UN urges end to US embargo on Cuba

UNITED NATIONS: The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly Wednesday, for the 18th year running, to urge an end to the US trade embargo on communist-ruled Cuba.

The non-binding vote received the backing of 187 countries, covering almost the entire international community.

Only the United States, Israel and Palau voted against the resolution, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.

The margin of support for ending the decades-old embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005, 184 in 2007, and 185 last year.

Cuba's Foreign Minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, told the General Assembly that the embargo was "an absurd policy that causes scarcities and sufferings. It is a crass, flagrant and systematic violation of human rights."

He said that despite signs of a US-Cuban thaw since President Barack Obama's election last year "there has not been any change in the implementation of the economic, commercial and financial blockade."

However, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, dismissed the "painfully familiar rhetoric" and defended what she said was a measure aimed at pressuring the rigidly communist regime to allow basic freedoms.

"That kind of debate does nothing to help the people of Cuba," she said, adding that Washington was offering Havana "a new chapter" in their relations but had as yet received no answer.

Rice rejected assertions that the US embargo was responsible for Cuba's crushing poverty, saying that the near permanent economic crisis in the country had been brought about by government control over the economy and society.

The US economic, trade and financial sanctions were imposed 47 years ago following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the Caribbean island nation by US-backed Cuban exiles.

Since taking office in January, Obama has moved to ease tensions with small steps such as relaxing rules on visits and money transfers to the island.

But so far, the US administration has not taken major strides in its approach to the Americas' last remaining communist regime.

In July, the two countries officially restarted a dialogue on migration issues which had been suspended since 2003, and talks are also under way aimed at restarting bilateral mail service which was cut off in 1963.