By William Ysaguirre
Cuba won an almost unanimous vote from the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday, November 1, to adopt a resolution to end the economic, commercial and financial embargo, which the United States has imposed against Cuba in 1962 after Fidel Castro’s rise to power and the U.S. broke off relations with Cuba that year.
Cuba’s Ambassador to Belize, H.E. Lissette Perez expressed her delight in the favourable vote and her gratitude to the government and people of Belize for our support at the U.N. and continued cooperation in other areas. She said it signalled that the whole world recognized that it was long past time that the U.S. should have lifted its embargo and economic sanctions.
She lamented the fact that U.S. President Donald Trump has hardened his stance against Cuba on June 16 this year, reversing the historic trend begun by President Barack Obama last October 14, to soften U.S. Cold War stance against Cuba, and to move toward normalizing relations between the two countries, which would have led to American citizens being allowed to visit Cuba, and eventually trade with the island.
Cuba first introduced the resolution to end the U.S. blockade at the U.N. in 1991, and won 59 votes in favour, with three against, and 71 abstentions. Cuba has raised the issue every year over the past 25 years, and the number of nations in favour of ending the blockade rose to 101 in 1994, and to 167 by the year 2000. It has gradually grown to 187 in 2010, with only three against. By 2015 almost all members of the UN voted in favour of Cuba – 191 of the 193 members, the only two holdouts voting against were the United States and its strong military ally, Israel. Last year the vote was 191 in favour and none against, as both the U.S. and Israel had abstained.
The U.N. calls for all U.N. Member States to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures which do not conform with their obligations under the U.N. Charter and international law, which reaffirm free trade and navigation. The resolution states that the UN Assembly “once again urges States that have and continue to apply such laws and measures to take the necessary steps to repeal or invalidate them as soon as possible.”
She decried the hardships this has caused in Cuba, the many shortages of vital commodities, the lack of access to spare parts for medical equipment, and other high technology machinery and equipment. The economic cost to Cuba has been horrendous. With Cuba banned from using U.S. currency for international transactions, the island’s situation was much worse than that now being experienced by some CARICOM countries through the loss of correspondent banking relations with the U.S. as a consequence of de-risking.
Cuba has not had correspondent banking relations with the U.S. in the entire 65-year life of the embargo, which has cost the island a cumulative $822 Billion in economic losses, by the Cuban authorities’ estimate! Even now, the U.S. limits the products which can be traded with Cuba, and most require a license from the U.S. Department of Trade. Some Cuban products are allowed into the U.S., but only if they are produced by private enterprise rather than a state-owned industry, but a leading Cuban export – tobacco and Cuban cigars, are excluded.
Nonetheless, Cuba has many friends, as the UN vote shows, and many trading partners willing to defy the U.S. embargo, but a consequence is that Cuban products have had to find markets outside the region. To access many imports, they have had to shop in countries halfway around the globe, which drives up transportation costs for imports, to more than three times as much as what the transportation cost would be, if those products could be sourced from the U.S.
The Cuban doctors and nurses which fortify Belize’s health system, and medical scholarships offered to Belizean students to study in Cuba, bear testament to Cuba’s technological abilities, the continuing friendship between our two nations, despite the U.S. embargo.