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U.N. Still Spurns Cuba Embargo

The General Assembly votes 179 to 3 against the U.S. blockade in a symbolic resolution. It is the 12th such rejection.

November 05, 2003|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — Although the U.S. took a page from Arnold Schwarzenegger's script, quoting "The Terminator" in attacking Cuba's communist government, the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday voted for the 12th year against Washington's 4-decade-old economic embargo on Cuba.

Addressing the assembly before the symbolic annual vote, U.S. representative Sichan Siv said that "Cuba's best day is when the Cuban people have terminated Castro's evil, communist, dictatorial regime, and said to him, 'Hasta la vista, baby!' "

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque retorted, "It is the people of Cuba who say, 'Hasta la vista to the blockade, hasta la vista to genocide.' "

The resolution to lift the economic embargo received 179 votes, with only the U.S., Israel and the Marshall Islands voting to keep it. Micronesia and Morocco abstained.

Although General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding, they express the international community's will and are considered to carry moral weight.

Cuba has been under a U.S. trade embargo since 1962, the year after Fidel Castro repelled a U.S.-backed attack at the Bay of Pigs. The ban is meant to pressure the communist government to implement democratic reforms, but Cuba argues that the trade restrictions are a form of genocide that violates its people's human rights.

The General Assembly has denounced the U.S. embargo annually since 1992, with sympathy growing for Cuba. This year, despite Havana's recent crackdown on dissidents that caused a crisis in relations with Europe and a tightening of the U.S. travel and trade ban, Cuba received record support -- six more votes than last year.

Although many diplomats noted that they did not endorse some of Cuba's policies, they said the bilateral embargo hurt civilians, not the government, and objected to provisions that penalized third countries for trading with Cuba.

Germany, while protesting Havana's boycott of the German Embassy for inviting dissidents to its National Day celebration, said the embargo should end for humanitarian reasons.

Siv, a native of Cambodia, gave most of his speech in Spanish and stuck to his prepared text almost to the end. But in a move that surprised even fellow American diplomats, he delivered the "hasta la vista" line in an addendum he wrote himself.

Siv also said that the resolution was an attempt to deflect attention from what he termed as Cuba's deplorable track record on human rights, and that the quickest way to relaxing the trade and travel restrictions would be for Castro to institute free and fair elections, open the economy and allow the formation of trade unions.

Perez Roque called Siv's tone "arrogant, rude and disrespectful" and argued that the only human rights violations occurring in Cuba were those spawned by the U.S. at the prison in Guantanamo Bay, where the U.S. holds Al Qaeda and Taliban suspects. Perez Roque said Siv had insulted Castro by calling the leader a "dictator."

"The people of Cuba will say 'hasta la vista' to the United States and the blockade," he said. "We will say homeland or death. We shall win."

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