a greater openness to a direct dialogue. MERCOSUR and its Associated States believed that the embargo against Cuba went against the principles of the Charter and contradicted the rules of international law, mainly the equality of States, non-intervention in domestic affairs, peaceful settlement of disputes, as well as the rules of the multilateral trade system and those that obliged the members of the WTO.
He said the embargo, which was also against the principles of justice and human rights, represented a collective punishment, created shortages and suffering to the population, limited and delayed development, and seriously harmed the Cuban economy. Thus, as a matter of principle, MERCOSUR rejected unilateral and extraterritorial measures and in that sense, condemned the application of coercive unilateral measures against free trade, which caused an irremediable damage to the people’s welfare and obstructed the process of regional integration. The economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba was an example of obsolete policies that did not have a place in today’s world, he added.
H. E. AHAMED, Minister of State for External Affairs of India, aligning with the Group of 77 and China, as well as the Non-Aligned Movement, said the Assembly had repeatedly rejected the imposition of laws with extraterritorial impact and all other forms of coercive economic measures. It also had called on States to respect the Charter and international law yet despite that, the United States’ embargo against Cuba remained in full force, which severely undermined the credibility of the United Nations. Indeed, the embargo had brought immense suffering for Cubans and had transgressed a sovereign State’s right to development.
Moreover, it had adversely affected Cuba’s economic prosperity, he said, by denying it access to the United States’ market, investment, technology and financial services, as well as to scientific, educational, cultural and sporting institutions. The embargo’s extraterritorial application also had severely impacted health care, a Millennium Development Goal, as well as health assistance to developing countries. There was huge potential to strengthen economic and commercial ties. Steps taken this year by the United States to reduce restrictions on travel and remittances were positive developments, but they were far from enough to make a fundamental change. India joined others in calling for an immediate end to the Cuban embargo. He supported the resolution.
JUAN CARLOS ALURRALDE ( Bolivia) said that the Cold War fear of nuclear attacks had largely ended, but other issues – including the threat of climate change, and others – “now strike fear in our hearts.” He called on the United States to recall the time of John F. Kennedy, in which an American President had supported the right of the German people to determine their own fate and development. Indeed, today’s United States President should say “I am Cuban”, in the way that Kennedy had declared “I am a Berliner”.
Those that claimed to support democracy were denying the right to democracy in the Assembly Hall today, he continued. How long would the world wait for that State to change its attitude? It was crucial that the United States adhere to the wishes of the vast majority of those in the room. For those reasons, among others, Bolivia fully supported the draft resolution currently before the Assembly.
LUIS-ALFONSO DE ALBA ( Mexico) said that the draft resolution before the Assembly reflected, for the twentieth consecutive year, the international community’s rejection of the embargo imposed against Cuba. Mexico was opposed to the use of coercive measures that ran counter to the principles of international law, as well as those of the Charter. That blockade blatantly contradicted negotiations, diplomacy and dialogue as ways to resolve disputes between States. Many United Nations agencies and bodies, alongside the report currently before the Assembly, had highlighted the negative effects of he embargo – both those that directly affected the Cuban people and those which had an indirect impact on third party States.
For those reasons, Mexico had supported all resolutions against the United States’ unilateral measures. It continued to support the inclusion of Cuba in dialogue on economic, financial and commercial matters at the international level. Mexico’s geographical proximity helped it to understand the plight of Cuba. Additionally, he said, Mexico felt strongly that multilateralism remained the best way to resolve disputes and to ensure peaceful coexistence between States. Once again, the near-universal rejection of the embargo showed that the time was ripe for lifting that blockade.
JORGE VALERO ( Venezuela) endorsed the statements by the representatives of Egypt on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, Argentina on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, and Uruguay on behalf of the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR). He echoed the fact that Member States had made a near-universal call from the Assembly to end the embargo against Cuba, which, for more than 50 years, had sought to restrict the right of that country’s people to decide their own fate. That was an “unequivocal sign” that it was necessary to defend the political independence of States, and the fundamental purposes of the United Nations. It was shameful that the call was ignored year after year.
In that regard, Venezuela supported the various statements on Cuba that had been approved by several groups and forums worldwide. It was important to remember that a number of Cuban citizens – namely Gerardo Hernandez, Ramon Labaňino, Antonio Guerrerro and Fernando Gonzalez Llort - remained detained in the United States for defending their homeland against terrorist attacks. It was also necessary to remember Rene Gonzalez, who had been released but was forced to remain in the United States. Under the embargo, legislation such as the Torricelli Act and the Helms-Burton Act restricted trade and imposed restrictions against entrepreneurs who wished to invest in Cuba.
However, the blockade was not an “abstract device imposed against a Government”, but had a daily impact on the lives of women, men and children. It negatively affected the quality of life of sick people, who were denied medical items whose sale was prohibited in Cuba. It prevented the import of building materials that were needed to make repairs. Despite those challenges, Cuba had sustained a generous amount of support to neighbouring and other countries. For those reasons, he demanded the end to the blockade and to the imposition of international double standards. “Let us stop allowing the condemnation of the weak,” he stressed, “and the toleration of violations committed by the imperialists of the North”.
