A brief look back at the history of the embargo reveals how unwarranted the euphoria that ensued after this "victory" in the official press was, and points to the real reasons for the votes recently cast.
The Cold War between the great superpowers, Cuba’s export of the Revolution to Latin America, its uncompensated confiscations of American property, and its alliance with the Soviet Union, shaped the scenario in which President Eisenhower decreed, in 1961, the embargo on Cuba and the breakdown of diplomatic relations with the country. It is necessary, therefore, to take these factors into account in order to make an objective judgement.
Despite the inefficiency of Cuba's state-run economy, the government's ideology-based alliance with the Soviet Union allowed the totalitarian model to survive until the collapse of the socialist bloc pulled the rug out from under Cuba: GDP fell sharply by 34%, and never recovered.
It was in 1992 that Russian subsidies disappeared, and Cuba first submitted a resolution condemning the embargo. From that point forward the policy was blamed for some problems on the island, and, eventually, for all of them, even called "one of the main obstacles to guaranteeing sexual rights in Cuba" (Manuel Vázquez, deputy director of CENESEX, May 13, 2021).
In response to the 25 resolutions presented by Cuba between 1992 and 2016, the US has maintained the same line. In that last year, under the Obama Administration, the US and Israel abstained, and the rest of the countries voted in favor. At that point the channel of resolutions was exhausted at the UN, where these agreements are not binding.
It was necessary, then, to move towards bilateral negotiations, to which President Obama expressed openness. Instead of demanding democratization as a premise for re-establishing relations, Obama dictated six packages of measures aimed at empowering Cubans: expanding travel permits, offering commercial opportunities for private companies and small farmers, increasing remittances and donations, expanding the commercial export of goods and services, and providing commercial telecommunications and Internet services at lower prices. These measures had an impact on the increase in travel, the arrival of cruise ships, the resumption of flights, the direct transport of mail, and facilitated negotiations between other countries and the island.
Everything indicated that the dispute would move towards negotiations, but the Cuban government limited itself to allowing Cubans to stay in hotels reserved for tourists, to travel abroad without asking for permission, to stay outside national territory for up to 24 months, to sell their cars and their homes, and to buy computers, DVDs and mobile phone lines... These measures demonstrated, rather than a political commitment to change, how far the rights of Cubans had regressed.
The US then changed its policy, but Cuba did not reciprocate, because change entailed a "danger": the foreign contradiction would shift towards the interior of the country, something that Fidel Castro made very clear in a letter to students at the University of Havana, on January 26, 2015, that he opposed negotiations with the United States. And in March of 2016, he said: "Each of us is supposed to be at risk of a heart attack when we hear these words from the President of the United States (…) Let no one be under the illusion that the people of this noble and self-sacrificing country will renounce the glory and rights, and the spiritual wealth that they have gained through the development of education, science and culture (…) We don't need the empire to give us anything."
After the failed attempt to re-establish relations with the United States, on November 1, 2017, Cuba again presented to the UN the project entitled "The necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba." In this context, Donald Trump, who during the election campaign announced that he would revise the policy established by Obama, signed the "Presidential Memorandum of National Security on the Strengthening of US Policy towards Cuba."
In the following years, Cuba maintained its condemnatory resolutions. Now, on November 3, 2022, Resolution 30 was adopted with the same arguments: "the embargo is illegal and immoral and constitutes the greatest obstacle to the economic and social development of Cuba."
Why the insistence on a dead end? Because the objective of the resolutions is nothing more than to mask the real obstacle to the development of the island: a totalitarian system that concentrates absolute power in the hands of its leader, property in the State, and that has replaced civil society with a network of associations subordinated to the established order, using them to cover up the regime's inefficiency and to avoid any commitment to human rights.
Thus, the solution to Cuba's structural crisis does not depend only, or first of all, on the suspension of the embargo, but rather on a profound change in what some call the internal embargo. What has been demonstrated over more than six decades is that the effectiveness of totalitarianism in preserving power, obscuring its inefficiency, and avoiding any commitments to human rights cannot be extrapolated to economic efficiency and the common good, as demonstrated by the widespread misery that has driven a quarter of a million Cubans outside our borders in the last year.
Before 1959, Cuba's economy was one of the strongest in the region. Today it is among the weakest, which confirms that the relationship between freedom and progress constitutes a social law. If the government of the island allowed its nationals to set up small and medium-sized enterprises with legal security, to acquire the ownership of lands now only held in usufruct, eliminated monopolies held by its Collection and Exterior Commerce divisions, struck the prefix "Foreign" from the Investment Law, and allowed workers to hire and unionize freely, the embargo would lose its raison d 'être. The US Congress —not the UN— would then suspend it.
This would not be a surrender to the "enemy", but rather a gesture serving the nation and the people it supposedly represents. Therefore, the countries that voted for the suspension of the US embargo, not to mention the internal embargo, are doing Cubans no favor. Instead, they should demand that the Cuban Government restore political, civic and economic freedoms, and take steps towards the changes demanded by the Cuban nation.
One example is that of Vietnam, a country that, after the destruction suffered in the war with the United States, instead of submitting resolutions to the UN, embarked on a program of reform based on market mechanisms, the autonomy of producers, the right of nationals to be merchants, and handing over land to laborers. That country, which in 2008 devoted efforts to graduating from the list of underdeveloped countries, in 2010 set the goal of joining the group of middle-income ones. By 2014 it ranked as the 28th biggest exporter in the world, and in 2016 adopted measures aimed at becoming an industrialized nation.