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    UN General Assembly Condemns US Blockade on Cuba
    Not Once, Not Twice, but 17 Times!

    By Tamara Hansen
    On Wednesday October 29, 2008, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) overwhelmingly smashed the United States’ illegal and unjust policy of blockade against Cuba. This marked the 17th time in 17 consecutive years that the UNGA has condemned the US for its blockade on Cuba. This sentiment is also gaining strength. This year Cuba won its most resounding victory of the past 17 years, with 185 countries voting in favor of lifting the US blockade on Cuba. The United States was only able to convince two other countries to oppose this motion (Israel and Palau), while only two other countries abstained (Marshall Islands and Micronesia).

    The United States blockade stops Cuba from importing or exporting many products to and from the US and internationally due to the extraterritoriality of the measures. Over nearly 50 years the blockade has stopped Cuba from trading required medicines, text books, and many other items. This policy was meant to crush Cuba’s economy. The effects of the blockade on the people of Cuba have been severe, but the Cuban people have refused to bow down to the US government and its attacks on Cuba’s dignity and sovereignty. Today we see countries around the world joining Cubans in their demand to lift the blockade.

    The Battle of Ideas: Aid or Lifting the Blockade?

    The destruction caused by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, in the fall of 2008, created a swirling hurricane of words and debate between the United States government and Cuba. When hurricane Gustav hit Cuba, the US government promised a “generous” donation of $100,000 in aid (the US promised $10 Million to Haiti), and promised that more money and aid would be on the way, if a US-approved disaster assessment team was allowed to visit the island.

    Cuba rejected the offer of the US government flat out, saying it would not accept money from any country that blockaded it. Cuba demanded that the US government lift the blockade, so that Cuba could purchase the materials needed to rebuild. Imagine, Cuba is offering the US government money! But the US government refused.

    In an editorial article published on September 11, 2008 in the New York Times, they criticized the US government writing, “[T]he Bush administration’s peculiar fixation with an obsolete trade embargo and deep-pocketed anti-Castro hard-liners in Miami is standing in the way of dispatching desperately needed assistance for Cuba.” This criticism was a part of the global pressure on the US to do more to help Cuba during this crisis. However, the US administration continued to refuse to lift the blockade and instead made a new offer for “humanitarian aid” with less strings attached.

    Cuba again rejected this offer. Fidel Castro, leader of the Cuban revolution, commented on the back and forth between the two countries, insisting that the argument was not only about aid or reconstruction materials, but about human dignity. Fidel said, “[The US government] spoke of planes ready to leave with products valued in 5 Million USD and said that an assessment would not be required since they had already done it with their own means; what else if not espionage on our country. This time they would put the Revolution in a spot, they thought; if we dared refuse the offer we would be in trouble with our people. Perhaps they believed that no one here had watched the images brought by the United States TV networks of the UN occupation forces distributing food to the hungry Haitians who fought over it through a barbwire fence with the result of several injured children.”

    This back and forth continued all the way to the UNGA, where the General Assembly was asked to weigh in on this question. The October 29th vote of 185 vs. 3 was clear: LIFT THE BLOCKADE! We stand by the vote of the UNGA and hope that it will continue to roar against the blockade until the United States ends this unjust, criminal and illegal policy.

    Obama and the Blockade

    Unfortunately, like many years previous, the United Nations vote had no effect on United States policy - until April 13, 2009, when it seemed something new might be in the works. The Obama administration declared that it was reaching out to the Cuban people, announcing a series of new strategies towards Cuba. Obama specifically supported taking the steps to “lift all restrictions on transactions related to the travel of family members to Cuba”, “remove restrictions on remittances to family members in Cuba”, “authorize US telecommunications network providers to enter into agreements to establish fiber-optic cable and satellite telecommunications facilities linking the United States and Cuba.”, etcetera. Many people around the world were wondering if this was a sign that Barack Obama was beginning a new era of US-Cuba relations. This “new” policy was rejoiced by many who did not take the time to read the fine print.

    On April 14, 2009, the Washington Post wrote an interesting article calling the changes “Obama’s Timid Cuban Move”. The article explained, “There’s nothing the least bit bold about the baby steps toward engagement with Cuba that the White House announced yesterday [...] Indeed, the big news is that Obama is leaving the Bush Administration’s failed Cuban strategy largely in place, including a trade embargo and, at least thus far, a refusal to engage in diplomatic relations with one of our nearest neighbors. Consider, for instance, that the most far-reaching change announced yesterday, allowing travel to Cuba, only applies to people with family there. Others will still face fines and criminal prosecution.” There was nothing “new” about these measures; they only reverse some of the most draconian aspects of Bush’s policies.

    On the day after these “new” policies were announced, Obama was on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad. Cuba was not permitted at the summit as they were banned from the Organization of American States (OAS), based on US pressure, in 1962. Today the majority of Latin American countries have diplomatic relations with Cuba and want Cuba to be readmitted as a member. However, the United States provides over 70 percent of the OAS budget, so whichever way they flex their muscles is generally the way the OAS policy goes. Fidel Castro also commented on the summit and Cuba’s exclusion, saying, “now, the only thing left is for Obama to try to persuade all of the Latin American presidents attending the conference that the blockade is harmless. Cuba has resisted and it will continue to resist; it will never beg for alms. It will go on forward holding its head up high and cooperating with the fraternal peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean.”

    What’s Next?

    Just as votes and talk at the United Nations are not enough, neither is the wishy-washy talk from the US government about lifting certain aspects of the blockade. Social justice advocates and human loving people around the world need to come together in defence of Cuba’s right to self-determination and its right to create and build its own future. We must sign petitions, organize events, talk to the media, talk with local politicians and parliamentarians, talk to labour unions and progressive organizations to increase the number of voices around the world working for an end to the unjust and illegal blockade.

    End the Unjust and Illegal US Blockade on Cuba Now!

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