U.S. diplomacy with Cuba positive step, but embargo still breaches international law

cuba embargo

The restoring of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba is an historic and positive development, but with its economic blockade still in place against the island nation, the U.S. remains in violation of international law, as expressed 23 years in a row by nearly unanimous United Nations General Assembly votes against the embargo.

Most recently, on Oct. 28, the General Assembly adopted a resolution – as it has done every year since 1991 – calling for an end to the United States economic, commercial and financial embargo on Cuba. With only the United States and Israel voting against, and three small island states abstaining, a whopping 188 UN Member States voted in favor of ending the embargo. Few other issues on earth receive such universal support.

According to the text, the UN reiterated its call upon countries to refrain from applying laws and regulations, such as the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which impact the sovereignty of other nations, the legitimate interests of entities or persons under their jurisdiction and the freedom of trade and navigation.

Recalling its 22 previous resolutions on the subject, the UN expressed concern that since the adoption of those resolutions, “further measures of that nature aimed at strengthening and extending the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba continue to be promulgated and applied, and concerned also about the adverse effects of such measures on the Cuban people and on Cuban nationals living in other countries.”

It once again urged nations that have applied such laws to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible, in line with their obligations under the United Nations Charter and international law.

In a press release following the adoption of this resolution, the UN noted:

In recent times, the blockade imposed by the United States against Cuba had been tightened, and its extraterritorial implementation had also been strengthened through the imposition of unprecedented fines, the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba told the Assembly as he introduced the draft resolution. The accumulated economic damages of the blockade totalled $1.1 trillion, based on the price of gold.

Wednesday’s announcement about the change in U.S. policy was lauded around the world, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcoming the “very important step” taken by the leaders of the United States and Cuba towards normalizing relations.

“This news is very positive,” Ban said. “I’d like to thank President Barack Obama of the United States and President Raúl Castro for taking this very important step towards normalizing relations.”

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, also welcomed the announcement, congratulating Obama “for having taken these historic steps, as necessary as they are courageous, to restore diplomatic relations broken off in 1961.”

He added that “the measures announced today open a path to normalization from which there is no return,” and urged the United States Congress to “take the necessary legislative measures to lift the embargo against Cuba, which remains in force.”

“President Obama has been clear about the need to change a policy that produced neither benefits nor results for 50 years, and only complicated the lives of millions of citizens. We hope that Congress understands this as well,” Insulza said.

Although the U.S. Constitution gives considerable latitude to the president in making foreign policy, which Obama exercised in a big way in moving to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba, lifting the embargo would require legislative action by Congress.

As Obama indicated in his remarks announcing the policy on Wednesday, he has taken virtually all steps that he can take as president to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, short of lifting the economic blockade.

“The embargo,” he said, “that’s been imposed for decades is now codified in legislation. As these changes unfold, I look forward to engaging Congress in an honest and serious debate about lifting the embargo.”

To add your name to an Avaaz petition calling on Congress to lift the embargo, click here.

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