US vows to again oppose UN vote against Cuba embargo

4 min

Washington (AFP)

President Donald Trump's administration will revive Wednesday the annual US tradition of voting against a UN resolution condemning the American trade embargo against Cuba.

For just over a quarter of a century, Cuba has brought the motion before the General Assembly, and every year, Washington and one or two diehard allies voted against -- until last year.

Then, former president Barack Obama decided to abstain from the vote, marking with a symbolic gesture the cautious thaw in relations that his White House had begun to negotiate with Raul Castro's communist regime.

Under Trump, that thaw may be over, even if the neighbors and former Cold War foes have not yet cut off diplomatic ties. In any case, on Wednesday the United States and probably Israel will once again be in a minority of two.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters that US Ambassador Nikki Haley would oppose the measure to underscore Trump's tough new stance on Cuba.

"We've historically voted against that resolution. Last year, the United States abstained," she said.

"Ambassador Haley will be reversing last year's abstention and will be voting against the resolution this year.

"The Trump policy on Cuba gives greater emphasis to advancing human rights and democracy in Cuba while maintaining engagement that serves US national interests," Nauert said.

- Sick diplomats -

Trump's predecessor Obama, oversaw slowly warming ties with Cuba and Havana, including a reopening of the countries' embassies in Havana and Washington and a careful loosening of the trade embargo.

But Trump has vowed to enforce more strongly the restrictions on US tourism and trade that had begun to shift, even before a more recent diplomatic spat over alleged attacks on the health of US diplomats in Havana.

US officials say that at least 24 diplomats have suffered a variety of problems, including hearing loss and brain trauma, since last year due to "health attacks" that some initially blamed on a covert sonic device.

After initially cooperating in an investigation, Cuba has angrily denied that the "attacks" took place and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez over the weekend dubbed the claims "political manipulation aimed at damaging bilateral relations."

But Nauert insisted that the decision to resume the symbolic opposition to the motion was not connected to this incident but part of a broader review of US policy to focus on demanding Cuban democratic reforms rather than building ties.

A draft of this year's resolution, seen by AFP, notes that Trump has already rolled back some of the measures taken by Obama.

- Flagrant violation -

It recalls "the measures adopted by the executive of the United States in 2015 and 2016 to modify several aspects of the application of the embargo, which contrast with the measures announced on 16 June 2017 to reinforce its implementation."

Ahead of the vote, Cuba's UN mission issued a statement denouncing the fact that 70 percent of Cubans were born and raised under an embargo that "hinders Cuba's economic development and constitutes a flagrant violation of the human rights of the Cuban people."

"With his policy towards Cuba, President Trump reverses the progress achieved in bilateral relations after Presidents Raul Castro Ruz and Barack Obama announced on 17 December 2014 the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and the beginning of a process to normalize bilateral ties," it added.

The United States restored diplomatic ties with Cuba in July 2015 and a month later re-opened its embassy in Havana. Obama made a landmark visit to the communist-ruled island in March 2016. His administration saw the thaw as a diplomatic victory

But restoring full trade and financial ties with Cuba would have required legislative action by Congress, where the Republican majority has said human rights concerns must first be addressed.

During his campaign, Trump visited the Cuban exile community in Miami -- traditionally led by conservative voters opposed to any rapprochement with the one-party Castro government -- and promised them his support.

This year, after his election victory, he returned to Miami to address a group of activists and veterans of the failed CIA-led Bay of Pigs invasion by Cuban exiles and announced he was rolling back some of the breaches in the embargo.