The Emperor Has No Clothes!

Washington Humiliated, Cuba Lifted Up, at the 2022 United Nations Vote Against the US Blockade

For the 30th consecutive time, dating back to 1992, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) has overwhelmingly voted in favor of a Cuban-sponsored Resolution on the “Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo by the United States of America Against Cuba” [N2263517.pdf]. It was accompanied by a thorough, country-by-country damning official report by the UN Secretary General [N2128802.pdf].

International Moral and Political Shield

This 30th consecutive UNGA vote is obviously “non-binding.” That is, it carries no punitive measures of enforcement against the US government and has no counter-measures to deter or block the implementation of the illegal – by the UN’s own unenforced standards — extraterritorial US blockade measures. Nonetheless – within the framework of the heroic resistance of the Cuban people, state, and government plus the work of international Cuba solidarity forces – the annual UN action is an important part of the international moral and political shield that is a key obstacle to direct US aggression and military intervention.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 saw – to the disgust of the entire world – the deepening of the US anti-Cuba blockade under the Republican Trump and Democratic Biden Administrations that has carried on from 2017 to the present day.

Looking at the current international political calculus we must also add the impact of the brutal Russian Federation-Ukraine war on world politics and “geo-political” world alignments. Revolutionary Cuba has, through its carefully formulated statements and in interviews with Cuban representatives in platforms and media worldwide, consistently underlined both its opposition to the Russian Federation’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the unacceptable provocations of NATO towards the Russian Federation leading up to the now-raging military action.

Utter Washington Isolation as Brutal Blockade Carries On 

Washington has long since abandoned any pretense of trying to win over or convince anyone of its position or rationalizations for its punitive anti-Cuba campaign. Its UN spokesperson went through the motions of “explaining” the US vote with a stew of lies and half-truths, dripping with sophistry.

The handful of nations that vote with Washington (only Israel in the last two votes) or abstain (Ukraine and Brazil this year) never take the floor in solidarity with Washington or utter a peep.

There has been a common anti-Cuba perspective and policy continuity from Trump to Biden. Both are animated by the prospect of using the deepening of the blockade –in the face of the pandemic! –to asphyxiate the Cuban nation-state (which happens to be a socialist-workers state). The aim of successive US Administrations from Dwight Eisenhower to Joseph Biden  —with a brief pause and some limited advances toward normalization in 2015-16 under Barack Obama‘s White House and State Department — and bipartisan Congresses for over six decades now — has been to create the conditions for social and economic collapse in Cuba and expedite the installation of a neo-colonial government subservient to US imperialism.

Bellicose bipartisan Washington remains far from this goal. Biden and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken have so far been unable to shift and retreat and carry out any significant steps towards US-Cuba normalization, as was done in the 2nd half of the 2nd Barack Obama Administration.

Top US policymakers seem convinced — at least in public — that they can tough out the mounting international pressure and that revolutionary Cuba will somehow disappear from the face of the earth if they can only apply the pressure on its throat for just a little longer. Wishful thinking and self-delusion have always, and necessarily, accompanied US anti-Cuba policies since the 1959 triumph of the July 26th Movement and the Cuban Revolution.

Historical Background to 2022 Vote

As I wrote in my November 9, 2013 essay “Isolation: Another Vote on Washington’s Anti-Cuba Policy at the United Nations (rssing.com):

It was in 1991 that the revolutionary socialist Cuban government first attempted to bring such a Resolution before the United Nations as a whole. A furious US campaign of threats and blackmail, directed primarily against Latin American governments and other countries who were members of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations, succeeded that year in getting them to pressure the Cuban UN delegation to withdraw it (The Cuban delegation produced a communiqué which Washington had dispatched to regional capitals stating: “We urge you to instruct your ambassador in Havana and/or your UN permanent representative to approach the Cubans in an effort to have the resolution withdrawn. The Cubans should understand that their insistence that you support them threatens your good relations with the US and could damage their bilateral relations with your government.”) The next year [1992] the Resolution did get to the General Assembly floor with a vote of 59-3 in favor and 71 abstentions.

