‘Archaic, Punitive’ Embargo Must be Consigned to History Books, Say Speakers,
as General Assembly, for Twenty-First Year, Demands End to Cuba Blockade
13 November 2012
General Assembly Plenary
35th and 36th Meetings (AM & PM)
MOURAD BENMEHIDI (Algeria), speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said that 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. Furthermore, its continued imposition violated the principles of the sovereign equality of States and of non-intervention and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs. The measures announced by the United States Government two years ago, which related to a certain relaxation of restrictions on travel and transfer of remittances, had had a “very limited effect” and did not change the framework of laws, regulations and provisions of the embargo, which was still in place, he added.
The deepening impact of the ongoing global economic and financial crisis and the continued embargo would continue to further aggravate hardships for the Cuban people, he went on to say. In addition, the embargo frustrated efforts towards the achievement of all the internationally agreed development goals, including the Millennium Development Goals, and negatively affected regional cooperation in the area. Today, the Group once again reiterated its longstanding and principled position on the matter of the embargo, and recalled the Ministerial Declaration of the thirty-sixth annual meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs, held in New York in September, to the effect that the Ministers “firmly rejected” the imposition of laws and regulations with extraterritorial impact and all other forms of coercive measures. They had also called on the international community neither to recognize those measures nor apply them, he said.
JOSEPH GODDARD (Barbados), speaking for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), noted that this was the twenty-first consecutive occasion that the Assembly was meeting to raise the sustained chorus of opposition to the United States’ imposition of the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba. While in some parts of the world, twenty-first “birthdays” were especially commemorated, the twenty-first year of adoption of the annual resolution on the Cuban embargo should instead give that Assembly pause for reflection. The embargo had persisted for too long in spite of the unambiguous reprove of an overwhelming majority of Member States, as demonstrated by the annual adoption of the resolution before delegates.
He went to stress that CARICOM member States had camaraderie with Cuba, which had remained cordial and resilient even through a continually evolving hemispheric and international geo-political landscape. Cuba maintained embassies in all independent countries of the Community and continued to show itself as an integral part of the region. The Community and Cuba had developed and enjoyed mutually beneficial programmes of cooperation and trade in several key areas including physical education and sports, accounting, natural sciences, humanities, economy, special education, health and medicine. CARICOM States also continued to value and enjoy long-established, warm and friendly relations with the United States. It was in that spirit that the Community urged the United States to heed the calls of the international community to bring an end to the embargo.
ANTONIO PEDRO MONTEIRO LIMA (Cape Verde), speaking on behalf of the African Group and aligning with the Group of 77 developing countries and China, said it was “inconceivable” for African countries to remain silent in the face of the adverse consequences of the longstanding embargo against Cuba. By a resolution adopted at the African Union Summit in July, leaders had reissued a call inviting the United States to lift that embargo, he said; the Group’s vote today in favour of the Assembly’s annual resolution would be another step in advancing that call. Indeed, he said, quoting the famous statesman Winston Churchill, “criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary”. Criticism played the same role as pain in the human body, bringing attention to the fact that “things are not right”, he added.
Furthermore, the Assembly “status quo” on the resolution ran contrary to the pursuit of a more equitable and just world, as well as the progress of Cuba towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals and regional integration. “The path of history today is for those who choose openness”, he said. He quoted Nelson Mandela to the effect that “to be free is not merely to cast off ones chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
OCTAVIO ERRÁZURIZ ( Chile) said on behalf of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that the commercial, economic and financial embargo imposed on Cuba was contrary to the letter, spirit, principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter and international law. The Community was concerned about the extraterritorial effects of the embargo that affected the sovereignty of other States, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation. The embargo, commenced in 1959 had continued to this day and had transformed into a strict system of unilateral measures, which had continued over time creating huge injustices for the Cuban people. In itself, the unilateral measure was a contradiction with the multilateralism, the openness and the dialogue promoted by the Charter.
The Community was in favour of adoption of the resolution before the Assembly. He emphasized the inconsistency that existed between the application of unilateral measures, which had no backing in international law, and the letter, spirit, principles and purpose of the Charter, urging the United States to make necessary adjustments to its international behaviour in that regard and align its legislation with the Charter of the United Nations.
