The U.N. General Assembly voted overwhelming Tuesday to condemn almost a half-century of U.S. sanctions against Cuba, demanding an end to what member states say is a Cold War anachronism that only hurts ordinary people.
The final vote by U.N. member states was 187 in favor of ending the sanctions, with two countries — the United States and Israel — in favor of keeping them. The Marshall Islands, Palau and Micronesia abstained.
It was the 19th consecutive year that the General Assembly took up the symbolic measure, calling for the "Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba."
Global speakers expressed disappointment that the U.S. maintains the embargo almost two years after President Barack Obama's election raised hopes for a thaw between the former Cold War enemies.
"South Africa calls on the U.S. to end its unilateral isolation of Cuba," that country's Ambassador Baso Sangqu said. "We urge the U.S. to engage in a meaningful dialogue with Cuba. We further call for accelerated action to dismantle the unjust sanctions regime against Cuba."
Last year's U.N. vote was 187-3 to end the embargo, with only Israel and the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau supporting the United States.
"This is about a cruel and aggressive policy," Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told the body, "absolutely contrary to international law, that this government insists on maintaining knowing that it causes harm, hardships and violates the human rights of an entire people."
"This is not a bilateral issue, as is commonly repeated by the U.S. representatives," Rodriguez added, complaining about the sanctions' "remarkable extraterritorial character."
Nevertheless, Cuba "will continue to be ready to establish peaceful and respectful relations with the United States," Rodriguez said.
American Ambassador Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Area Adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, insisted that the embargo is a bilateral issue "and part of a broader set of relations meant to encourage a more open environment in Cuba and increased respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms."
"We should not lose sight of that in a debate mired in rhetorical arguments of the past and focused on tactical differences, a debate that does nothing to help the Cuban people," he said.
Godard noted that the U.S. has taken steps to engage Cuba since Obama took office, lifting restrictions on family visits and remittances to the island, resuming bilateral talks on migration and starting discussions to re-establish direct mail service between the two countries.
But the U.S. has made clear it is not prepared to lift the embargo entirely until the communist-run nation makes more far-reaching political and economic changes.
"A new era in U.S.-Cuban relations cannot be fully realized," said Godard, "until the Cuban people enjoy the internationally recognized political and economic freedoms that this body has done so much to defend in other countries around the world."