The race against the U.S. blockade on Cuba

Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba has been added to a series of recent statements and gestures from Washington and Havana against a policy of economic harassment that will be voted on at the United Nations General Assembly.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest preferred to abstain from giving an opinion about the position his government will assume at the United Nations General Assembly, under the opinion that “the policy of the United States government has changed.”

Several news reports have accumulated during the most recent days regarding the race against the U.S. blockade on Cuba. Despite the favourable talks between both countries to normalise relations, Havana again asked for the resolution that the United Nations General Assembly approves every year to condemn that policy of commercial, financial and economic harassment. In a more surprising gesture, Washington hinted at the possibility of abstaining, for the first time, during the UN voting. And a few hours ago the Vatican reiterated the Pope’s intention of sitting down with the U.S. president to demand the end of the blockade.

Representatives of the Barack government publicly admitted the possibility of not opposing that resolution. Statements by spokespersons took place in response to an anonymous revelation made before by U.S. officials, according to the Associated Press (AP) news agency.

 

“Final language on a potential resolution has not been completed at this point.  So I don’t have any comment or speculation about…what position the administration would take,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest in his daily press briefing.

 

Some hours before AP had cited four U.S. administration officials who weren’t authorized to speak publicly on sensitive internal deliberations and demanded anonymity as saying that no final decision on how to vote had yet been made regarding the Cuban proposal at the United Nations.

 

“Obviously, since the last time that the United Nations had the opportunity to consider a resolution like this one, the policy of the United States government has changed,” Earnest also recognized. But he warned that “an embargo does remain in place.  It requires an act of Congress to remove that embargo, and the President (Obama) has made the case to Congress that that’s what they should do.”

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez recognised the advances made in the talks with the United States, but said that the economic blockade on his country has intensified with sanctions against third-country companies and banks.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez recognised the advances made in the talks with the United States, but said that the economic blockade on his country has intensified with sanctions against third-country companies and banks.

 

In any case, experts recognise that the simple consideration of abstention is an unprecedented event. If Washington were to not explicitly oppose the resolution, it would be de facto allying itself with the international body against its own Congress, which has rejected lifting a blockade recognised as a failure by President Obama himself.

 

State Department spokesman John Kirby supported the position of the White House spokesman when he also insinuated the possibility of abstention. He recalled that the embargo (blockade) is the law, and “we have to obey the law. It doesn’t mean you can’t take a position that you want the law changed.”

 

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez reiterated last Wednesday during a press conference that the more than 50-year economic blockade remains intact despite the progress made in diplomatic talks between both nations.

 

Though the foreign minister recognised Obama’s calls to Congress about the need to eliminate the blockade, he said that the U.S. president has executive powers that allow him to substantially modify the application of that policy and he presented proof that the blockade continues and has even intensified.

 

“During the period of confidential negotiations and talks with the government of the United States, that is, in 2014 and 2015, the blockade continued to be strengthened with a marked and growing extraterritorial character, especially in the financial sphere,” Rodríguez said and mentioned “the persecution of our international financial transactions and the extraordinary, unusual, fines imposed fundamentally on European banks and companies for their economic relations with Cuba.”

 

“One must judge by facts, data, not by statements, not by expressions of goodwill,” he said.

 

Until now Washington does not allow Cuba to freely trade with the United States, forbids the use of the dollar in international transactions and the entry of Cuban aircraft and ships to the United States.

 

However, the negotiations took another step last Friday when Barack Obama and Raúl Castro spoke on the phone to assess the advances made like the recent opening of embassies in both countries and the agenda that will be discussed in upcoming months as part of the process toward the normalisation of bilateral ties.

Pope Francis’ tour of Cuba first and the United States later is expected as an important contribution to the improvement of U.S.-Cuba relations.

Pope Francis’ tour of Cuba first and the United States later is expected as an important contribution to the improvement of U.S.-Cuba relations.

 

The telephone talk took place before the trip the Cuban president plans to make this week to New York to attend the Summit on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and the high-level segment of the 70th period of sessions of the United Nations General Assembly.

 

It also took place before Pope Francis’ visits first to Cuba, from September 19 to 22, and later to the United States, conceived as a contribution of the Supreme Pontiff to put an end to the U.S. blockade on the largest of the Caribbean islands, as was recognised by Vatican spokesmen cited by the media.

 

Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin this Thursday September 17 requested the lifting of the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States on the people of the largest Caribbean island for more than five decades.

 

In an interview for the Holy See television channel, Parolin said that “this type of sanctions applied to populations causes suffering, it especially affects the poor.”

 

Last Friday, hours before the Pope’s tour of Cuba and the United States, Washington announced the reduction of some restrictions imposed on Cubans by the blockade. The novelty, presented by the Treasury and Commerce Departments for their almost immediate application, relaxes the limitations on travel, telecommunications, Internet service, business and bank operations and remittances, and allows U.S. companies to be present in Cuba.

 

With this chain of measures and statements, Obama laid out the carpet to receive the Pope this Tuesday the 22nd. (2015)

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