BYRGANYM AITIMOVA (Kazakhstan), speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), noted that the item had been on the Assembly’s agenda for 20 years with little progress to record. Guided by the principles of international law, the OIC upheld the right of every nation to follow its own unique path of development and therefore condemned any unilateral action, which affected the sovereignty and interests of another State and its people. Further, it did not agree with any external regulations that infringed, impeded or delayed the development of any country, including in the economic, commercial and financial spheres. Even measures meant to relax restrictions had limited effect while the embargo remained in place to the detriment of the Cuban people.
The embargo frustrated efforts toward achieving the Millennium Goals, she continued, impeding poverty eradication, and violating the basic human rights to food, health and education, humanitarian assistance and overall national progress. That already harsh situation was further aggravated by the effects of climate change to which Cuba’s geographical location made it particularly vulnerable. She went on to stress that the embargo contradicted the regulations and directions of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which prohibited the adoption of measures likely to hinder international free trade and shipping, and the widest possible partnership between two partners. She joined “the overwhelming majority of the international community” in calls to lift the embargo against Cuba.
MARIA LUIZA RIBEIRO VIOTTI ( Brazil), speaking on behalf of Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR), said that the Group had been founded on the principles of interdependence and good neighbourly relations. Alongside its Latin American neighbours, MERCOSUR showed respect for the sovereignty of States and for international law, and it viewed that the embargo ran contrary to the principles of the Unite Nations Charter and international law. In particular, she said, it violated the principle of non-interference in the affairs of other States. The embargo also ran contrary to the principles of justice and human rights, limited and delayed social and economic progress and inhibited the achievement of the Millennium Goals and other development targets.
MERCOSUR therefore regretted the fact that the unilaterally imposed embargo continued unabated, she said. MERCOSUR rejected, in principle, all unilateral and extra-territorial measures, which caused harm to peoples and obstructed regional integration. By once again reaffirming its support to the present resolution, her delegation would reiterate its commitment to multilateralism as a legitimate instrument for the settling of disputes and a way to promote cooperation and understanding between peoples. Indeed, she concluded, the embargo was “no more than an example of obsolete policies which have no place in today’s world.”
MOHAMMAD KHAZAEE (Iran), speaking for the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that the delegation, at its most recent Summit, held in Tehran, had reiterated its call to the United States to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba, a measure which was causing huge material and economic damage to the people of that island nation. Iran was concerned about the widening of the extraterritorial nature of the embargo and rejected the reinforcement of the measures adopted by the United States. The embargo had caused and would continue to cause a high degree of adverse impact on the well-being of the people of Cuba. The direct and indirect damage was enormous. The embargo affected all crucial sectors of the economy, including those most vital for the well being of the people there, such as public health, nutrition and agriculture, as well as banking, trade, investment and tourism.
He said that the Movement saluted the Cuban people for what they had achieved so far, including significant progress in such areas as education and health care, despite the huge difficulties. Yet, the embargo continued to impede socio-economic advances and created unnecessary economic hardship. The embargo denied Cuba access to markets, development aid from international financial institutions and technology transfers, which were all important for the development of Cuba. The United States had in the past claimed that it would reach out to the Cuban people but those words had regrettably not been translated into action.
LUIS-ALFONSO DE ALBA (Mexico), joining with the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, said that today’s meeting once again demonstrated the international community’s “overwhelming” opposition to the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba. Mexico once again expressed its opposition to the measure, and reiterated its rejection of the use of coercive actions, which ran contrary to the principles of the United Nations Charter, produced severe humanitarian impacts and which were a rejection of diplomacy and dialogue as a way to resolve disputes between States. There were many harmful effects of the embargo in sensitive sectors, which had a direct impact on the citizens of Cuba as well as a negative effect on third countries.
Indeed, the international community must not forget that political, economic or military sanctions imposed on States could only emanate from the United Nations Security Council or the General Assembly. Therefore, Mexico had supported all measures against the embargo in a number of forums, and would continue to provide its support for the inclusion of Cuba in global economic dialogue. Dialogue and negotiation continued to be the ideal way to resolve disputes and ensure peaceful cooperation between States, he stressed. Mexico’s proximity to Cuba and its relationship with that country suggested the urgent need for the embargo to come to an end; Mexico would therefore vote in favour of the resolution currently before the Assembly, he said.
MANJEEV SINGH PURI ( India) said the Secretary-General’s report was illustrative of the detrimental impact the embargo had had on international efforts to undertake socio-economic advancement in Cuba. The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Havana had noted the high cost of the embargo and its negative impact on development and humanitarian cooperation implemented by the United Nations system. There was, however, huge potential for strengthening economic and commercial ties between Cuba and the United States, especially in tourism.
