UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - U.N. member states voted in record numbers on Wednesday to urge the United States to lift its 46-year-old economic embargo against Cuba, in a non-binding measure adopted for the 17th straight year.
The General Assembly passed a resolution entitled “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” with 185 votes in favor, three against and two abstentions.
The resolution will have no impact on the outgoing administration of U.S. President George W. Bush, who in an October 10 speech called Cuba a “dungeon” and vowed not to lift the embargo until Havana released political prisoners.
“We will change our policy when the people running Cuba free people of conscience from the prisons. But until then, we won’t change,” he said in Florida, home to many Cuban exiles who oppose the island’s communist government.
Neither of the candidates standing in next Tuesday’s U.S. presidential election is expected to abolish the embargo. However, while Republican John McCain supports keeping it, Democrat Barack Obama has backed loosening some parts of it.
Voting with the United States against the U.N. resolution were Israel and the Pacific island state of Palau. Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The General Assembly has told the United States to lift the embargo every year since 1992. Last year’s resolution was approved by 184-4, with one abstention.
This year’s vote was the first since long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed over to his brother Raul in February. The shift has not swayed the Bush administration, which has tightened the embargo during its term of office, slapping restrictions on visits to Cuba and remittances to families.
The financial and trade embargo, which Cuba calls an “economic blockade,” was imposed by President John F. Kennedy in response to Cuba’s alignment with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Presenting the resolution, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque denounced the “illegal and unjust blockade”. Seven in 10 Cubans had spent all their lives under “this irrational and useless policy,” which, he noted, was older than Obama.
The next U.S. president “should decide whether he will admit that the blockade is a failed policy ... or if he persists, with stubbornness and cruelty, to try to defeat the Cuban people through hunger and disease,” Perez Roque said.
U.S. envoy Ronald Godard said the policy was “carefully designed to permit the Cuban people access to food and humanitarian goods, but to limit the ability of Cuba’s repressive government to benefit and consolidate power through its authoritarian control over the Cuban economy.”
Cuba had rejected three offers of U.S. aid following hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which ravaged the island in September, and had not responded to a fourth, Godard said.
The refusals showed “the lack of interest the Castro regime has in the well-being of its own people,” he added, saying Cuba chose instead “to prolong their suffering as a pretext for proposing resolutions such as the one we vote on today.”
Perez Roque said Cuba could not accept “alleged assistance from those who have intensified the blockade.” The U.S. government had refused to let Havana buy relief supplies with private credits from U.S. companies, he said.
U.S. foes from Iran to Venezuela also lambasted the embargo. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said it was “crude pressure by the United States of America against a sovereign state” that was “a remnant from the days of the Cold War.”
But, as in the past, U.S. allies in Europe and elsewhere also voted for the resolution, many objecting to the principle of a U.S. domestic law having extra-territorial impact.
Speaking for the European Union, French envoy Jean-Pierre Lacroix said the embargo was “contrary to commonly accepted rules of international trade” and the EU supported the resolution despite faulting Cuba’s human rights practices.
The EU scrapped diplomatic sanctions against Cuba in June.
Editing by Anthony Boadle