What happened subsequently in 1992 was reported in my piece, “The 2019 UN Vote Against the US Blockade of Cuba“:

In 1992, Cuba was reeling from the economic cataclysm of the ‘Special Period,’ when its economy contracted virtually overnight by 35% following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its allied so-called ‘socialist camp.’ Its revolutionary diplomats in New York City at the United Nations took advantage of an inadvertent lapse in the attentiveness of US UN personnel – who, in any case were cooling the champagne in anticipation of socialist Cuba’s imminent implosion and evaporation under deepening US sanctions and stepped-up US-based terrorist attacks – to slip onto the General Assembly agenda the first Resolution “Opposing the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo Imposed by the United States Against Cuba.” Precedent established, and unable to be blocked by US veto. Every year since then…Washington has been utterly isolated in this annual vote in the General Assembly.

Since 1992 nearly all the abstentions turned to votes in favor of Cuba reaching the current overwhelming consensus.

The Blockade Carries On Despite Washington’s Political Isolation and Moral Defeat

Unable to retreat in the face of overwhelming opposition, all that is left for Biden’s Washington is a policy guided by inertia…and the prospect that the entire policy could become unsustainable, face material consequences, implode, and even collapse under the pressure of events and changing world circumstances.

Washington under Biden has painted itself into such a corner politically – in the Americas and in the world as registered in the 2022 UNGA vote — that any significant shift or signal becomes exceedingly difficult to control and contain.  For example, Biden could easily accede to the universal demand for the removal of Cuba from the US State Department list of ”sponsors of state terrorism.” This obscene addition was added to US blockade measures in the waning days of the Trump Presidency, and shamefully maintained by the Biden White House and State Department.

Biden and Blinken fully realize that such an action would quickly translate overnight into big new openings for capital investment and trade for Cuba, from countries, businesses, and institutions too timid or cowardly to defy Washington and its bogus terrorism list. Governments, businesses, and institutions  will generally be loathe to fight for their access to the tiny Cuban “market,” if the consequence is to being shut out from the huge US “market.”

This is precisely why such a seemingly easy move is so resisted by Biden and Blinken. (At a recent meeting with groups organizing humanitarian aid to Cuba, where the issue of the terrorism list was raised by activists, the stonewall reply from the State Department bureaucrat rolled out was that eliminating Cuba’s inclusion on the terrorism list was not a “priority” at this time for the busy State Department. This is, of course, nonsense since obviously “regime change” in Cuba remains a central bipartisan US policy “priority.”) In any case the historical record shows that Cuba has been the recipient over many decades to the present day of individual and state-sponsored terrorism, most-often carried out with impunity from US territory, in formal contravention of US law for what it’s worth (which is not much).

Still, the blockade and its mounting, accumulated blows against Cuban living standards continues. And has been exacerbated by a series of disasters in Cuba since May 2022: the deadly Saratoga Hotel explosion from a gas leak; the August 2022 lightening-induced explosion and destruction of oil-storage facilities in Matanzas, Cuba; and the September 2022 widespread destruction of homes, productive agricultural lands, and industrial facilities in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

This series of disasters came as Cuba was barely able to savor the victory of its heroic containment and conquest of the COVID-19 pandemic on the island with the production of several highly efficacious, domestically designed and produced, vaccines and the successful mass inoculation of the entire population. This included being the first nation to vaccinate all children two-years and up. Nevertheless, the pandemic dealt devastating blows to Cuban tourism, a major source of the foreign exchange so central in countering the pressures from the US blockade.

Delegate after delegate, in tones often sharp and angry, spoke of the human deprivation, distress, reduction of living standards, shortages, and death that is the ongoing impact of the US blockade on the Cuban people as a whole. Leading UN ambassadors and diplomats underscored this contradiction between the utter political isolation of the cruel and brutal US blockade and its continuation and deepening under the Biden Administration. Some expressed, in the dismay that accompanies disillusion, the busted expectation that the Democrat Biden was bound to be an incremental, ameliorative improvement or advance from the hated reactionary Trump with his purported Miami base among rightist Cuban-American forces.

Roll Call of Solidarity

Some 52 speakers mounted the UN podium (or spoke from their seats in pre- and post-vote “Explanations”), as per UN choreography, to denounce US policy and express support and solidarity for Cuba. This went on for several hours each day culminating in a powerful speech by Cuban Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez

Presentations were given representing specific UN member states as well in the name of distinct UN blocs and associations within the General Assembly. These groupings included: the African Group; the Association of South East Asian Nations; the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); the Group of 77 plus China; the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations (NAM); the Organization of Islamic Unity; and the more newly organized, with the leading participation of Cuba, the Friends in Defense of the UN Charter. Most speakers opened their remarks by aligning themselves with several of the different blocs and giving warm greetings to Cuban Foreign Minister Rodriguez.