Taking advantage of limited openings under its Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000, the United States had become the largest exporter of agricultural products to Cuba, he noted. America’s Congressional efforts to relax or lift the embargo had lent further credence to the annual United Nations resolution calling for the full lifting of the measure. People-to-people contacts between the two nations held immense possibilities for fostering better understanding. The steps taken by the United States in January 2011 to reduce restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba were positive developments but “far from making a fundamental change” in the complex framework of laws and regulations, which were part of the embargo against Cuba, he added.
IDRIS HASSAN ( Sudan) joined, at the outset, with the positions put forward by the Group of 77 developing countries and China, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation and the African Group of States. He extended his country’s solidarity with the people of Cuba, and condemned the unilateral coercive embargo imposed by the United States against that country, which was a “flagrant violation” of the human rights of Cubans as well as international law. The continuation of that embargo required all Member States to exert efforts on the United States administration, as the embargo threatened the dignity and economic progress of a United Nations Member State.
Sudan had lost precious resources as a result of similar measures imposed by the United States; he went on, calling on Member States to apply ameliorative actions, and to accelerate reform of the Security Council. Indeed, it should not be possible for one country to have the right of the veto and to threaten international peace and security for all. He called on the United States to immediately lift the embargos on Cuba, Sudan and all other countries. That “aggression” was a crime and it had to be put to an end, he stressed, as it alienated developing countries and hindered them from achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets and sustainable development.
VITALY CHURKIN ( Russian Federation) expressed disagreement with and rejection of the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed on Cuba by the United States. The position of the Russian Government on that matter was well known and had not changed. It condemned such a measure by the United States, which was an “outdated relic of the Cold War era”. It not only had hindered Cuba’s development model but had resulted in the worsening of the living conditions of the Cuban people.
The United States had eased restrictions, for instance, allowing American citizens to visit family members and relatives in Cuba, he noted. The easing of those restrictions must be replicated in other areas as well. Guided by non-discrimination and other principles, the Russian Federation called for an early repeal of the embargo and urged the United States to reduce its confrontational approach.
MEUTYA VIADA HAFID ( Indonesia) said that the Assembly was convening once again to consider the 51 year-old unilateral policy banning economic, commercial and financial activity with Cuba. Imposed during the Cold War, that embargo had cost the people of Cuba dearly and impacted the economic and commercial relations of third countries. Further, the sanctions exceeded the jurisdiction of national legislation and encroached on the sovereignty of other States that dealt with Cuba. Times had changed since 1961, she said; globalization had created conditions for true global solidarity and partnership among the community of nations.
The continued imposition of the embargo against Cuba violated the principles of the sovereign equality of States, and of non-intervention and non-interference in each other’s domestic affairs, she said, and clearly did not conform to the United Nations Charter. It created an unwanted standoff instead of dialogue to normalize relations, with both political complications, and economic, commercial and financial hardships that were unjustifiable on humanitarian grounds. She urged renunciation of extraterritorial laws and measures that affected the sovereignty of other States, the lawful interests of their subjects, or of other persons under their jurisdiction, and freedom of trade and navigation. She called for the immediate cessation of the embargo.
JULIO ESCALONA OJEDA ( Venezuela) recalled that, in October 2011, the Assembly had approved – for the twentieth time - a resolution against the unilateral embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba. In that historic vote, 186 countries had expressed their support for the Cuban people, while only two countries had opposed it. Venezuela had always supported such resolutions and had repeatedly denounced the “brutal” embargo. It also stressed its rejection of all unilateral measures which had extraterritorial effects, which contravened the principles of the United Nations Charter and violated principles of free navigation, among other laws. Indeed, the “Helms-Burton Act” and similar laws were an affront to people all over the world. The Act undermined the human rights of the Cuban people - a “despicable policy” that punished the Cuban population with the aim of bringing about a change in leadership in Cuba. “[They] will not achieve this”, he stressed of those measures.
While the embargo was an expression of a “barbarous” policy the Cuban people had nevertheless overcome that unjust practice in a “stoic and heroic” way, moving forward with the principle of solidarity even beyond their own borders. The “advocates of imperialism” maintained that Cuba was a threat to the region, which was a “massive lie”. Cuba had, on the contrary, been an element of support and hope in the area of solidarity with States, contributing to the social well being of many other countries. United States President Barack Obama had managed to connect with the majority feeling of the Latin American population living in the United States, and he should continue by finally ending the longstanding embargo. If the new United States Government moved forward in that regard, President Obama would be “acting on the right side of history”, he stressed in that respect.