WANG MIN ( China) said that for 19 years, the Assembly had adopted, by an overwhelming majority, resolutions on the need to end the Cuban embargo, urging all countries to abide by the Charter and international law, and to repeal measures with extraterritorial effect. Regrettably, those texts had not been implemented and the Cuban embargo had yet to be lifted, which severely violated the Charter and inflicted enormous economic and financial loss on Cuba. The embargo had impeded efforts to eradicate poverty and violated Cubans’ basic human rights to food, health and education.
China had always believed that countries should develop mutual relations on the basis of upholding the Charter and respecting the right of others to choose their development paths, he said, adding that China opposed unilateral sanctions imposed by military, political, economic or other means. Noting that China and Cuba had maintained “normal” economic, trade and personal exchanges, he said such mutually beneficial cooperation continued to grow. Dialogue and harmonious coexistence were the mainstream of international relations, and in that context, he hoped the United States would follow the tenets of the Charter and end its embargo as soon as possible. He also hoped the relationship between the United States and Cuba would improve with a view to promoting regional development. China would support today’s resolution.
MOURAD BENMEHIDI ( Algeria) said the consecutive annual adoption by an overwhelming majority of Assembly members of a similar resolution calling for the lifting of the embargo against Cuba reflected the profound wish of the international community to put an end to that situation, which had lasted far too long. Algeria had always condemned the imposition of unilateral acts, extraterritorial regulations impeding the development of any country and all forms of coercive economic and trade measures, such as the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, which was openly contrary to international law and the purposes and principles of the Charter. Every Member State should respect principles of the Charter, including the sovereign equality of States, territorial integrity and non-intervention in the internal affairs of any other State. It was well-established that this blockade affected Cuba’s economic growth and impeded its human development.
In that regard, it had caused huge economic damage to Cuba, and created economic hardship, daily affecting the well-being of the Cuban people. Those consequences were exacerbated by the adverse effects of the current global and financial crisis, and the energy and food crisis that had seriously compromised Cuba’s efforts to improve its level of development. According to estimates by the Cuban Government, confirmed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the cumulative direct and indirect losses to the Cuban economy over 50 years were more than $100 billion. In accordance with the long-standing position of the Non-Aligned Movement on the issue, Algeria rejected the use of economic measures of coercion and extraterritorial applications of laws imposed on developing countries, and urged the United States Government to end the embargo against Cuba.
DOCTOR MASHABANE ( South Africa) said the question of ending the embargo against Cuba had continued to be a problem for the United Nations despite many calls to eliminate the measures. The time had come for the embargo to be lifted, and the people of Cuba continued to bear the brunt of the sanctions. The blockade was a violation of the sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in domestic affairs. It was a violation of international law and showed disregard of the United Nations Charter. Thus, South Africa joined the majority of countries expressing opposition to all aspects of the blockade. The situation was further exacerbated by the global financial crisis, food crisis and climate change. The embargo directly hindered the Cuban economic recovery, and negatively impacted tourism. The damage was estimated to exceed $975 billion in the future. South Africa rejected reinforcement of the sanctions.
South Africa was deeply concerned over the widening of the extraterritorial nature of the embargo and rejected the reinforcement of the measures aimed at tightening it, as well as all other recent measures carried out by the United States against Cuba. His delegation condemned the seizing by the United States of over $4.2 million, in January 2011, of funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which had been earmarked for the implementation of cooperation projects with Cuba. He supported the content of the press release of 18 October 2011 by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Cuba to the United Nations concerning the intensification of sanctions and extraterritorial persecution of citizens, institutions and companies in third countries that established economic, commercial, financial, scientific and technical ties with Cuba.
South Africa was strongly opposed to the actions of the United States regarding fines levied against foreign banking institutions for having conducted operations with Cuba. In an attempt to grow trade with Cuba, South Africa was finalizing its proposals to offer a credit line of $10 million to Cuba. That would be a breakthrough in relations for trade cooperation. He called on all Member States to support the lifting of the United States’ embargo against Cuba.
LE HOAI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) recalled that, by the end of the current meeting, the Assembly would have overwhelmingly adopted for 20 consecutive years a resolution on the issue of ending the Cuban embargo. Viet Nam shared the view of the international community that the United States should end the embargo against Cuba, which was a peace-loving nation, for strong legal, political, economic and humanitarian reasons. The General Assembly had reaffirmed that the policies and measures in pursuit of the embargo, including the “Helms-Burton Act”, went against international law and the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter. “The basis of these policies and measures is a violation of the right of a people to self-determination,” he stressed, adding that they had the right, among other things, to determine their political system and path of development.
