UN Calls On US To End Trade Embargo Against Cuba

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The United Nations General Assembly has, for the tenth straight year, approved a resolution calling for an end to the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.

The resolution, introduced by Cuba, was approved Tuesday on a 167-3 vote. Opposing it were the United States, Israel and the Marshall Islands. Latvia, Micronesia and Nicaragua and Morocco abstained from voting.

Cuba's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Felipe Perez Roque, said that following Hurricane Michelle's devastation in Cuba earlier this month, the United States had declared its willingness to assess the country's need for assistance.

Nothing like this had happened during more than 40 years of tense Cuba-US relations, he noted.

But although Havana asked Washington - on this exceptional occasion - to allow Cuban state-run companies buy food, medicines and raw material from the U.S., arrangements could not be made, Perez Roque said.

In fact, the United States refused to let Cuba buy the food and medicine on its terms. The U.S. insists that no U.S. financing be used to fund such purchases.

The foreign minister called the blockade against Cuba illegal. He said it violated the U.N. charter as well as the Geneva Conventions, by depriving the Cuban people of access to food and medicine - an action prohibited by international law, even in times of war.

In addition, he said, the blockade no longer has majority support in the United States and has been rejected by the international community.

U.S. delegate James Cunningham told the General Assembly that the economic embargo against the Castro government is a matter of bilateral trade policy, not an issue the Assembly should consider.

"The goal of our policy is to foster a transition to a democratic form of government, to protect human rights, to help develop a civil society and to provide for the economic prosperity that the Cuban government's retrograde economic policies are denying the Cuban people," Cunningham said.

The Cuban resolution also called for the repeal of the Helms-Burton Act, which allows American citizens who were Cuban citizens before Castro took over in 1959 to file lawsuit in U.S. courts against foreign companies or individuals who "traffic" in expropriated property. Congress passed the act, which President Clinton signed into law in 1996.

The resolution said the Helms-Burton Act contained "numerous aggressive measures against Cuba that include heavy sanctions for businesspeople from third countries engaged in business with Cuba. We (Castro government) know some of these businesspeople; they and their families have been denied visas to travel to the United States, but they have maintained they operations in Cuba with dignity."

The resolution also called on the United States government to repeal the Torricelli Act, because it prohibits "ships that have called at a Cuban port from entering U.S. ports." The Castro government said it prevents subsidiaries of American companies that are based in third world countries from selling goods to Cuba.

The Castro government claims that up until 1992, Cuba purchased an estimated $700 million worth in food and medicines from those subsidiaries on an annual basis.

Assistant Secretary of State Lino Gutierrez, in a speech on Tuesday, made it clear that the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba "stands firm as a U.S. foreign policy," even though four U.S. companies have recently signed contracts to sell food to Cuba.

Gutierrez said the U.S. offer to send a State Dept. team to Cuba to assess its post-hurricane needs still stands. But that's not what Castro wants, he said: "What Cuba does want to do is purchase food and medicine to replenish its civil defense stockpiles."