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.
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."
(Editing by Philip Barbara)