In a largely symbolic gesture, the United States abstained from voting on a United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for American lawmakers to end their embargo against Cuba.
On Oct. 26, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. General Assembly that she would abstain from the vote, eliciting applause. For the past 24 years, U.S. ambassadors had voted against the resolution, according to Reuters.
The resolution would have no concrete impact but is symbolic. Power stated that the U.S. was not condoning the actions of the Castro regime.
“Abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government,” Power said. “We do not. We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people.”
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The U.S. has placed an economic embargo on the Communist nation for the past 54 years. President Barack Obama began normalizing relations between the two countries in 2014, but the embargo cannot be lifted without Congress’ consent.
Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez of Cuba noted that the embargo had cost his country $125.9 billion but praised Power’s abstention as a “positive step for the future of improving relations between the United States and Cuba.”
The U.N. resolution called for the swift repeal of the U.S. embargo against Cuba.
Republican lawmakers who control Congress have largely been against lifting the embargo, citing the Castro regime’s violation of human rights. On Oct. 18, the House Speaker, Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, signaled that he would oppose any vote to lift the embargo.
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“The Castros continue to jail pro-democracy activists at a rate of hundreds per month, yet it is full steam ahead for the Obama administration’s efforts to appease this oppressive regime,” Ryan said, according to the Miami Herald.
Ryan had actually opposed the embargo in 2002 but has shifted his position, citing the appeals made to him by Republican lawmakers from Florida.
On Oct. 14, President Obama issued a new directive making the normalizing of U.S.-Cuba relations official policy, The New York Times reports.
Obama also eased economic sanctions on the Communist nation, including lifting a $100 limit on Cuban rum and cigars being brought into the U.S.
“This directive takes a comprehensive and whole-of-government approach to promote engagement with the Cuban government and people, and make our opening to Cuba irreversible,” Obama said. “Challenges remain… but I believe that engagement is the best way to address those differences and make progress on behalf of our interests and values.”