WANG MIN ( China), said that the commercial and financial embargo against Cuba imposed by the United States had inflicted enormous economic and financial loses on the island nation. Cuba’s economic losses directly resulting from the embargo had exceeded $108 billion by December 2011. Taking into account the depreciation of the United States dollar against the price of gold in the international market, the figure would increase to $1.066 trillion. The measure had caused shortage of commodities and huge suffering to the Cuban people. It also violated their fundamental human rights including the rights to food, health and education as well as their right to development. That also affected interactions between other countries and Cuba and impaired the interests and sovereignty of third countries.
The embargo seriously violated the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter and the relevant General Assembly resolutions, and had met the firm opposition of the vast majority of Member States. “The call of the international community is getting louder and louder”, he said, demanding that the United States Government change its policy towards Cuba. China and Cuba had maintained normal economic, trade and personnel exchanges. The friendly and mutually-beneficial cooperation in various fields between two countries had been growing. China hoped that the relationship between the United States and Cuba would improve so as to promote the stability and development in Latin America and the Caribbean region.
MOOTAZ AHMADEIN KHALIL (Egypt), aligning with the statements delivered on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, the Non-Aligned Movement, the African Group and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, recalled that a little more than 50 years ago, an unjust and unjustifiable unilateral embargo had been imposed by the United States against Cuba. Although the world had profoundly changed since, the “bloqueo” had persisted, in total violation of multilateralism, the norms of international law, and the principles of the Charter and was “an anachronism from a bygone era”. He said the embargo against Cuba was the longest and toughest system of sanctions ever applied against any country in modern history and must be lifted. Last year, 186 countries had voted in favour of General Assembly resolution 66/6 – the twentieth resolution adopted on the issue. Lifting the embargo was not only the Cuban people’s plea, but was also the request of the overwhelming majority of Member States.
He praised the Cuban people for their achievements under difficult circumstances, noting that despite the economic and social hardship caused by the embargo, they had made significant progress in many areas, including education, health care and gender equality. At a time when peoples in his region were bravely fighting for freedom and justice, and some of them, like in his country, were establishing the foundations of a genuine democracy, it was troubling that the United States continued to adopt coercive measures to prevent a neighbouring nation from freely deciding its own political and economic system. Stressing that cooperation and engagement were more effective than isolation and estrangement, he said it was high time for the embargo to end. The re-election of President Obama last week offered the American administration a fresh opportunity to rectify the historic injustice inflicted on Cuba, he said, expressing hope that the opportunity to do so would not be missed.
DIEGO MOREJÓN ( Ecuador) said that in an expression of solidarity, his Government had provided humanitarian aid to the victims and countries in need following the recent hurricane. Expressing concern about the United States’ Helms-Burton Act and its extraterritorial effects, Ecuador wished that the 21 resolutions on the Cuban blockade would finally be implemented in their entirety.
A clause in Ecuador’s Constitution condemned interventions in internal affairs. The current text before the Assembly clearly condemned violations of free trade and navigation, which were enshrined in the United Nations Charter and international law. It was unacceptable to see the rising figures for the cost of the embargo in development. The blockade limited the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed targets. Aligning with the regional groups that had spoken thus far, Ecuador called for the repudiation and full lifting of the “infamous and shameful” blockade.
SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ ( Bolivia) said that the report of the Secretary-General highlighted, once again, the global rejection of the economic and financial embargo which had been imposed “in an arbitrary and unilateral way” against Cuba by the United States Government. Bolivia firmly rejected the use of unilateral measures by any State seeking to impose embargoes that had humanitarian impacts. “This blockade is unjust. It’s illegal. It’s extra-territorial”, he stressed, adding that it violated the principles of the United Nations Charter. Further, the embargo contravened the rights of the Cuban people to self-determination and development, among others.
