The United States government does not have the least moral authority to criticize Cuba or anyone else in the area of human rights. We reject the repeated manipulation of this issue for political purposes and the double standards that characterize its use.
— Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, November 7, 2019 at United Nations General Assembly
On November 7, 2019, for the 28th year in a row, the entire United Nations General Assembly, gathered in one room, voted overwhelmingly against “the Economic, Commercial, and Financial Embargo Imposed on Cuba by the United States.” The final tally was 187 in favor, 3 opposed (Brazil, Israel, US), 2 abstentions (Colombia, Ukraine), 1 not voting (Moldova).
Several points should be noted about these holdouts to the overwhelming consensus of the world’s constituted governments that the ultra-powerful nation-state of the United States (population over 300 million) of America should cease and desist its decades-long shameful, arrogant bullying of socialist Cuba (population less than 12 million). Speaker after speaker, to this observer, barely repressed their contempt for Washington’s slanders of Cuba. All fully understand that Cuba is a classic and model example, among many in this Hemisphere since the end of the 19th Century, of being on the receiving end of unrelenting Yankee imperialist aggression, under a crass cover of flowery bullshit demagogy about “human rights” and “freedom.” As speaker after speaker declaimed from the General Assembly rostrum, “28 years is Enough!”
First, let us note that while the crisis-ridden Brazilian government of Jair Bolsonaro may have added the NO vote of Brazil to those of the United States and Israel, Bolsonaro is not Brazil. There is not the slightest doubt that the public opinion of the Brazilian working class, youth, and population as a whole (likely including the “professional” diplomatic staff in New York and in the Brazilian Foreign Ministry), solidly rejects as an abomination the vote dictated by Bolsonaro and solidarizes with Cuba.
Israel – and the right-wing coalition government of Benjamin Netanyahu just-hanging-on to power – is, of course, politically and militarily dependent on the United States and votes accordingly. (Netanyahu’s government abstained when the US government under Barack Obama also did so in 2016.) Interestingly, however, Israel and Cuba, which have not restored diplomatic relations cut after the 1973 Middle East War, have for many years now, carried out, by all accounts, normal and even friendly bilateral trade with each other, as well as extensive people-to-people travel exchanges with no restrictions.
Finally, while fully 50 separate speakers addressed the 2-day General Assembly meeting from the rostrum or from their seats – representing their member states directly or speaking for major constituted blocs recognized by the UN – Israel, Brazil, Colombia, Ukraine, and the elusive Moldova chose not to speak at all and defend their “point of view” whatever that might be other than jerking their knee towards the United States government and the Trump Administration.
Even regimes installed directly or indirectly by US military force such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, could not stomach being identified with Trump’s Washington against Cuba. Again, as for well over a decade, Washington’s EU and NATO allies voted for the Resolution presented by Cuba. As did both North and South Korea and even Iran and US close ally Saudi Arabia.
Why the UN Vote Matters
The annual Resolution does not have any enforcement authority or mechanisms, is generally ignored or relegated to a back-pages note in the US capitalist media, and can be even characterized as politically toothless. Still, from Cuba’s vantage point, the annual Resolution is an important material and political factor in the defense of Cuba’s socialist revolution, and registers an objective marker in the relationship of political forces in the world and is a material factor in the political limitations on direct US aggression and the permanent world pressure to crush the blockade in all its forms once and for all in world public opinion. It can fairly be said that the US blockade of Cuba is universally hated around the world, including by many millions in the United States who increasingly know some or much of the truth about Cuba, including many tens of thousands from licensed and unlicensed travel to the beautiful island.
Above all, every year it is revolutionary, socialist Cuba that holds the moral high ground in world politics, worth all the nuclear weapons in Washington’s arsenal, on this world stage. The revolutionary diplomats at Cuba’s Mission to the United Nations give great importance to this annual vote. And every year dozens of Cuba solidarity activists, mostly from the New York-New Jersey area, take seats in the 4th Floor Visitors Gallery to respectfully observe the annual event.
2018 Ruse Not Repeated
Last year in 2018 the United States carried out an elaborate diversionary ruse to dilute the political impact of the Resolution in the form of a series of amendments attacking Cuba over this or that “human rights” nonsense. These fell completely flat as the EU and every other force voting for the Cuban-sponsored Resolution, refused to take the bait and Washington’s political isolation and humiliation was only deepened, as they appeared unprepared and blindsided.
