Human rights, the UN and the US blockade

November 23, 1994

The following speech was given by the Cuban foreign minister, ROBERTO ROBAINA, to the 49th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on October 3, 1994.

While we are here making speeches, the military occupation of a small and impoverished Caribbean country is being carried out. The unusual pact with the coup generals, assassins threatened yesterday and obliging associates today, ignores the decisions of the international community and the will of the Haitian people.

Among the victims of this unfortunate episode are the fundamental principles of the Charter and the very authority of the UN Security Council, which were completely ignored in actions which nevertheless usurped their name.

History has been repeated.

Haiti's 20th-century dictators were installed by the guns and boots of an invading military force, which trained and supported those who are still tyrannising their people. How can anyone trust that democracy will emerge from those forces tomorrow?

Cuba consistently supported and promoted efforts for the restoration of constitutional order in Haiti, including the unconditional and unrestricted return of President Aristide, and rejected attempts to resort to foreign intervention as a means of resolving the conflict.

Cuba also denounced the decision adopted by the Security Council to allow the violation of the Charter by some of its members and to support interventionist designs.

Now that the invasion has taken place, all we can do is repeat the affirmation of our government: those who now applaud the invasion could be tomorrow's victims.

It is clear that the essential component of this drama is the manipulation of the United Nations, an organisation founded under the precept of the sovereign equality of its members.

Cuba reiterates its firm rejection of any attempt to unilaterally decide questions that are of vital interest to all peoples, and of the abuse of the anachronistic privilege of the veto, which the Charter grants to a group of states with permanent membership on the Security Council.

It is of the utmost urgency to bring democracy into international relations and into the United Nations. It is essential to respect and to create respect for the Charter, and to put an end to its systematic violation by the most powerful.

The democratisation of the United Nations is now an undeferable imperative, on the eve of the 50th anniversary commemoration of the organisation's founding. Now is the time for this organisation to stop responding to a handful of powerful nations.

Mr Chairman, as a distinguished son of the African continent whose election honours us all, you are well aware that Somalia is still fresh our memories.

The saga of hunger in that sister country has continued, although television news programs no longer show the horrific images which served as a prelude to the so-called humanitarian invasion supported by this organisation.

These military invasions will not rescue Haiti and Somalia from poverty. The ills of the Third World are not solved by military occupations. They only respond to narrow interests.

In both cases, which have become dangerous precedents, the Security Council acted under pressure from a superpower, which capitalised on the actions taken without any consultation whatsoever with the majority of the member states.

In both cases, under the supposed authority of the Security Council, essential principles of that body's role, such as neutrality and impartiality, have been violated.

These are examples of the illegitimate expansion of the Security Council into areas which do not fall within its jurisdiction, such as the right to intervene on vague pretexts of humanitarian protection, or the capacity to authorise one or various states to take unilateral punitive actions, under Chapter 7 of the Charter, in invasion, occupation and intervention operations.

The sovereignty, free self-determination and political independence of many countries, in particular — although not exclusively — Third World countries, are at stake.

There are those who are trying to give the Security Council a free hand and a preponderant role in matters well outside its mandate, with prerogatives which were never foreseen for this organisation, and on the backs and suffering of various peoples.

There is no doubt the function of the Security Council merits the closest examination and that the Council has to be made more democratic, with a wider membership, more representative of the Third World.

Small and poor countries have full justification and the right to demand a presence there and to demand equitable and open work procedures. Underdeveloped Latin America, Africa and Asia must have permanent membership. Membership restricted to the big economic powers associated with the West is not acceptable.

The Security Council cannot assume attributes that have not been conferred upon it, nor try to place itself above the organisation that created it, and to which it is accountable. This Assembly has to exercise its duty to monitor the Security Council's actions and to demand that it respect the Charter.

There also needs to be a greater response to the interests of the underdeveloped world in other areas of the United Nations. The crucial problems of Third World peoples are not resolved and cannot be resolved through invasions or military operations categorised as humanitarian, just as they cannot be resolved with emergency aid programs only directed at mitigating the most alarming consequences of structural underdevelopment.

If the international community and the United Nations, its most representative organisation, do not promptly adopt the measures and programs required to promote the development of the Third World, we shall soon be discussing here the causes and consequences of the arrival of underdevelopment in the First World.