“The United States is not listening to the global appeal to put an end to this injustice”, he continued. Such an attitude was one which represented “genocide’. Bolivia condemned the coercive nature of the embargo, which also affected other countries around the world. It also commended the courage of the revolutionary people of Cuba, which despite the effects of the embargo was moving forward, and recognized the efforts of the Cuban people to cooperate with Bolivia and other countries. Indeed, while some countries sent armies and soldiers with great weapons, Cuba sent “armies” of doctors and teachers to the most needed areas of Latin America. Cuba proclaimed solidarity, life, dignity and human value, he said, adding that, if the United States in fact defended equality and freedom, its President should immediately lift the “inhuman” embargo against that country.
LE HOAI TRUNG ( Viet Nam) noted that while 20 annual Assembly resolutions had called for an end to the blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba, the measure remained in place and continued to enforce severe economic and financial restrictions on Cuba. The impact on Cuban lives and development caused by the embargo exceeded 1 trillion dollars, he said, adding that the majority of the international community opposed it on the grounds that it contravened the fundamental norms of international law, international humanitarian law and the fundamental principles and purposes of the Charter, especially those of sovereign equality, non-interference and self-determination.
He supported the outcome of the Sixteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, which had reiterated the need to end the embargo. He also stressed his support for the statement by the “G-77” Ministers of Foreign Affairs at their 36th Annual Meeting this year, which had rejected all forms of coercive economic measures, including unilateral sanctions, against developing countries and called for their urgent elimination to ensure that the principles of the United Nations Charter were not undermined and that freedom of trade and investment was protected. He added that he would vote in favour of the resolution.
BRUNO RODRIGUEZ PARRILLA, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, referred to a 1960 quote by then-Under-Secretary of State of the United States, Lester D. Mallory, who had written that the commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba was intended “to cause disenchantment and disaffection […] to weaken the economic life of Cuba […] to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of Government.” That had been the vision that embodied the inhumane, failed and anachronistic policy of eleven successive United States Governments, he added.
In 2008, then presidential candidate Barack Obama had electrified the American people, and after being elected, had announced “a new beginning with Cuba”. However, the reality of the past four years had been characterized by a persistent tightening of the blockade, particularly its extra-territorial dimensions, despite the fact that the General Assembly had approved, by a consistent and overwhelming majority, 20 consecutive resolutions calling for an end to the policy.
“Keeping this policy in force is not in the national interest of the United States”, he said. Quite the contrary, it harmed the interest of that country’s citizens and companies, especially in times of economic crisis and high unemployment. The blockade also harmed the legitimate interests of and discriminated against the Cuban emigration that had settled in the United States, which overwhelmingly favoured the normalization of relations with its home country. Moreover, there was no legitimate or moral reason to maintain the blockade, which was “anchored in the Cold War”. Indeed, it “is just a weapon in the hands of an ever more exiguous, isolated, violent and arrogant minority”, he said.
He went on to describe some of the fines and repercussions imposed against various parties who had allegedly violated the blockade, as well as the human damage caused by it, which was “huge and impossible to calculate”. It caused hardships, shortages and difficulties that affected every family, every boy and girl, every man and women, as well as those with disabilities, senior citizens and the ill. In that regard, he told the story of several hospitals that were unable to treat patients due to a lack of the appropriate medicines, and of children who suffered such ills as the loss of an eye due to retinal cancer because of the lack of appropriate therapies. Given its express purpose and direct effects, the blockade against Cuba qualified as an “act of genocide” according to Article 2(b) of the Geneva Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide of 1948, he stressed, adding that it was a “mass, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of an entire people.”
As was stated in the Secretary-General’s report, the economic damage accumulated over more than 50 years, until 2011, amounted to one trillion six billion dollars. “Any sensible person could figure out the living standards and development levels that we could have achieved if we had had those resources available”, he added, calling the blockade one of the main causes of Cuba’s economic problems and the major obstacle to its economic and social development. It was an act of aggression - a permanent threat to the stability of a country – and constituted a gross violation of the rules that governed international trade, freedom of navigation and the sovereign rights of States.
“President Obama has the opportunity to start a new policy towards Cuba”, he said. It would be a difficult task and he might face serious obstacles, but there was no doubt that it would constitute a “historical legacy”. Today Cuba was submitting to the United States Government a draft agenda for bilateral dialogue aimed at moving towards the normalization of relations, including such fundamental topics as the lifting of the blockade, Cuba’s exclusion from the “arbitrary and illegal” list of terrorism-sponsoring countries, and return of the territory occupied by the Guantanamo Naval base, and others. An essential part of that agenda was the release of the five Cuban anti-terrorists who remained imprisoned or retained in the United States, he added.