On November 9, for the 15th year in a row, the UN General Assembly called on the US government to lift its 44-year-old "economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba.". The non-binding resolution was approved by a record 183 votes, with only four countries (the US, Israel, Marshall Islands and Palau) voting against, and only one (Micronesia) abstaining.
Reuters reported that "Cuban foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque told the assembly the US embargo prevented Havana from getting even modest credits from the World Bank and other institutions, prevented Cuba's trade with subsidiaries of US corporations abroad and barred foreign businessmen from the United States if they invested in Cuba".
"The economic war unleashed by the US against Cuba, the longest and most ruthless ever know, qualifies as an act of genocide and constitutes a flagrant violation of international law", Perez Roque told the assembly.
He noted that under the trade embargo, Washington banned trade and tourism from the US; it blocked Cuba from using the US in its external financial transactions; it forbade US banks and their subsidiaries in other countries from working with Cuba; and it stopped the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) from granting credits to Cuba. More importantly, Washington imposed these provisions on Cuba's economic relations with other countries, preventing businesses from other countries from investing in Cuba, and threatening those who ignored the ban from entry into the US.
He said that Washington was continuing with its plans to "re-colonise" Cuba — plans that had been introduced in 2004, and updated in 2006. US President George Bush had tightened the economic blockade by limiting family-related visits to Cuba by Cuban residents in the US and introduced further restraints on academic, cultural, scientific and sports exchanges with the US.
Reuters reported that "Australia attempted to amend the document by adding a paragraph saying that the US measures were motivated by 'valid concerns' about the lack of freedom in Cuba and called on Havana to release political prisoners.
"This fared a bit better but still was defeated by 126 to 51 and five abstentions. The European Union supported the Australian human rights amendment but voted for the resolution on lifting the embargo because of US regulations that punish foreign firms, said Ambassador Kirsti Lintonen of Finland."
The hypocrisy of Australian PM John Howard's government in moving this amendment was truly breathtaking, since the only prisoners being held in Cuba who have not been tried and convicted according to internationally recognised legal processes are those held by the US military at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay. Among those prisoners is an Australian citizen — David Hicks — who, with Canberra's support, has been held without trial for more than four years.
While voicing opposition to the substantive resolution, US representative Ronald Godard endorsed the amendment moved by Australian UN ambassador Robert Hill (formerly Australia's defence minister). Washington and its Australian and EU allies were obviously intent on trying to make an association between the Cuban government and alleged "human rights violations" in order to maintain and further tighten the US blockade policy against the Cuban people and their revolutionary government.
If Washington were really interested in developing the human rights of the Cuban people it would have already ended its inhumane blockade, which has caused Cuba at least US$86 billion in direct economic damage.
Cuba's delegation started to circulate its draft on October 17. According to the Cuban UN delegation, from that date onwards numerous bilateral consultations were held with other delegations but the day before the vote was due no delegation had requested that Cuba introduce any changes to its text.
Canberra's role in introducing the "human rights" amendment at the last minute was clearly aimed at diverting the assembly's debate away from Washington's illegal economic war against Cuba.
If the US was interested in a serious discussion on human rights in Cuba, Perez Roque pointed out, it would have moved a separate resolution in the specialised UN bodies dedicated to this subject. But this would have been an invitation for UN delegations to compare and contrast Cuba's record with that of the perpetrators of the atrocities at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.
[Dick Nichols is the national coordinator of the Australian Socialist Alliance.]