As previously stated, Cuba’s inclusion of the US State Department’s “terrorism list” drew the wrath of most speakers, with Mexico’s top UN diplomat calling it “clearly absurd.” The Mexican representative then sharply pointed out that the US policy of “starving civilian populations is against international law” and that US anti-Cuba policy “must not only cease, but the US must repair the damage done.”

South Africa’s representative said his homeland will be “forever grateful for the decisive assistance from Cuba in the liberation of South Africa.”

As in past anti-blockade votes, speakers from the Caribbean island nations – organized in CARICOM — were particularly outspoken in solidarity with Cuba in some of the most stirring words of the two days. Like other nations that have benefitted from Cuba’s medical internationalism and the world-renowned Henry Reeve Brigades, Caribbean states spoke of the reality of Cuban medical solidarity in contrast to the US blockade which aims at causing economic destruction and human suffering.

Referring to the UN Secretary General’s report accompanying the Resolution and presented documents, numerous speakers referred to massive financial loss of $3.8 million from the blockade in less than one year over the course of 2021-2022.

I found the tone in the debate this year registering mounting “concern,” “disappointment,” “frustration” and quite notably indignation at the failure of Washington to act on such an overwhelming and clearly expressed view of the so-called “international community.” This is the same “international community” Washington appeals to and implores to condemn the Russian Federation invasion of Ukraine and its moves to unilaterally alter Ukraine’s legal UN-ratified territorial integrity. Of course, the overwhelming majority of UN member-states, did not need any such pressure from Washington to take independent positions directly against (or declining to support) the Russian Federation invasion. The UNGA vote against the Russian Federation actions was 143 to 5 with 35 abstentions that included a number of African states, China, Cuba, India, and Vietnam.

I was able to watch this unfold from the Visitors Gallery looking down on the panoramic view of the General Assembly Hall with dozens of Cuba solidarity and anti-blockade activists from New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts who observed the proceedings over two days as an expression of solidarity, closing a week of actions against the blockade organized by the ad hoc UNVote4Cuba Coal across the US, Canada, Quebec, and Puerto Rico.

Cuba is a Beacon

It is hard to imagine any significant, contentious political issue in world politics with so much consensus than opposition to the US anti-Cuba blockade. Uniting so many disparate states and other institutions and entities often in significant conflict with each other: capitalist parliamentary democracies and capitalist dictatorships; theocracies and secular states; the “Sunni” Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the “Shi’ite” Islamic Republic of Iran; India and Pakistan; “North” Korea and “South” Korea; and so on across the spectrum from the most industrialized capitalist ex-colonial powers in Europe and Japan to their most “underdeveloped” ex-subjects in the so-called Third World? In the past even regimes installed directly or indirectly by US military force such as Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover, Iraq, and Libya, could not stomach being identified with Washington’s anti-Cuba policy.

And, it has to be emphasized, that this universal vote is in defense of Cuba, a socialist government led by conscious revolutionary Marxists, ruling over a state where capitalist property relations have been overturned since the early 1960s and which has renounced nothing of its revolutionary legacy, heritage, and program of socialist internationalism, even as it maneuvers and navigates in the reality of a crisis-ridden capitalist world order.

But, beyond governments and states, let us also speak of the public opinion of the peoples of the world, especially the oppressed and exploited overwhelming majority of humanity, for whom revolutionary Cuba remains a beacon and political and struggle inspiration. This is expressed not only in political affinity but in the direct encounter of working people worldwide with Cuban medical internationalism and Cuban international solidarity.

No direct solidarity with Washington from UN Floor: Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Ukraine, and Israel

Because of wrangling with UN authorities – undoubtedly under the prod of Washington and EU pressure – ostensibly over non-payment of dues – Venezuela was unable to be the 186th vote for Cuba, but its UN Ambassador spoke from the floor in strong solidarity.

In 2021 the conservative Ivan Duque government in Colombia abstained in the UN vote in deference to its Washington military ally, even as Duque praised Cuba for its hosting of peace talks in Havana with Colombian guerrilla organizations who have long been ready to end the armed conflict with the Colombian army and state. The newly elected government of Gustavo Petro – decidedly more progressive in its domestic programs and policies — is sharply critical of US foreign policy in the Americas and the US anti-Cuba blockade in particular – and its UN diplomatic team voted “Yes” this year. Furthermore, this year Colombia’s new UN Ambassador gave one of the most eloquent and blistering condemnations of the US policy, singling out the obscenity of including Cuba on Washington’s “terrorism” list, especially given Cuba’s exemplary part in hosting an facilitating Colombians peace talks. The inclusion of Cuba on the outrageous US list was mentioned and stressed by nearly every one of the some 52 nation-states and UN blocs who took the floor to denounce US policy and solidarize with Cuba over the two days of blockade bashing.

