By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly for the 22nd time to condemn the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, whose foreign minister said the American policy in place since 1959 was barbaric and amounted to genocide.
There were 188 votes for the non-binding resolution, entitled “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,” in the 193-nation General Assembly.
The only country that joined the United States in voting against the resolution was Israel.
Last year, there were the same number of votes for the resolution, though the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau voted with Israel and the United States against the resolution. This year, Palau abstained, along with fellow Pacific island nations Micronesia and Marshall Islands.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who said before taking office that he wanted to recast long-hostile U.S.-Cuba relations, has been a disappointment to the Cuban government, which hoped he would do more to dismantle the embargo.
“The human damages caused by the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States are incalculable,” Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the assembly.
“It provokes hardships and is a mass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights,” he said. “The fact that 53 years later the same policy still prevails is something extraordinary and barbaric.”
He added that the economic damage to Cuba amounted to $1.126 trillion and that the embargo “has been classified as an act of genocide” under the Geneva Convention of 1948.
U.S. envoy Ronald Godard dismissed the resolution, saying that while Washington welcomed some of the recent changes in Cuba, the country “still has one of the most restrictive economic systems in the world.”
He added that the United States continues to allow aid and monetary remittances to flow into Cuba.
“The United States is a deep and abiding friend of the Cuban people,” Godard said.
He also urged Cuba’s government to release Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for setting up internet networks - work that a Cuban judge said was a crime against the Cuban state.
Other countries lined up to slam the U.S. embargo, including Ethiopia on behalf of African states, Iran on behalf of the 120-nation non-aligned movement, India, Mexico, China, Ecuador, Russia, Bolivia and Indonesia. Nicaragua’s delegate called the blockade “inhuman and criminal.”
Countries criticizing the U.S. blockade spoke of the importance of non-intervention in the affairs of sovereign states, a concept enshrined in the U.N. charter.
Rodriguez said the blockade “has been further tightened under President Obama’s administration.” Some 30 U.S. and foreign entities were hit with $2.446 billion in fines due to their interaction with Cuba, he said.