There was some mystery as to whether Trump’s UN flunkies would put themselves through the same wringer again in 2019, but at the end of the day the US representative, recruited by Donald Trump from giving commentary on a conservative cable TV news oligopoly, simply took the floor in turn after the previous 40 speakers had blasted US anti-Cuba policy, gave a subdued, lame 3-minute litany (“I promise not to speak too long.”), and promptly sat down. Perhaps the highlight of her time was a snarky reference to Cuba’s solidarity with the “former Maduro regime” in Venezuela. A few moments later she was followed on the rostrum by the present Maduro regime’s Foreign Minister.
The US approach was simply let’s just get it over with! This points to the genuine political consternation and isolation that is the political reality faced by the Trump Administration that is accelerating since the debacle of its Venezuela “regime-change” policy which culminated in the failure of the April 30, 2019 US-directed right-wing military coup. I will return to this decisive point in assessing the significance of the 2019 UN Cuba vote.
Too Much Pressure
On Day 1, November 6, there were 31 separate presentations. The first seven from recognized UN blocs: the accredited delegate from Palestine speaking for “the Group of 77 plus China;” the delegate from Tunisia for the “African Group;” Azerbaijan’s representative spoke for the “Non-Aligned Movement,” Grenada’s representative for the “Caribbean Community;” Singapore’s for the Association of South East Asian Nations;” and Uganda for the “Organization of Islamic Cooperation.”
Trump’s envoys were reportedly pressuring nation-states in Latin America and the Caribbean to side with them against Cuba but, observing the several hours of discussion, it was clear to me that Hemispheric states and governments were, if anything, going out of the way to register in clear and direct language their sharp opposition to US anti-Cuba policy. Argentina, Costa Rica, and Uruguay rushed to get their statement of support for the Resolution on the record.
Nearly every individual member of the “Caribbean Community” also took the rostrum – Grenada; St. Vincent and the Grenadines; Suriname; Belize; Guyana; St. Kitts and Nevis; Jamaica; Trinidad and Tobago; Antigua and Barbuda and spoke eloquently and with some passion and sharpness about their solidarity with Cuba, all citing Cuba’s internationalist medical, educational, and sports solidarity misiones. It is very clear that the US blockade of Cuba, in addition to the moral and political outrage it engenders, has a deleterious economic impact on Caribbean-wide economic integration and agricultural and industrial development and exchange for the entire Caribbean.
Sharp Tone, Growing Exasperation
Having attended these discussions and votes, and written about them several times, I can say that my impression this year was that the diplomatic language was a little less diplomatic, that the tone was more than a little sharper from many African and Caribbean states, and more exasperated from others. Many noted the “regression” from their hopes and illusions after Barack Obama in his second term led a retreat of US policy: freed the remaining Cuban Five political prisoners and heroes; restored Washington-Havana diplomatic relations; loosened travel restrictions and air travel; and OK’d Cruise Ship stops.
The tone this year – and I think it was V.I. Lenin who said, “Tone equals politics” – ranged from “deep concern” to “unconscionable” and “appalling” as all lined up to “categorically condemn” the “illegal character” of US policy which should be “consigned to the trash heap.” There was less mincing of mealy-mothed words among the diplomatic gentlemen and gentleladies. Vietnam’s representative spoke “as a country that suffered 19 years of US sanctions…we are in solidarity with the brotherly people of Cuba…we demand the policy be reversed!” The representative from St. Vincent and the Grenadines spoke of her country’s “unwavering support and solidarity with the revolutionary Cuban government; we decry this affront to the indomitable Cuban people.” The Chinese representative like many speakers listed the recent, escalating measures implemented by Trump and said, in the end, “bullying will only hurt the bully.” Gabon spoke sharply of the “nefarious” blockade. Speakers vied over who could use the most condemning or disdainful phrase to register their solidarity with Cuba. (And let us not forget this is communist Cuba led by conscious revolutionary Marxists and Leninists, the political children of Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, and a generation of revolutionary women and men who were combatants and fighters for socialist revolution in the Americas.)
