Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Today's UN vote

Today the UN General Assembly will vote on a resolution (text here, pdf) that urges the United States to end its Cuba embargo.

There are lots of reasons, depending on your point of view, not to pay attention to this event. It’s a top priority of Cuban diplomacy. The debate will feature Cuban assertions about the embargo’s damages to the Cuban economy ($3.77 billion in 2007) that can’t be verified, and that ignore the cost to Cuba’s economy of Cuba’s own economic policies. The resolution has no teeth and the UN has no enforcement power. The resolution asserts that the embargo violates international law, as if the United States lacks the right to refrain from trade with another country. In the debate, Cuba will go one better and call U.S. policy “genocidal” not just rhetorically, but as a matter of international law.

On top of all that, the resolution has been presented, debated, and voted upon 16 times before, every year since 1992. The score so far: Cuba 16, United States 0.

If there has been any drama in this, it has been the slow movement of U.S. allies over the years. They used to abstain, but now vote in favor of the resolution. Last year the vote was 184-4, with Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Israel joining the United States. (Israel trades with and invests in Cuba.)

So if the vote today brings the score to 17-0, it will not exactly break new ground, but it will remind us of a few things.

First, Cuba knows how to do multilateral diplomacy.

Second, while many governments agree with U.S. criticisms of Cuban human rights practices, virtually all agree, as the resolution says, that U.S. sanctions have “adverse effects” on the Cuban people. And virtually all are willing to vote to urge the United States to lift the embargo.

Third, if a new U.S. Administration decides that it wants to work more closely with allies and other countries on the Cuba issue, U.S. sanctions – from the embargo to direct action against third-country banks and companies – are an obstacle.


Anonymous said...


normally your comments are fairly well balanced, but you really missed the mark (IMHO) re the UN vote against the embargo. The vote does have significance, because of its consistency in overwhelmingly condemning it. The embargo does violate international law, and only those who think the US is above international law (see Iraq) would subscribe to the view that the vote is irrelevant.

More important, however, was your comment "The resolution asserts that the embargo violates international law, as if the United States lacks the right to refrain from trade with another country."

If the United States government wants to refrain from economic or political associations with Cuba that's one thing; but to force each and every corporation or business in America, no matter what size, to refrain from business with Cuba is an entirely different matter. (I know there is one way trade in foodstuff, that only makes the embargo more of a sham.) The United States government does not own or does not operate these companies, and so these businesses should be able to trade or conduct economic associations with who they want to.

In addition, the embargo also prohibits Cuban products from being sold in the US, again because the US government forbids it, regardless of what private companies in American want. And the embargo has extra-territorial impact, I've seen it first hand in Canada, and that is against international law.

So to blithely toss out that phrase, as if the US government can pick and choose regardless of the impact it has on legal corporations operating in the US, is disingenuous in the least. I thought in the land of the capitalist free and home of the economic brave, American companies have the right to choose who they do business with. When the US government forbids them, that's the height of government intervention, socialism almost.

So what is the legal justification for the government to impose its will on each and every company in the US? The only reason the government has the right to forbid companies from doing trade is in time of war or national security -- which is the basis for the embargo (Trading with the Enemy Act.) And if you agree with that then that opens up a whole new reality of looking at Cuba-American relations re dissidents, civil rights, protection of its citizens and all sorts of other things. If the US considers itself at war with Cuba, then does not Cuba have the right to defend itself? This is the heart of the two countries relationship for the past 50 years, one that is never, hardly ever, discussed.

leftside said...

Yeah Phil, did you miss your coffee this morning? This was a bit harsh.

The result is in - 185-3 - the most lopsided result ever.

People suffer and even die in Cuba because of the US policy. The impact on the health sector is serious and should not be blithely dismissed. Cubans can be excused for their use of hyperbole. The impact of $3.7 billion on a country of 11 million people is extraordinary and effects every facet of Cuban life. The fact that this embargo and related policies are 100% useless makes the shame on our nation even greater.

Anonymous said...

U.S. this and U.S. that, blah, blah, blah....nothing ever about the criminal regime and its crimes against the Cuban people

Mambi_Watch said...

I thought the post was well written. I see Phil's point. The vote itself is not a big deal, but its value comes from the long voting record and the potential of a multilateral solution.

