On Wednesday 23 June, the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a resolution that would demand an end to the United States embargo on Cuba. Given that the U.S. and Israel were the only two countries that voted against the proposal, the vote clearly demonstration the broader international community’s views on the five-decade-old embargo. Since 1992, the UN has voted annually on the issue. For 29 consecutive years, there has been an overwhelming majority favoring a resolution to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. However, while the vote carries political weight, only U.S. congress can remove the economic, commercial and financial embargo. Unfortunately, they have consistently voted against resolutions. A notable exception to this pattern was in 2016 under the Obama administration, and Congress abstained.
Posting on social media, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel described the vote’s outcome as evidence that “the world is on Cuba’s side.” Meanwhile, Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parilla, denounced the blockade as “a massive, flagrant and unacceptable violation of the human rights of the Cuban people.” He added that the sanctions have made it harder for the island to cope with the pandemic. According to Ministerio de Salud Pública, Cuba recently recorded its highest daily number of 3,000 COVID-10 cases.
The U.S. defended its decision by reiterating the blockade’s aim to advance democracy and liberty on the island. Political Coordinator for the U.S. Mission Rodney Hunter stated that the sanctions are just one set of tools used in a broader effort to advance democracy and protect human rights in Cuba. Despite the blockade, he added that the U.S. recognizes “the challenges of the Cuban people” and was “a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba’s principal trading partners.”
For more than 50 years, the U.S. has maintained a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba. While restrictions were reduced during the Obama administration in an attempt to improve collateral relations, the Trump era saw a reversal of this trajectory. Under President Trump, new sanctions were introduced and reinforced to the point where the administration largely abandoned engagement by 2019. Despite campaign promises to reverse some of Trump’s measures on Cuba, the Biden administration’s behavior so far has not demonstrated evidence of a strong attitude shift towards Cuban relations. Indeed, the administration has stated that policy regarding Cuba is not among its top priorities.
The U.S. has often used sanctions to exert control over foreign bodies and international dynamics. However, the Cuban embargo is a special case. According to political analysts, for sanctions to be effective, a narrow and clearly defined goal must be established. The U.S. aims for a general regime change and democracy is too broad and amorphous. Rather than specifically curating restrictions aimed at achieving concrete goals, the embargo on Cuba is driven by principle and history. A key piece of evidence against its efficacy is longevity. Over its 50-year lifespan, it has failed to herald liberty or democracy in Cuba. If anything, the embargo has forced Cuba to financially rely on and partner with other autocratic regimes like Venezuela.
For now, the U.S. maintains that it is conducting a policy review of Cuban relations. However, the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration remain in place. It is clear – and has been clear for almost 30 years – that the international community does not support the embargo. However, it is yet to be seen how the relationship will develop under President Biden’s administration.