The speaker from Belize spoke of the “unbreakable friendship” with Cuba and Cuba’s “magnanimous” support in the fields of health and education “where we have needs and Cuba has strengths.” North Korea called the blockade a “crime against humanity”. South Africa’s representative demanded “End this Injustice! We demand that all of it be scrapped!” The Namibian delegate gave a heartfelt presentation citing Cuba’s “significant contribution to African liberation and the defeat of apartheid and “winning the independence of my country.” Speaker after speaker spoke in praise of Cuban and world revolutionary leader Fidel Castro. (This included a couple of places where if you praised Fidel or tried to promote his politics you’d likely end up in the slammer.)
As is the case each year militant statements of solidarity came from Bolivia, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
Shifts in Hemispheric Politics and the Blockade
While this represents a remarkable continuity and consensus in the so-called international community, it also registers significant new developments in the long struggle to, once and for all, eradicate the US economic and political war against Cuba. The anti-blockade and anti-US government tone, rhetoric, exasperation, and contempt for the ongoing US aggression was more pronounced, more bitter, and perhaps more conducive to action and deeds from past statements for the record. Events in Latin America and the Caribbean, from Haiti to Chile, are accelerating and intensifying every burning political issue and the “Cuba Question” and the US economic and political war and sanctions has been central and volcanic for decades.
Since the last vote in 2018, and in particular over the last six months in Latin America and the Caribbean, momentous historic political developments have shifted the relationship of class and political forces in the Hemisphere to the detriment of the Donald Trump White House and the US bourgeoisie it serves (in its own peculiar style that worries more than a few in the US ruling class) and in favor of the Cuban revolutionary government and the Hemispheric working class, including inside the United States, where the class struggle is notably heating up. (It is said that the number of strikes in the US today is higher than at any time since the 1980s.)
New Political Dynamics as 2019 Closes
Washington began 2019 with blood in its mouth, full of itself, and living in its bubble of lies to the point where it believed its own bullshit. Trump and his minions were apparently convinced that quick work could and would be made of the sovereign, elected government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela in the midst of the devastating capitalist economic contraction in that country, greatly multiplied by the collapse in oil commodity prices, mounting US sanctions; and the concurrent economic sabotage in cahoots with the Venezuelan bourgeoisie, which still controls wholesale and retail distribution networks, and much else in the Venezuelan “mixed economy.”
With Maduro disposed of, to the likes of John Bolton, Elliot Abrams, and Marco Rubio, the path would then be clear: Forward to the extermination of socialist Cuba!
Alas for Trump and his gang by the time of the humiliating fiasco of the failed coup that was definitively registered on April 30, 2019, it was obvious that the Maduro-PSUV government was actually being considerable strengthened. This is among the many unintended consequences of the flop of Trump’s anti-Venezuela crusade. These consequences are now continuing to unfold. As the virulently anti-Cuba and anti-Venezuela Miami Herald put it in a deliciously demoralized headline “South America’s wretched month has been great for one man: Venezuela’s Maduro.” The article goes on to quote a Venezuelan “businessman and political pundit,” who laments, “I think people [that is, the Venezuelan capitalists and their allies] here are resigned. They feel like Maduro has survived. And now the world is distracted with the protests in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti – so many other countries.”
From 1992 to 2019: History of the Vote
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 for now 28 years now, Washington has been utterly isolated in this annual vote in the General Assembly.
In the November 2016 UN Vote, the US delegation (with Israel in tow – actually abstained in the vote against itself, making the vote formally unanimous. That was in the week before Donald Trump’s narrow electoral triumph over the hapless Hillary Clinton.
That had capped a process which had unfolded from December 2014 when the Barack Obama Administration, in the second half of its second term, began a retreat that partially overturned the bipartisan ruling-class consensus against Cuba. That consensus had lasted from the end of the Dwight Eisenhower Administration in 1959-60 through December 2014. In a dizzying few months Obama, with the public support of Hillary Clinton (who had been battered on Cuba at successive Organization of American States “Summits” from 2008-2012) Secretary of State John Kerry, and Vice-President Joe Biden, released the remaining Cuban Five heroes, engineered Cuba’s removal from the State Department’s notorious list of “nations supporting terrorism,” established formal diplomatic relations with Embassies in Washington, DC and Havana, and loosened existing travel restrictions without abolishing them. The overall “embargo” mandated since the 1996 Helms-Burton Law signed by then-president W. Clinton remained in place.