I personally think the genocide case is well argued. The health effects of the Democracy Act of 1992 was associated with an epidemic that hit Cuba afterward and documented in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The letter of the law pertaining to Genocide applies well in illustrating how Cubans were affected by the 1992 Democracy Act. Other research has also shown the uncontroversial economic impact of that Act on the health of Cuban at the time.

It was not a massive epidemic (which resulted with mass death), but the law on Genocide still applies.

Anonymous said...

My honest opinion is that the US is not bothered by this vote. It is not a US priority to convince countries to support the embargo. The vote is a propaganda victory for the Castro regime, the US knows it, and could not care less. Castro is happy, and the US is not really uhappy about it.

Conchscooter said...

The embargo isn't about Cuba it's about garnering votes in South Florida. The embargo keeps Castro in power and used to keep Republicans in the White House. Now perhaps the embargo can go as soon as the Republicans leave the White House.

Anonymous said...

genocide...good grief. It totally debases the meaning of the term.

Listen, pinheads, as long as you sit there and talk only about what the U.S. needs to do to change that's all you'll ever do: sit and talk. Unless you add to that what Cuba needs to do to change, nothing is going to happen.

Mambi_Watch said...

Only Cubans in Cuba can really say what "needs" to be done, and give it meaning. Do a search on what Cuban dissidents are saying and you'll be surprised.

It's another rejection of economic sanctions.

Anonymous said...

Your clients at Sherritt International really want that embargo removed don't they?

Let me ask you this, if a country can't set aside its differences with the U.S. to condemn the human rights situation in Cuba, what good is that country?

Anonymous said...

hey mr. mambi, ok, let's listen to what the dissidents say needs to be done IN CUBA. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, free elections....the list goes on. I'm all for it...are you?

Anonymous said...

Mambi Watch is a Castro supporter and apologist, and his idea of freedom for the Cuban people differs from yours like day from night. As long as the Castro regime (either brother) is in power and enslaves the Cuban people, peope like Mambi Watch are happy and content. His problem is not Castro and his Communist tyranical regime, is the US. Is called leftist ideology, and anti-Americanism, both are sickenesses that have also infected the other commetator by the name of Leftside.

Mambi_Watch said...

Yes, I support all freedoms listed above and more for the people of Cuba. And, I morally support the efforts of all the various dissident organizations in Cuba (even the ones that may support the embargo).

But, notice what many of those organizations are saying. Look at what Darsi Ferrer has said about the embargo. He feels that it acts as an excuse for political repression by the Cuban government.

The list goes on and on. But it all depends on the methods you have faith in to achieve those freedoms that all people deserve.

Anonymous said...

as usual, its easy to get off topic. so, in that case, can you right wingers explain your belief that the embargo was put in place initially, and continues to remain, because of Cuba's so called human rights abuses. It is cause and effect, but perspective is everything. Regardless, if one side agrees the human rights (they are civil rights, not human rights) abuses are wrong, and the other agrees the embargo is wrong -- what side has the moral stand to end the worst abuse -- that always lies with the more powerful. For the US to continue to try and destroy a small, weak country is criminal.

Phil Peters said...

Anon from 1:07, I think it's pretty clear that I'm not a fan of the Cuba embargo, for all kinds of reasons. But it doesn't bother me that the US government has the ability to limit trade for foreign policy reasons, even though I think that power is used counterproductively in the Cuba case. As to whether the embargo violates international law, I doubt it, but others can weigh in on that. Finally, regarding the UN vote, I didn't intend to dismiss its importance, but it's the 17th time the message has been delivered, so it's not new.

Anonymous said...

thanks for your reply, agree it is counterproductive, but reaches beyond that when it harms the cuban people directly in so many ways. And when it has extra-territorial application, it is illegal if you believe in the international standards of law under the UN.
What I just don't understand is what foreign policy reasons, that make sense, allow the embargo to continue. My only answer is that this is not a foreign policy issue, as has been admitted by American officials in the past, they consider this a national issue, and that has a whole other series of ramifications. Hope the new admin will look at the latest vote and move towards ending the travel restrictions first for Cuban Americans, then for Americans, then tackled the embargo issue.