Moscow votes to end Washington’s 52-year Cuban embargo

Cuban Fidel Castro enjoying a cigar in Havana. (Reuters / Prenza Latina)
All US presidents from John F Kennedy to Barack Obama have kept the Cuban people under a harsh American economic embargo, which Russia says has failed to influence the Cuban peoples’ “sovereign choice”.

When Cuban leader Fidel Castro made the historic decision to align his country with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, the Kennedy administration imposed a harsh embargo on the Caribbean nation (But not before – the story goes – cigar-smoking JFK was able to buy, through his press secretary Pierre Salinger, 1,201 Havana Petit H. Upmann cigars).

Fifty-two years later, the embargo – which has been ineffectual at curing Cuba of communism – remains in force.

On Tuesday, Russia threw its support behind a UN resolution that calls on Washington to end the trade embargo, Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said at a meeting of the UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

"We hope that after the US government eases its embargo in certain areas – in particular, on US citizens' visiting relatives in Cuba, as well as on making money transfers and postal orders. Other steps for the final lifting of the embargo will follow," the Russian ambassador said from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly.

He stressed that Russia has consistently called for the termination of the embargo, in addition to halting “political and military pressure that aggravates confrontational tendencies in international relations."

The UN General Assembly on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly to condemn the US commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba.

Russia was among 188 UN member states that voted in favor of the resolution, which calls on Washington to lift the embargo against Cuba "as soon as possible."

Only the United States, Israel and Palau voted against the document.

The embargo was first enacted in 1960 following Cuba's nationalization of properties belonging to American citizens and corporations. Sanctions against the Caribbean nation were further intensified to a near-total embargo in 1962 following the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Between 1959 and 1991, the Soviet Union delivered 170 million tons of oil, 13 million tons of grain, and 300,000 trucks, cars and tractors to Cuba, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia remains Cuba's leading creditor and the two countries maintain close economic ties with each other.

Churkin pointed to the failed sanction regime as proof that it is impossible to break the sovereign will of a people.

The unilateral American sanctions "have shown that it is impossible to influence the Cuban people's sovereign choice of their [preference] for a development model." The only result of the embargo, Churkin noted, was to “deteriorate the living conditions of the island's population.”

Washington has taken steps to lighten the embargo, and permits limited money remittances, as well as the travel of Americans to Cuba. Other sanctions, however, measures remain in force.

According to Cuban officials, the Cuban economy up to December 2010 suffered billions of dollars in financial losses over the course of the 52-year blockade.

Under President Putin, trade between Cuba and Russia has soared, from $125 million dollars in 2005 to over $231 million in 2006 and onwards to $285 million, with the trade turnover hitting their peak in 2007.

Today, Cuba is Russia’s seventh largest Russian trading partner in Latin America.

Robert Bridge, RT