26 October 2016

The US stopped defending its Cuba embargo at the UN

Slate has an article by Joshua Keating about a surprising turnabout in diplomacy:

In an annual tradition now in its 25th year, the General Assembly of the United Nations overwhelmingly voted Wednesday to condemn the US embargo on Cuba. But things were a little different this year as, for the first time, the United States abstained, rather than vote against the condemnation of one of its own policies.
The Obama administration has taken a number of steps to normalize relations with Cuba, including a visit by the President to the island earlier this year and the resumption of commercial flights. But the vast majority of the trade restrictions under the more than fifty-year-old embargo can only be lifted by Congress, and the Republicans in Congress do not want to do that.
Explaining the abstention, Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power called the annual resolution “a perfect example of why the American policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working or, worse, how it was actually undermining the very goals it set out to achieve.” Rather than isolating Cuba, Power argued, it had only isolated the United States.
Indeed, in recent years the US could typically only count on the support of Israel and several small Pacific islands in the lopsided vote. Last year, the first time the vote was held since the normalization process began, it was just Israel.
Still, it’s pretty striking to see a US administration unwilling to defend the country’s own laws, and the fact that it feels comfortable doing so less than two weeks before voters in Florida head to the polls in a presidential election, says a lot about how the politics surrounding this issue have changed. The Cuban embargo is increasingly unpopular, even among Cuban-American voters in Florida, to the point that Hillary Clinton made her opposition to the “failed policy” a campaign issue in the state.
That doesn’t mean the embargo is going to be lifted: it still has some powerful backers in Congress, who care more deeply about this issue than the embargo opponents. But at least the administration and, assuming Clinton wins, its successor, are no longer in the awkward position of defending a policy at the UN that they strongly condemn at home.
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