United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power. (AP/Bryan R. Smith) (AP/Bryan R. Smith)
Samantha Power


The United States abstained for the first time in 25 years Wednesday on a UN resolution condemning America’s economic embargo against Cuba, a measure it had always vehemently opposed. The US was joined in abstaining by Israel, the only other country to stand with the US.

For the first time in twenty-five years, Israel changed its voting pattern on a resolution regarding Cuba at the United Nations. The resolution, which is proposed every year since 1991, calls on the US to end the sanctions on Cuba which it has in place for the past fifty-five years.

Due to the improvement in the relationship between the US and Cuba, both the US and Israel abstained instead of voting against it.

“Israel welcomes the progress achieved in the relations between the US and Cuba and hopes it will lead to a new era in the region,” said Ambassador Danny Danon.  “The US has no more steadfast and loyal ally than Israel and we will continue the close cooperation between our two countries at the UN,” he continued.

The resolution calls to refrain from enacting laws which do not conform to the UN Charter. In past years, Israel was the only country to vote with the Americans against the resolution.

The US was joined in abstaining by Israel, the only other country to vote against the embargo resolution in the General Assembly last year. When the vote — 191-0 with two abstentions — was shown on the electronic board, diplomats from the 193 UN member states burst into applause.

US Ambassador Samantha Power announced the abstention just before the vote saying that the US policy of isolation toward Cuba had “isolated the United States, including here at the United Nations.”

“After 55-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we are choosing to take the path of engagement,” she said.

The US decision to change its vote follows President Barack Obama’s restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba and his support for lifting the embargo, which the Republican-led Congress is against.

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced on Dec. 17, 2014, that they were restoring diplomatic ties, which were broken in 1961 after Fidel Castro took power and installed a communist government. On July 20 last year, diplomatic relations were restored and embassies of the two countries were reopened, but serious issues remain, especially the US call for human rights on the Caribbean island and claims for expropriated property.

The US abstention in the General Assembly vote was certain to anger both Republican and Democratic opponents of lifting the 55-year-old embargo, but it reflects President Barack Obama’s belief shortly before he leaves office that it’s time to move ahead in normalizing US-Cuban ties.

Indeed, there were immediate protests in the US Congress.

General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding and unenforceable. But the 25-year-old exercise in which the world body has overwhelmingly voted to condemn the embargo does reflect world opinion and has given Cuba a global stage to demonstrate America’s isolation on its Cuba policy.

Power made clear that the United States “categorically” rejects statements in Wednesday’s resolution suggesting the embargo violated international law.

She also said that abstaining “does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government.”

“We do not,” Power said. “We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people.”

She cited Cuba’s detention of government critics, threats and intimidation of participants in peaceful marches and meetings, and severe restrictions on outside information.

In last year’s vote, the assembly approved a resolution condemning the commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba with the highest vote ever — 191-2. Only Israel joined the United States in opposing that resolution.

By: Edith M. Lederer and Matthew Lee, AP