In 2019 Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing “populist” government in Brazil UNGA voted with Washington and later abstained, as it did in the 2021 and 2022 votes. But this was, of course, the rump Bolsonaro government’s last hurrah! There is no doubt that the incoming government of President-elect Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva will be a solid and enthusiastic vote in favor of Cuba. The election of Lula is a further blow to the US blockade in the Americas. Lula will join Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador as two powerful longstanding, Hemispheric public opponents of the blockade. Both are certain to not shut up on the question of the blockade but rather press Biden in public and private. This is not good news for Biden and bipartisan Washington, still dominated by policymakers bristling with bitterness and hatred for the Cuban Revolution and its socialist government that survives, carries on, and still deals blows to US machinations and exposes them and their isolation to the world. Unforgivable! (Lopez Obrador has already brought in Cuban doctors to serve working-class communities in Mexico; hopefully Lula will bring back the heroic Cuban medical internationalists – kicked out by Bolsonaro and never replaced! – to Brazil.)

Ukraine is obviously politically and militarily dependent on Washington, NATO, and the EU in the ongoing battlefield of a serious land, air, and sea war that has killed thousands, with great economic and infrastructural devastation and human displacement since the Russian Federation invasion began the fierce hostilities. Kyiv could have voted “No” openly with the US, contrary to NATO members (except the US, of course) and European Union (EU) members – political bodies the Ukrainian government looks to politically — who voted with Cuba. Instead, the Ukrainian delegation abstained and chose not to speak. It should be added that Havana has maintained normal relations with Kyiv under war conditions and that Cuban diplomats have remained in the Ukrainian capital.

Even the knee-jerk vote with Washington from Israel is contradicted by the actual status of trade and travel between Cuba and Israel. Notably, Israel has had significant two-way economic trade and commercial relations with Cuba and there is fully legal travel from each country to the other, without sanctions or restrictions.

Israel and Cuba maintain indirect diplomatic ties which were downgraded after the 1973 Middle East war. Of course, Cuba has been for decades an eloquent, honest, and steadfast supporter in words and deeds of the Palestinian freedom struggle and right to self-determination; Cuban diplomacy and foreign policy supports the “two-state” program of a contiguous, sovereign, independent Palestinian state out of the occupied Palestinian territories with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of UN Security Council Resolution 242.

On the annual Cuba UNGA vote, Israel is just a marionette voting in lockstep with its US ally which, through its veto power in the UN Security Council, shields the Israeli state from regular formal condemnations stemming from Israeli repression, brutality, and “excesses” in the Palestinian “territories,” as well as blocking any political movement in the direction of Palestinian statehood. (Security Council Resolutions can and do often have enforcement mechanisms unlike General Assembly votes.)

In the final days of the Obama Administration in 2016 when Washington “abstained” (against itself!) in the UNGA vote, so did the Israeli delegation and they went back to “No” under Trump and Biden.

The EU Dance

The European Union (EU) is the political bloc of capitalist parliamentary “democracies” – part of the so-called “West” — legally constituted with headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, and at least nominally subordinate to a legislative body. Its leading member states (plus the UK which left the EU in 2020), France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, and secondary others such as Portugal are the contemporary nation-state descendants of the European colonial empires of the 19th and 20th Centuries with their horrific and contradictory deeds and legacy.

Every year the EU manages to keep together its fractious grouping to vote in favor of the Cuban-sponsored Resolution, and opposition to US extraterritorial sanctions. This is despite the EU’s – with some Eastern European government’s particularly hostile to revolutionary, anti-imperialist, and socialist Cuba — overall political contentious and adversarial relation to the Cuban Revolution or the socialist Cuban government and, in particular how Cuba defends itself against US aggression, which EU formulations dilute and diminish. The EU spokesperson generally insists on a separate presentation under the speaking category of “Explanation of Vote,” so they can carve out an “identity” distinct from both Washington’s cruel and hated sanctions and also to throw some jabs at Cuba (in usually anodyne language) over “human rights” and “civil liberties.”

