Despite global opposition, the US stays adamant on Cuban embargo

The UN logo and the Cuban flag
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The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has voted on a motion to condemn the decades-long US embargo against Cuba. The vast majority of the world’s nations supported the resolution. But two countries voted against it. It will come as a surprise to no one which two countries they are.

Overwhelming support in General Assembly…

On 23 June, a UN resolution on the “necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” passed the body’s General Assembly. 184 member nations were in favor. Members have voted on the motion every year since 1992, with the exception of 2020 owing to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. In every one of those years, the resolution has passed the assembly with a majority in support.

Usually there are only a handful of countries that oppose it, and this year was no different. Only the US and Israel voted against the measure, while Colombia, Brazil, and Ukraine abstained. This follows a long pattern of the world’s sole remaining superpower, along with its proxy state in the Middle East, opposing the motion. In 2018, the US and Israel were again the sole countries voting against it. The following year, Brazil’s far-right government of Jair Bolsonaro joined them in opposition.

…but thwarted by US Security Council veto

Despite almost three decades of majority votes in support of the motion, however, the resolution has never been formally adopted. This is because, as a permanent member of the UN security council, the US has veto power. It has consistently used this power to unilaterally overrule the measure. In addition to thwarting the will of the vast majority of the world’s nations, the US also has a huge conflict of interest. Because it’s the US itself that imposes the embargo in the first place.

It first did so in the 1960s following the overthrow of Fulgencio Batista‘s dictatorship in 1959. Batista was a ruthless autocrat with a long record of human rights abuses, corruption, and crushing dissent. But Washington had long supported him because of his obedience to US power. With more and more restrictive measures being added, the embargo has ultimately morphed into a full-blown economic blockade. According to UN figures, it’s cost the Cuban economy around $130bn throughout the decades. The Washington-based NGO Center for International Policy, meanwhile, has said that the embargo has “created a situation of scarcity and uncertainty that has affected all aspects of Cuban society”.

Bogus human rights concerns, flagrant hypocrisy

Successive administrations in Washington have claimed that the embargo is predicated on human rights concerns and deficits in democracy in Cuba. The reality, however, is that it was imposed in revenge for Cuba threatening US economic interests. The revolutionary government of Fidel Castro committed what for Washington is the cardinal sin: nationalizing US-owned enterprises. Moreover, the US’s double standards are transparent when you consider the wider context. Not only has Washington not issued any punitive measures whatsoever against states with much worse records on human rights and democracy (such as Saudi Arabia), but it has rewarded them so long as they serve US interests.

And in a cruel irony, the embargo has itself become a major human rights violation. Mainstream human rights organizations and regional institutions have condemned its effects on Cuba’s civilian population. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, for example, has stated that “the economic sanctions have an impact on the Cuban people’s human rights, and therefore urges that the embargo be lifted”.

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As The Canary has previously reported, US sanctions very rarely harm their stated targets in government. But rather they harm the general population, and especially those who are worst off. Amnesty International has pointed specifically to “the negative impact of the embargo on the economic and social rights of the Cuban population, affecting in particular the most vulnerable sectors of society”. And what’s worse, US sanctions end up not only causing great harm but failing even on their own narrow terms. Obviously, the embargo hasn’t succeeded in its purported goal of bringing about ‘regime change’ in Cuba. (Not that the US has either the credibility or the right to impose its preferred government on another country, of course.)

US isolation continues under Biden

This latest UN vote again highlights the US’s isolation on the world stage when it comes to this issue. In addition to being on the losing side of the vote, the US had also been one of the only countries to not have diplomatic relations with Cuba until 2014. In that year, the administration of then-president Barack Obama initiated a ‘normalization’ process that re-established diplomatic relations but kept the embargo in place. His successor, Donald Trump, rolled back many of these reforms. This was in part to curry favor with the Cuban-American exile community and its political representatives. The majority of this population lives in Florida. And due to its status as swing state, this constituency forms a crucial voting bloc in presidential elections.

High hopes were pinned on Joe Biden’s incoming administration to take things back to the Obama era, or perhaps even drop the embargo altogether. However, so far Biden has left the Trump era policies intact. And, worse still, his press secretary has said that “a Cuba policy shift is not currently among [his] top priorities”. This should come as no great surprise, however. As The Canary has argued on many occasions, when it comes to foreign policy, the US essentially has two right-wing major parties. And both parties uphold the US’s system of global coercion. Indeed, it was under Democrat Bill Clinton’s administration that the embargo’s major provisions were codified into the Helms-Burton Act.

Clearly, the US’s inflexibility on this issue is a function of this wider reality of its bipartisan neo-imperialist consensus. As laudable as the UN vote is, therefore, it’s clearly not enough to force the US’s hand to lift sanctions. Action at the UN must go alongside the mobilization of mass solidarity movements, pressuring other governments to openly defy the US’s destructive policy toward Cuba.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons – Wilfried Huss and Wikimedia Commons – Brian Snelson

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