For the first time, US abstains from UN Cuban embargo vote

For the first time in history, the U.S. has failed to defend its long held Cuban embargo policy at the U.N. as the General Assembly passed a resolution harshly criticizing U.S. foreign policy.  Instead of voting "no" as it had every time the resolution was introduced, U.N. ambassador Samantha Power abstained.

The resolution, "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba," specifically criticized the 1996 Helms-Burton act that tied lifting the embargo with negotiations with the Cuban government to reimburse companies who had their property expropriated.

It is extremely rare for a U.N. member state not to vote against a resolution that's highly criticial of its policies.  The non-binding vote was 196-0, with Israel and the U.S. abstaining.


President Barack Obama is in favor of lifting the embargo entirely as part of the countries' rapprochement. But the US Congress is opposed, citing in particular Cuba's human rights violations.

Still, the White House has been able to open up some avenues of exchange, including regular plane flights between the two countries, unthinkable only a few years ago.

In March, President Obama made the first visit to Cuba by a sitting president since 1928.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power drew cheers at the UN when she explained the US switch in position Wednesday. And a tweet from Power put it in simpler terms, noting that every year the UN votes to end the US embargo against Cuba. "We've always voted 'no.' Today, for the 1st time ever, we abstained," she tweeted.

Obama administration officials said the abstention was due to the continued isolation of its island neighbor being harmful to the people of Cuba. Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted there "is no reason to vote to defend a failed policy we oppose."

But Power still told the General Assembly that abstaining on the resolution didn't mean that Washington agrees with all the policies of the Cuban government.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla told the UN that despite progress between the two countries, the economic and financial blockade is seriously harming the Cuban people and hurting economic development. He added that lifting the embargo was the key to advancing towards normalized relations with the US.

Power indicated Wednesday's abstention was a small step in efforts at further engagement with the Cuban people, even amidst the outstanding differences with the government.

"May there be many more," she said, including "we hope, finally ending the embargo."

The Obama administration has been silent about this vital issue of compensation for stolen property and assets by the Castro government.  But then, they don't care about the stolen assets in Iran, either.  Nor does the administration appear eager to defend the legal policies enacted by Congress to force the Cuban government to stop oppressing their own people. 

Has there ever been a more one-sided relationship with a tyrannical dictatorship?  We have given the Cuban government recognition, breaks on remittances, and easing of export controls, and have soft-pedaled their brutal repression of dissent.  What we've gotten back from Cuba is mocking words from the Castros and a ratcheting up the pressure on democratic activists.

The word "bonehead" comes to mind when describing our Cuba policy.

If you experience technical problems, please write to