The EU is also at pains to differentiate themselves from the US blockade while also delivering carefully formulated attacks on Cuba’s right to defend itself. The EU statement opposed the US blockade and recognizes itsdamaging impact on the economic situation of the country and negatively affects the living standards of the Cuban people.” It rejects Cuba’s inclusion on the “terrorism” list “without presenting any new facts.” The EU statement is strong on the rejection of the “extraterritoriality” of the US blockade that are “in violation of commonly accepted rules of international trade. We cannot accept that such measures impede our economic and commercial relations with Cuba.” Furthermore, “the EU strongly rejects the US activation of Title III and IV of the Helms-Burton Act in April 2019…We will draw on all appropriate measures to address the effects of the Helms-Burton Act, including in relation to our WTO rights and through the use of the EU Blocking Statute, which protects against the extra-territorial application of those US sanctions to EU citizens, businesses and NGOs operating in Cuba.” These are fine words, but there is no evidence of any concrete implementation in ways that actually counter US extraterritorial illegality.

The EU statement then goes on to express its “concern” about the “human rights” situation in Cuba and –without acknowledging that revolutionary Cuba is under siege by Washington and has the right to defend itself — “reiterate[s] our call on the Cuban Government to fully grant its citizens internationally recognised civil, political and economic rights and freedoms, including freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and free access to information, to release all political prisoners.” Outside the framework of Washington’s economic and political war against Cuba, and the vast resources allocated openly and covertly towards that end, it is nothing but arrogant, patronizing, ahistorical sophistry to pose questions of “democracy” in this manner.

Washington’s pathetic rejoinder

The US was in full stonewall mode in their pathetic response to complete and utter isolation and humiliation at the UNGA.

I couldn’t help but wonder how the flunky US spokesperson, “Political Director John Kelly” given his unenviable assignment  – his boss US UN Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield decided that discretion was the greater part of valor and was nowhere to be seen – managed to keep a straight face as he read the line: “we are focused on the political and economic wellbeing of the Cuban people” or “our support for the Cuban people is unwavering [the] embargo includes exemptions and authorizations relating to exports of food, medicine, and other humanitarian goods to Cuba” or “we stand with the Cuban people and will continue to seek ways to provide meaningful support to them.” Does he even believe such nonsense and twaddle himself? What Kelly did was present a line. Now a “line” can contain some or even full veracity, but in the case of Kelly’s statement-line it can said that “every word is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the’” (apologies to Mary McCarthy).

Cuban Deputy Ambassador Yuri Gala Lopez gave an outstanding rebuttal to Kelly on the UN floor, one of the top highlights in a day of many.

The main contradiction in this period is between the Biden Administration’s inability to gain any political traction for its brutal and hostile anti-Cuba policy and its utter isolation on-the-one-hand and — despite this worldwide unanimity in opposition — on-the-other the continued deepening of the blockade and the horrific and devastating consequences for the Cuban people as a whole – industrial and agricultural workers, small business owners, professionals, including doctors and nurses, teachers – compounded by the subsequent disasters noted above through Hurricane Ian.

Whether this can or will take on a material challenge with any real-world consequences for Washington remains to be seen. What is very clear after the UNGA vote – following the isolation and semi-humiliation over the anti-Cuba blockade at the July 2022 Summit of the Americas hosted by the Biden Administration – is that political momentum is on the side of opponents of the US blockade and therefore must be pressed forward on all fronts in an unrelenting manner. We must move beyond the blah-blah-blah of rhetorical eloquence and verbal solidarity to deeds and consequences for bipartisan Washington’s criminal deeds.

In his intervention, the representative from Namibia, whose struggle and triumph of independence and sovereignty was decisively tied to the Cuban-led military defeat of apartheid South Africa in the late-1980s, spoke forcefully against “US aggressive actions” and “campaigns of subversion” and “media manipulations.”  He asked, in closing, if “all the fine words expressed here, will they prove empty again?”

Ike Nahem is a retired Amtrak Locomotive Engineer and Teamsters Union member. A longtime anti-imperialist, socialist, and Cuba solidarity activist and leader, Ike is a founder and organizer for the New York-New Jersey Cuba Si Coalition, a member of the US National Network on Cuba, and a central organizer of the forthcoming March 18-20 International US-Cuba Normalization Conference in New York City. He is the author of many published, widely circulated essays online including The Life of Fidel Castro: A Marxist Appreciation and To the Memory of Malcolm X: Tribute to a Revolutionary. Contact Ike at ikenahem@gmail.com. Read other articles by Ike.