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Biden promised to change policies on Cuba. How will the U.S. vote at the U.N. this week?

On Wednesday the General Assembly will again vote on a resolution calling on the U.S. to end its 60-year economic, commercial, financial, cultural blockade imposed against Cuba.

People walking in a commercial street in Havana, Cuba, June 15, 2021.
People walking in a commercial street in Havana, Cuba, June 15, 2021.
REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

On Wednesday the U.N. General Assembly will again vote on a resolution introduced by Cuba calling on the United States to end its 60-year economic, commercial, financial, cultural blockade imposed against the people and government of Cuba. The resolution is expected to pass by a wide margin, as it has done every year for the past 30 years. Passage is assured because the voting nations realize that the actions of the U.S. government are in violation of international law because of their extraterritorial character. The United States or any other country is entitled to boycott or embargo another nation, but they cannot take actions that require other nations to concur with those actions.

When, under the provisions of acts such as Helms-Burton of March 1996, the United States compels others to act against Cuba it becomes a blockade and violates international law.

The U.S. embargo, which purports to promote democracy and human rights, has actually impeded Cuban efforts to alleviate poverty and realize full economic and social development. Make no mistake, Cuba has made incredible strides in the areas of health, education, culture, and food security over the 60 years of the Cuban revolution, but the overall standard of living of the Cuban people has been held back by a blockade that has caused billions of dollars in damage to the Cuban economy.

Obama began historic opening

This year’s vote is especially important as it occurs during a new administration in Washington. As vice president, Joe Biden was part of an administration that began a historic opening toward Cuba in 2014 that included support for the end of the embargo, reestablished full diplomatic relations, and more than 20 negotiated intergovernmental agreements on issues ranging from law enforcement to environmental protection signed in 2015 and 2016. In those two years the United States also did not vote against Cuba’s U.N. resolution; it abstained.

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However, the Trump administration reversed the opening and carried out more than 200 actions that deepened the blockade, including the effective ending of billions of dollars of remittances that were being sent primarily by Cuban Americans to their relatives on the island at a time when the Cuban economy is suffering deeply from COVID-19. The Trump administration also allowed for the first time since Helms-Burton was passed in 1996 for companies and individuals who held property in Cuba prior to 1959 to file lawsuits in U.S. courts against entities in Cuba using those properties today. This action has been condemned by many governments but has served to discourage new foreign investment in the island.

No Trump policies overturned yet

Gary Prevost
Gary Prevost
As a presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to reverse the actions of the Trump administration and move toward the policies of the Obama/Biden era. However, five months into the new administration, not a single Trump policy has been overturned in spite of significant pressure from the progressive Cuban American community and the base of the Democratic Party. How the United States votes on the resolution will be closely watched to ascertain the longer-term intentions of the Biden administration.

Gary Prevost, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of political science and Latin American studies at the College of St. Benedict/St. John’s University and treasurer of the Minnesota Cuba Committee.

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