Reporting from Mexico City - It is an annual ritual: The United Nations today will vote to condemn the U.S. embargo on Cuba, much as the world organization has done for nearly two decades.
This will be the first time, however, that the call to end the policy will
come with Barack Obama as president, giving rise to spirited debate on how his
administration, having promised a "new beginning" in Latin America,
is handling one of Washington's most problematic foreign policies.
In recent months the Obama administration has taken steps to ease some of the
sanctions that successive U.S. governments employed against Cuba. It removed
restrictions on the sending of money and on travel to Cuba by Cuban Americans
and opened the way for possible business deals between U.S. telecommunications
companies and the island. Officials also opened dialogue with the Cuban
government on immigration issues.
Cuban President Raul Castro and his ailing brother, Fidel, have generally been
conciliatory during public speeches. And Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno
Rodriguez, who arrived in New York on Tuesday, said at a recent news
conference in Havana that the U.N. vote on the embargo should not be viewed as
business as usual.
"We deal with the theme every year, but this time we do it under what I
would see as new circumstances," Rodriguez said.
But Obama has said he will maintain the 47-year-old embargo as a means of
leverage to press for political change in Cuba, and in September he signed the
order that kept the sanction in place for another year. Even some of his
supporters say he is acting slowly in unfreezing the tortured relationship
between Washington and Havana.
"The Obama administration is moving very slowly and incrementally . . .
but when you add it all up there has been a lot of activity, most of it under
the radar but all toward greater engagement with the island," said Daniel
P. Erikson of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington think tank.
Several factors other than Cuba may have influenced Obama's pace, said
Jennifer McCoy, head of the Americas program at the Atlanta-based Carter
Center, where former President Carter has long advocated improving ties with
Cuba. The crisis in Honduras, following a June 28 military-backed coup, has
distracted the administration at a time when its top officials designated for
Latin America have yet to be confirmed by the Senate.
The embargo has been condemned in the U.N. General Assembly by staggering
majorities in recent years that reflect an increasingly isolated U.S. policy,
and today's vote is expected to be no different. The nonbinding resolution
calls for an end to "the economic, commercial and financial embargo"
imposed by the U.S. on Cuba's communist government.
Last year, the 17th year the resolution was brought to the floor, the vote was
185 to 3 condemning the embargo, with two abstentions. The three: the United
States, Israel and Palau.