(CNSNews.com) – Every fall since 1992 Cuba has rallied ever-larger majorities of states at the U.N. to isolate the United States in condemnation of the blockade of the communist-ruled island, but this year the U.S. is fighting back, with a raft of proposed amendments seeking to focus attention on the regime’s human rights record.
U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley is offering no fewer than eight amendments to the draft resolution, each one looking at specific rights-related concerns. The General Assembly is scheduled to vote on them on Thursday, before voting for the anti-embargo resolution itself.
The U.S. strategy attracted strong criticism – both from Cuba’s government and on Wednesday from its allies, who charged in New York that the proposed amendments were an attempt to “muddy the waters” and “break unanimity.”
Haley herself characterized the amendments as an opportunity for countries to stand up and be counted on the issue of human rights for the Cuban people.
“Every year Cuba puts forth a resolution that blames Cuba’s poverty, repression, and lack of freedom on the United States,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Tomorrow the U.N. will hear what we have to say about that and countries will have to vote between Cuba or the U.S. Who will vote with us?”
This year’s approach stands in sharp contrast to the Obama administration’s unprecedented decision two years ago to abstain from voting on a U.N. resolution that condemns United States’ policy.
During Wednesday’s General Assembly session, several representatives looked back nostalgically at President Obama’s opening up towards Havana, and to that 2016 vote. So much had changed since President Trump in June last year rolled back some of his predecessor’s policies designed to normalize relations with Cuba, they lamented.
Delegates urged their colleagues not to be swayed by the U.S. draft amendments this year.
South Africa’s representative called them “clearly an attempt to obscure the serious human rights violation that is being imposed under the embargo,” while his Namibian counterpart called on member-states not to support measures that “would surely weaken our commitment to multilateralism.”
Bashar Ja’afari, ambassador for the Assad regime, called the amendments an attempt to “muddy the waters” and “break the unified position” held by the entire General Assembly except for the U.S. “and its minion, Israel.”
Some of the language in the draft amendments, said Ja’afari, was “unacceptable” and “constitutes a dangerous precedent in the history of the United Nations.”
As Ja’afari alluded to, last fall the annual Cuba embargo resolution was adopted by an overwhelming margin – 191 votes to two – with only Israel backing the United States.
Over the 26 years of the annual resolution, the only countries ever to have joined the U.S. in voting “no” were Israel (every time), the Marshall Islands (eight times), Palau (seven times), Uzbekistan (three times) and Albania and Paraguay (once each).
Although Thursday’s vote will likely reflect similarly strong support for the resolution, Haley will be hoping her amendments – even if none of them pass – prompt at least some member-states to demonstrate concern for human rights in Cuba.
Many of the delegates who spoke on Wednesday are from countries that themselves have poor human rights records. Of the 30 who delivered statements, 14 represent regimes ranked “not free” by the democracy watchdog Freedom House. (They were Algeria, Angola, Belarus, China, Egypt, Gabon, Iran, Laos, North Korea, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.)
Neither the U.S. nor Cuba – represented for the debate as has become customary by Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez – spoke on Wednesday but are expected to do so during Thursday’s resumed session.
Rodriquez earlier called the proposed amendments a “political maneuver to manipulate the international community.”
The U.S. draft amendments cover, in part:
--the lack of access to information and freedom of expression, absence of judicial independence, and arbitrary arrests and detentions
--the absence of women from the most powerful decision-making bodies in Cuba
--the prohibition on the right to strike and restrictions on collective bargaining for workers
--the need for “civil, political, and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information”
--the need for “a safe and enabling environment in which an independent, diverse, and pluralistic civil society can operate free from undue hindrance and insecurity”
--the need to “end widespread and serious restrictions, in law and in practice, on the right to freedom of expression, opinion, associations and peaceful assembly”
--the need to “release persons arbitrarily detained for exercise of their human rights”
--the need for Cuba to launch a “comprehensive accountability process” in response to serious human rights violations, and end impunity for such violations.
Prominent Cuban dissident Rosa Maria Paya on Twitter voiced the hope that member-states would support the Cuban people by voting in favor of the amendments, ending her tweet with “Thank you @nikkihaley!”
Paya, an active campaigner for human rights in her country, is the daughter of opposition leader Oswaldo Paya, who died in a 2012 car crash which relatives and supporters view as suspicious.