(CNSNews.com) – The Obama administration’s decision for the first time not to vote against an annual U.N. resolution calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba brought applause from the world body’s representatives Wednesday, but angered congressional critics of the Castro regime.
“Today the Obama administration turned its back on U.S. law and the suffering Cuban people,” said House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.)
“Worse yet – on a world stage – the administration allowed the Cuban regime to claim moral equivalence between its brutal rule and our democracy,” Royce said. “This is wrong, and it undermines Cubans fighting for basic freedoms.”
By not opposing a resolution critical of its own law, the administration on Wednesday in effect sided with the U.N. against the U.S. Congress, which has resisted calls by President Obama to lift the embargo in line with his Cuba rapprochement policy.
“It’s no surprise the United Nations would endorse economic concessions to the Castro regime,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “But it is shameful for the Obama administration to refuse to abide by existing U.S. law and to dismiss the will of the American people, as expressed through their elected representatives of Congress, in an international forum that often gives voice and legitimacy to America’s adversaries.”
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power won applause in New York when she announced before the vote on the resolution – which has been introduced for the past 25 years – that this time the U.S. would abstain rather than vote “no.”
The General Assembly passed the measure by 191 votes to 0. Israel, the only nation to have supported the U.S. on this issue every time the vote has come up, joined the U.S. in abstaining.
“Israel welcomes the progress achieved in the relations between the US and Cuba and hopes it will lead to a new era in the region,” said Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon. “The U.S. has no more steadfast and loyal ally than Israel and we will continue the close cooperation between our two countries at the U.N.”
Explaining the U.S. policy shift to the gathered delegates, Power said that, far from isolating Cuba, the embargo has isolated the United States.
She stressed that the U.S. does not accept wording in the resolution suggesting that the embargo is contrary to international law or the U.N. Charter.
Power also said the decision to abstain did not mean the U.S. agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government. “We do not,” she said, and went on to list human rights violations including arbitrary detention of government critics and restricting citizens’ access to outside information.
At the same time, Power said the U.S. itself still “has work to do” in fulfilling human rights for its own citizens.
“And we know that at times in our history, U.S. leaders and citizens used the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights in the region to justify actions that have left a deep legacy of mistrust,” she continued. “We recognize that our history, in which there is so much that makes us proud, also gives us ample reason to be humble.”
‘We will never go back to capitalism’
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, dispatched by Havana to lead the annual ritual, charged that the embargo was a systematic violation of their human rights and international law, and qualified as an act of “genocide” in line with international convention.
Rodríguez used the opportunity to reaffirm the Castro regime’s communist ideology.
“We have plenty of dreams that have yet to be realized but they are our dreams. We don’t need dreams that are alien to our culture or our history,” he said.
“We will struggle to build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation. We will never go back to capitalism.”
In other critical reaction from Capitol Hill, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) said the president was entrusted to uphold the law – even laws with which he disagreed – and U.S. law states that the embargo must remain until Cuba meets certain conditions including the freedom of all political prisoners and free, fair elections.
“President Obama's repeated decision to appease ruthless, anti-American dictators is appalling,” he said.
At the State Department’s daily briefing, spokesman John Kirby disputed that the administration was not upholding the law.
“We understand what the law is, and the embargo is law, and so we have an obligation to obey it and we do,” he said.
“Any idea or suggestion that we’re somehow trying to flout law here is just inaccurate. But that doesn’t mean that the president’s policy, while it opposes the embargo, is wrong,” Kirby said. “It’s the president’s prerogative as commander-in-chief to set foreign policy for the United States.”
Wednesday’s session in New York gave some of America’s foes the opportunity to criticize the U.S.
Iran’s delegate said that his country has been the target of “coercive” measured imposed by Washington, while the envoy of Syria’s Assad regime called the embargo a “blatant example of the foreign policy of successive American administrations based on imposing embargoes, punishments and unilateral measures against countries that refuse to submit to its policies.”
Israel is the only U.S. ally to have voted alongside the U.S. every year in the annual Cuba embargo resolution since it was first brought in 1992 (when the measure passed by 59-2).
A handful of other countries have occasionally joined them, although not since 2012. Other countries to have voted “no” over the years include the Marshall Islands (eight times), Palau (seven times), Uzbekistan (three times) and Albania and Paraguay (one time each).