October 28, 2014
NY Times Editorial Page Editor’s Blog
A little-known former American ambassador on Tuesday addressed the General Assembly to perform a dreaded task: defending the issue that has isolated the United States diplomatically like no other, the Cuban embargo.
“This resolution only serves to distract from the real problems facing the Cuban people,” Ronald D. Godard admonished, before the United States voted against a non-binding resolution submitted yearly by Havana calling for a repeal of the sanctions Washington has imposed on the island for more than five decades.
Only Israel sided with the United States, although the Israelis were happy to forgo a turn at the podium to defend their position. Of the 193 members of the United Nations, 188 backed Cuba. The three abstentions — Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau — are not widely regarded as diplomatic heavyweights.
The yearly vote, which usually goes largely unnoticed in the United States, is worth paying close attention to this year. Under growing pressure from neighboring countries to normalize relations with Cuba, the White House is considering what steps it might be able to take in that direction during President Obama’s remaining time in office.
Cuba has been sending increasingly clear signals that it wants a rapprochement. In his speech to the General Assembly on Tuesday, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla called for a new era in bilateral relations.
“We invite the government of the United States to establish a mutually respectful relation, based on reciprocity,” he said. “We can live and deal with each other in a civilized way, despite our differences.”
Diplomats from Zambia, Belarus and Tanzania were among those who chose to take to the podium to condemn the embargo. But the interventions by envoys from Colombia and Brazil were particularly significant. Colombia, perhaps Washington’s staunchest ally in the region, has become increasingly vocal in challenging the United States on its Cuba policy. The Brazilian representative warned that, henceforth, no regional summit could exclude Cuba.
The United States raises valid concerns about the state of human rights and personal freedoms in Cuba when this vote comes up each year. But its draconian policy toward Havana has prevented American officials from engaging countries in the region on a constructive dialogue about Cuba. It also continuously gets in the way of regional initiatives.
It’s ironic that a policy designed to isolate Cuba has wound up isolating the United States in profound ways. If anything it boosts Cuban diplomatic standing. Perhaps next year even Israel will be persuaded to break ranks?