Trump has steadily reversed, incrementally and with accumulation, much of the limited Obama measures without abrogating formal diplomatic relations or ending all loopholes or even direct flights from US airports to Cuban cities.(Commercial flights to cities other than Havana have been canceled but Charter Flights remain possible.) Trump used the pretext of perturbing reports of “sonic attacks” or some other mysterious ailments supposedly afflicting US and Canadian diplomats at the beginning of his term to cut back drastically the significant people-to-people exchanges that were proving very popular with US and Cuban citizens, separated families, trade unionists, creative artists, doctors and scientists, and so on.
Virtual Coup in Venezuela
The situation changed when the disastrous economic crisis in Venezuela by the end of 2018 led Trump and his team to think the time had come to choreograph a right-wing military coup in Venezuela with the hapless Juan Guaido installed as President. This team of Pence-Pompeo-Bolton and the dusted-off war criminal Elliot Abrams displayed an uncommon skill combining unsavoriness with incompetence with Senator Marco Rubio on the ground with “humanitarian” trucks on the Venezuelan-Colombian border!
For the first 2 months of 2019 they organized a virtual coup that turned out to be 50% bullshit and 50% fantasy. This was fully backed by the Democratic Party Capitol Hill leadership and their lackeys in the capitalist media who went into full Yankee imperialist mode! All their obsession with and contempt for Donald Trump was cast aside to join him in the love fest for – let’s hear the drum roll!!! – Juan Guaido and our bipartisan love for Venezuelan and Latin American democracy and human rights! Hear, Hear!
Following the late-February 2019 debacle on the Venezuelan-Colombian and Venezuelan-Brazilian borders, Trump and his gang doubled down and organized a virtual coup that was supposed to culminate on May Day with Maduro hopping on the last flight to Jose Marti International Airport in Havana and Juan Guaido installed in Miraflores. Instead the mobilized Venezuelan working class dominated the streets on May Day, Nicolas Maduro’s political position was greatly strengthened in the working class, in the population, and in the Venezuelan Army with his stalwart defense of national sovereignty. The army officer corps was deeply insulted by Trump and Pompeo who though they could throw around some dirty US money to buy off Venezuelan patriots who Washington had previously slandered as drug dealers and worse! For Trump – and you can be sure he was enraged at his minions for the humiliation — the virtual coup became a humiliating reality check. What to do?
Trump and Pompeo quickly pivoted to blaming revolutionary Cuba for their own debacle. (Bolton was also soon sent packing.) Cuba was accused of having 20,000 soldiers and spooks in the country and that was why Maduro was still in office and not living the life in a Cuban ocean resort! Cuba actually has 20,000 medical personnel and educators, and sports trainers in Venezuela.
This, among other things is an egregious insult to the Venezuelan Army and neighborhood-based organized militias that mobilized continuously to defend national sovereignty culminating in the defeat of the virtual coup.
The anti-Cuba measures since then have been coming fast and steady, US- and world public opinion be damned! Cuban-Major League Baseball Deal – annulled. Cruse Ship stops in Cuba (very popular with US citizens, and Cuban small business owners, and a growing source of foreign exchange for Cuban health care and education) — cancelled. “People-to-People” Exchange – eliminated. Then there was the new Trump first that even the solidly anti-Cuban Administrations of William Clinton and George W. Bush wouldn’t do. That is, ending the waiver of Title III of the blockading Helms-Burton Act signed into law by Clinton in 1996. The way is now open for frivolous lawsuits in US courts over property legally nationalized by the revolutionary Cuban government between 1959-1961. At the time, that is over 60 years ago, Washington – which utterly dominated the socially oppressive and brutally unequal Cuban economy – rejected offers of fair compensation to affected companies. Companies based in other countries settled without much difficulty.
Instead the John F. Kennedy Administration was committed to a CIA-directed mercenary invasion of Cuba in April 1961 and, when that failed panned a direct US invasion that was only averted with the settlement of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.
We are now seeing the accelerating consequences of Trump and company’s Venezuelan fiasco in the rapid shift in – to use bloated academic jargon – the political paradigm in Latin America and the Caribbean from the uprisings in Haiti and Chile to the return of the Peronist party in Argentina and even the freeing of Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva on November 8 in Brazil. It seems certain that the so-called Lima Group stitched together to prop up Juan Guaido cannot have too many more days on this planet. This shift takes place amidst ongoing assaults on the working class under the whip of the International Monetary Fund and the concentrated summits of world capital.
This then was the background for this year’s vote.
2020 approaches with Donald Trump’s Washington on its heels in Latin America.