UNITED NATIONS Â The U.N. General Assembly on Wednesday overwhelmingly condemned the 47-year U.S. trade embargo on Cuba, an annual ritual that serves to highlight near unanimous global opposition to America’s hard-line policy toward the communist island, but which has done little to change Washington’s stance, even with a new administration.
This year’s vote was 187-3 in opposition to the embargo, with only Israel and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau supporting the United States Â just as they did last year. It was the 19th year in a row that the General Assembly has taken up the symbolic measure, with Washington steadily losing what little support it once had.
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez ticked off a long list of grievances in his speech before the world body, saying the embargo Â which the Cubans refer to as a blockade Â had cost the island’s fragile economy tens of billions of dollars over the years and prevented Cuban children from getting needed medical care.
"The blockade is an uncultured act of arrogance," Rodriguez said. He likened the policy to "an act of genocide" that is "ethically unacceptable." It was the first time the world body has taken the vote since U.S. President Barack Obama took office in January, promising to extend a hand of friendship to Washington’s traditional enemies.
The administration has loosened financial and travel restrictions on Americans with relatives in Cuba, and started talks aimed at restoring direct mail links. It sent a senior diplomat to Havana in September for unannounced meetings with Cuban officials that were believed to be the highest-level talks between the two countries in decades.
Still, Washington has made clear it is not prepared to lift the embargo until Cuba accepts some political, economic and financial changes. Rodriguez said the question of the embargo represented a "test of character" for the U.S. and its new president.
"President Obama has a historical opportunity to lead a change of policy toward Cuba and the lifting of the blockade," he said, but lamented that "since the election" of the new U.S. leader "there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade against Cuba."
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice reacted strongly, calling Rodriguez’ statements "hostile" and "straight out of the Cold War era."
Still, she said the Obama administration was committed to writing "a new chapter to this old story" by engaging with the Cuban government. Rice used her speech to highlight the steps the Obama administration had taken to improve ties.
"We hope they can be the starting point for further changes in the relationship," she said. "The United States has demonstrated that we are prepared to engage the government of Cuba on issues that effect the security and well being of both our peoples."
One after another, global representatives stood to speak in opposition to the embargo, calling it a cruel anachronism that ran counter to international law and which had only succeeded in hurting ordinary Cubans, particularly women and children.