US and Israel isolated at United Nations vote

News from Cuba | Friday, 3 November 2023

On 2 November the United Nations General Assembly voted for the 31st consecutive year to approve Cuba’s resolution demanding an end to the US blockade.

Support was overwhelming: 187 nations in favour and two against, the United States and Israel. Ukraine abstained. For more than 20 of the 31 years of voting, only the US, Israel and a few US-dependent nations have regularly opposed the resolution.

Cuba estimates the losses to its economy at $160 billion since the onset of the blockade in 1962. Taking into account inflationary change, this is equivalent to $1.3 trillion.

“Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills, it must stop.”
Bruno Rodríguez

Blockade report details shortages
Ahead of the vote, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Minrex) produced a report detailing examples of the blockade’s impact on Cuba.

Over 110,000 pupils lacked a complete set of exercise books in the last school year, as the Cuban government lacked sufficient paper to “print and assemble books and notebooks for students.”

Highlighting the extraterritorial nature of the blockade, University College London was dissuaded from purchasing and sending computer equipment planned for a joint project with the José Antonio Echeverría Technological University in Havana.

Cuba’s agricultural sector has also been seriously affected, with access to supplies, raw materials and the technologies needed for modern agricultural development being severely curtailed.
A Canadian company, Cypress View Land, recently terminated a grain production project in Cuba, citing the fear that it could be exposed to legal action as it also operates in the US.
This, among countless other examples, has led to a sharp downturn in national production and contributed to food shortages across the island.

In the health sector, losses amount to nearly $240 million in that single year. This has had a devastating impact on the health of the Cuban population, despite the strength of Cuba’s internationally renowned health systems.

Infant mortality rates have worsened, increasing from around five deaths per thousand live births in 2019 to 7.5 per thousand in 2022. The Minrex report highlights the case of a six-year-old girl whose battle against cancer has been jeopardised due to the blockade.

“While it was possible to provide her with the chemotherapy needed to combat the [cancer] growth,” the report said, “she could not be given Lomustine, the drug of choice in the treatment of advanced tumours of this type that affect the central nervous system — and unobtainable due to the blockade.”

She has now relapsed. For this girl, like many other Cuban children, the blockade of their country is a matter of life and death.

Economic warfare
Addressing the UN meeting, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla said that the blockade was a “massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people.”

He noted that 80 per cent of his compatriots had never known life without the crippling US blockade.

“It is an act of economic warfare, in times of peace,” creating a situation of ungovernability and an attempt to destroy the constitutional order, he said.

Sanctions have made it harder for Cuba to acquire the medical equipment needed to develop COVID-19 vaccines as well as equipment for food production.

“Like the virus, the blockade asphyxiates and kills – it must stop,” he urged.

In last year alone, the economic damage from the blockade amounted to $4.867 billion and has meant a dearth of goods, long queues, high prices and devalued salaries, he said, causing suffering among Cuban families and including, sometimes, devastating blackouts. Without the blockade Cuba’s GDP would have grown by 9 per cent in 2022.

Rodríguez pointed out that the blockade separated Cuban families and deprives US citizens of their right to visit Cuba.

The “tightening economic siege” has been accompanied by a disinformation campaign to destabilise and discredit the country, adding that there was a “media crusade” in the US aimed at encouraging discontent and a false impression of political crisis.

International support for Cuba
Debate on the resolution was extended over two days. Speaker after speaker thanked Cuba for its international solidarity —both for providing their countries with needed doctors and other medical assistance through the Henry Reeve International Brigades, and for training their doctors and health professionals free of charge at the Latin American School of Medicine. Many speakers expressed that without Cuba’s assistance, thousands of lives would have been lost.
The representative of Timor-Leste said Cuba has been playing a fundamental role in developing Timor-Leste’s health sector by sending them doctors and specialists, and facilitating students to study in Cuba.

Gabon’s representative also voiced her countryʼs concern about the blockade. “The scale of its impact is more and more harmful to the Cuban people,” she said, noting that it was also “clearly a hostile act to region and continental cohesion,” as well as an “obstacle to the social and economic development of Cuba.”

The Peruvian representative said his country “shares the view of practically the entire international community” that the embargo is against the principles of the UN Charter and international human rights law, noting Peru would support the resolution, as it has done for more than 30 years.

Chile’s representative said that the blockade continues to create shortages, hardship and suffering for all Cuban people. She was convinced that only through dialogue, multilateral mechanisms, and international law can differences between states be addressed. “The economic embargo is an anachronism from a bygone age and must be ended now, once and for all,” she said.

Some delegates praised the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US in 2015. The Jamaican delegate also noted, however, that no measures will be a substitute for the end to the blockade, which hampers Cuba’s ability to respond to health crises, natural disasters, and food insecurity.

Reacting to the vote, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel proclaimed a “new victory for the Cuban people and their Revolution!” He pointed to “the triumph of dignity and the fearlessness of our people,” while expressing gratitude for “the international community’s recognition of and support for Cuba’s heroism and resistance.”

As the United Nations stated in its report on the debate “while the Assembly’s vote carries political weight in terms of international diplomacy, only the US Congress can lift the economic, commercial, and financial embargo in place for six decades.”

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