The growing preoccupation provoked in industrialised societies by emigration issues is illustrative here. The deliberations at the recently concluded International Conference on Population and Development confirm this.

It is evident that the concepts of cooperation imposed by the North, with widely publicised titles and little real content in terms of the problems of poverty, have gained ground, and they tend to mutilate the right to development demanded by the peoples.

Terms such as "sustainable development", "human development" and "sustainable human development", which well may entail defensible ideals on a theoretical level, are being used in practice to erode the commitments undertaken during years of hard work to facilitate international cooperation for development on a just and democratic basis.

In this way, unacceptable conditions are being imposed and there is interference in the internal policies of states, and attempts are made to determine strategic development goals for nations that, although poor, are nevertheless sovereign and independent.

In this manner, the right to development proclaimed by this organisation is being subordinated to the interests of transnational economic powers which continue dictating the rules and practices of international economic relations.

We cannot allow a United Nations Development Program to be based on the replacement of the International Development Strategy and other important instruments created through the efforts of developing countries to protect their interests and to which they have pledged an attitude of great flexibility and compromise.

Nor can we allow the United Nations to be used to apply neo-liberal economic models that bring underdevelopment and misery to several millions of people, in exchange for short-lived economic growth which favours only elite minorities in Third World countries and their partners in the opulent North.

Cuba's position is that the primary focus should be to restructure international economic relations on the basis of just, egalitarian, non-discriminatory and effective cooperation with countries of the southern hemisphere.

Poverty is not a preconceived destiny, much less a human right, no matter how much the wealthy nations insist on demonstrating it is.

As long as respect for human rights is part and parcel of the manipulations of a handful of rich societies, the dispossessed will continue to play the role of the accused in the southern half of the planet, while the possessors of the North will continue to play the role of judge and jury to the world.

Attempts to impose as universal dogmas government systems designed by the privileged of the First World, without taking into account the different socioeconomic, historical and cultural realities of the Third World, are no longer acceptable and are doomed to failure.

We must also eradicate hypocrisy.

It would be unforgivable for us to remain indolent in the face of humanity's tragedy and concentrate on elitist concerns.

War, xenophobia, neo-fascism and racism are proliferating all around us; perfidious forms of women's and children's degradation are on the rise; unemployment is up; the environment is deteriorating and the cultures of entire populations and nationalities are being trampled.

Millions of human beings live in poverty, are hungry, have no access to minimal health care and education, while the United Nations has done little, really very little, to treat these issues as clear-cut cases of human rights violations.

The countries that are fighting with equity and justice for their development are working for their peoples' human rights.

The countries that prevent our development violate the human rights of all our peoples.

The Association of Caribbean States was recently formed as a way to respond to the globalisation of the international economy and to strengthen cooperation between states, countries and territories in that part of the world.

We are people of the Caribbean region, conscious of the fact that only with the closest cooperation can we become a competitive market.

This new organisation, spawned out of urgent need, contributes together with the Ibero-American Summits to advances in essential and necessary economic integration and the joint analysis of strategies common to us, in an environment that links us historically and culturally.

Cuba, as part of that community of Latin American and Caribbean nations, to which it belongs organically, decided at the opportune moment to sign the Tlatelolco Treaty for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in our region.

As is well known, in the part of our country occupied illegally by the United States and in neighbouring Puerto Rico, there are anchored warships containing nuclear weapons.

Without renouncing our demand that they be removed, we subscribe to the noble purposes of that agreement, as testimony of our desire for Latin American and Caribbean integration, as a gesture to our brothers and sisters in the region and with the intent to widen the scope of agreements and dialogue.

For the first time since the Ibero-American Summit in 1991, our Latin peoples south of the Rio Grande came together to discuss matters of mutual interest.

In the meantime, another Summit has been convoked in nothing less than Miami. All the countries of the Americas have been invited with the exception of the country that I represent. It is said that the summit will cover three main issues: free trade, collective security and the encouragement of programs to alleviate extreme poverty.

Later on we will have to see which of the two Americas benefits most from the meeting in Miami.

If the outcome of that meeting has positive results for Latin Americans, Cuba would sincerely and frankly salute the event even though it were not present.