Additionally, he said, the embargo had serious and illegal extraterritorial effects on the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of persons under their jurisdiction, their freedom of trade and navigation. The Government of Cuba estimated that the loss and damages caused by the embargo amounted to nearly $1 trillion. The suffering of the Cuban people, however, transcended that “staggering figure”. For those reasons, Heads of State or Government had reiterated their call to end the embargo in the Outcome Document of the fifteenth Non-Aligned Summit held in Egypt in 2009, he said. Similarly, the discussions taking place today were consistent with the urge for cooperation and dialogue and the General Assembly’s current theme of peaceful settlement of disputes.
CAMILLO M. GONSALVES ( St. Vincent and the Grenadines) said that “half a century ago, the world was witness to the ‘Cuban Spring’: an indigenous and popular uprising against a corrupt and brutal dictator”. The Cuban people, unassisted by foreign military forces, had cast off the shackles of rapacious exploitation and chose for themselves a new and uniquely adapted path of progress, global citizenship and development that was measured not by the levels of corporate or individual excess, but on the fulfilment of the needs of its citizens, particularly the poor. Some States had not greeted that “Cuban Spring” with the same enthusiasm with which they welcomed, assisted or instigated other, subsequent revolutionary movements.
Noting that the scale and scope of the Cuban embargo had no parallel in the modern world, he aligned with those calling for it to end. He said no one in the Assembly Hall had the right to tell the United States how to conduct its foreign policy or who its friends should be. At the same time, all Member States were obliged to uphold the Charter and reject instances where national foreign policy decisions “morphed into violations of international law”.
The embargo had been an “unmitigated failure” and had only caused suffering for the Cuban people. While other unjust and antiquated structures had fallen, it alone remained as the last relic of a Cold War that otherwise only existed in the history books. “[I]n an interconnected world of open borders, free movement of people, goods and capital, how can the architects of globalization simultaneously legislate the isolation of one State, or place extraterritorial restrictions on commerce, global trade and the movement of individuals?” he asked. Citing President Obama’s inaugural address to the Assembly on demonstrating that international law was not an empty promise, he urged him to heed the overwhelming voice of the international community.
NIKOLAI OVSYANKO ( Belarus) said that the overwhelming majority of Member States had been demanding the end of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba for decades, regarding it as an uncivilized and unconstructive means of resolving international disagreements. Unilateral sanctions negatively impacted the lives of the Cuban people, particularly given the economic and financial crises in the world today, which appeared to be about to embark on a second wave.
Noting that the blockade contradicted international law and United Nations decisions, he said that in the current system of international relations, there was no place for unilateral sanctions or other unilateral economic measures to pressure sovereign States. Nations had the right to determine their own developmental paths. He hoped that the voice of the General Assembly would be heard as it passed the resolution for the twentieth time.
YUSRA KHAN ( Indonesia) called for the conclusion of the unilateral economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed against Cuba. The measures undermined the principles of the Charter and of international law, as well as the rights of people to life, well-being and development. In addition, although imposed unilaterally, the embargo impacted the economic and commercial interests and relations of third countries. It had also severely affected the daily welfare of Cuban citizens and posed an unnecessary burden to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.
Since the embargo had initially been imposed, much had changed, he continued. Globalization had created conditions for true global solidarity and partnership among nations. Lifting the embargo would be in keeping with the spirit of the times. “[T]he time is ripe for relations between the two main parties to be transformed through constructive engagement,” he said. While encouraged by the small, but meaningful changes that had recently occurred, including the easing of travel restrictions to Cuba and the removal of obstacles to transfer of remittances, he called on all countries to adhere to the principles of equality, mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and good-neighbourliness and respect for human rights.
COLLIN BECK (Solomon Islands), associating himself with the statement of the Group of 77 and China, said that his delegation would again vote with the majority of United Nations Members in support of the resolution to end the blockade against Cuba. He asked the United States, which had “absolute power” within the multilateral system, to examine its actions towards the people of Cuba through the lens of humanity and to renew its friendship with that country.
In a changing world, the rights, freedoms and laws that were frequently spoken of should be upheld with respect for States to adopt their own political systems, he said. As a small island developing country, Solomon Islands believed in multilateralism and would vote in support of the resolution.
VITALY I. CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) said his country’s position on the resolution was well-known and remained unchanged: “we express total solidarity with the overwhelming majority of members of the international community who are strongly condemning the trade and economic embargo against Cuba”. The anti-Cuba blockade had lasted almost half a century and had clearly been unable to influence Cuba’s sovereign choice of development model. The only consequences of the sanctions had been deteriorated living standards for Cubans, artificial barriers to economic growth and infringements on third-country interests.
The United States’ unilateral, restrictive actions against Cuba had only created the opposite effect of what their instigators had intended during the Cold War, he said, adding that the current United States Administration had raised expectations about changes to Washington’s policy but had made only minimum steps. He hoped the United States’ decision to end restrictions on visits by United States citizens to family in Cuba as well as on remittances and postal orders would be followed by steps to normalize relations with Cuba and to lift the embargo. His Government strongly believed such moves would foster progressive social and economic reforms by the Cuban leadership. The Russian Federation would vote in favour of today’s text.