It could be an excellent opportunity to demand from our northern neighbour a fair deal in commercial and financial relations and in the transfer of technology, and to request that it fulfil its duties in the area of international cooperation.

It remains to be seen how a government that cancels the meagre aid programs to the region could find funds to mitigate the misery of the countries that have been called to the meeting.

A few words about my country.

On two consecutive occasions, this forum has by an overwhelming majority recognised the need to put an end to the economic, commercial and financial blockade that the US government has maintained against my country. On two occasions the United States' response to this Assembly has been silence.

It is not a case of victory for the blockaded nation and defeat for the blockading nation, as some would like to see it. Among those who have voted to end this irrational siege are to be found not only our friends, but governments which do not support our politics 100 per cent.

Simply, the vast majority of the world views the blockade as an action that has no legal justification, no moral precept and no ethical foundation, which not only casts a shadow on our sovereignty, but also on the most elementary principles of international coexistence.

This is a policy which invites the repudiation of every country that believes in the rule of law and mutual respect between states.

In this complex and troubled world that seeks to be pluralistic, free and democratic, the United States seeks to deny my country, Cuba, the place it deserves as a sovereign nation.

It seems that the history of the last two centuries doesn't count and worse still, that the Cold War has been frozen forever in that little parcel of earth and sun, for nothing more than the "sin" of wanting to be truly free and independent, 90 miles away from the greatest power on the planet.

My country has been through ordeals that virtually no country has been through: with the disappearance of socialism, in Europe, we were left overnight without markets, sources of raw materials and financing.

The process of overcoming internal difficulties and instituting reforms of economic and administrative structures created in another phase of our socialist project was also rocked by the tightening of a policy of isolation and asphyxiation that our people have been stoically enduring for years.

In the midst of this dangerous combination of elements and prognostications of the fall of Cuba since 1989, my country has not collapsed and is not going to collapse.

We have survived all kinds of strategies, from that of fomenting subversive and terrorist activities from abroad to that of applying pressure in numerous directions with the objective of stepping up the blockade which, as I said before, this Assembly has repudiated for two consecutive years.

This does not stop the situation from being tough and complex for my people, whose proven patriotism and national dignity deserves the firmest call for justice in this world forum and the repudiation once again of the cruel hostilities to which Cuba has been subjected for so long.

The unequal fight that we have been forced to wage for so many years has not mitigated our vocation for peace.

Cuba persists in its desire to find negotiated solutions to its differences with any country, as long as it is on the basis of sovereign equality and the only condition of mutual respect.

This organisation has more than enough proof of this.

We are a judicious and flexible people, civilised and loyal to the agreements reached on the basis of equality and sovereignty.

A series of bilateral meetings took place recently in New York which led to partial solutions to the longstanding differences between Cuba and the United States.

The spirit of respect and the seriousness of these negotiations, plus both sides' desire to find solutions, made it possible to reach an agreement that was satisfactory for both parties. If it is honoured in its entirety, it will lay the foundation for normalising migratory relations between our two countries.

We want peace with our neighbours. Peace with dignity. Cuba will never put its sovereignty, its independence and its freely chosen socialism on any negotiating table, just as it would not ask concessions of this nature from any other country.

We are opening up to the world more every day, without setting conditions and without having conditions imposed on us.

A great power is blockading us and blockading its own people and the sons and daughters of my people living in its territory, depriving them of the possibility of providing aid or of being reunited with their relatives. Such cruelty has no comparison in the history of massive violations of human rights.

We do not beg for anything, because our national hero Jose Marti — the centenary of whose death in the struggle for true independence will be commemorated next year — taught us that the "laws of humanity can never be cowardice and indifference". And by his own command, "We ask the world, sure of the reply, if humanity will be indifferent or irreverent to the sacrifice of a generous people, who lay down their lives to become closer to it."

Thank you very much. [Reprinted from the October 19 Granma International, newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party.]

You need Green Left, and we need you!

Green Left is funded by contributions from readers and supporters. Help us reach our funding target.

Make a One-off Donation or choose from one of our Monthly Donation options.

Become a supporter to get the digital edition for $5 per month or the print edition for $10 per month. One-time payment options are available.

You can also call 1800 634 206 to make a donation or to become a supporter. Thank you.