U.N. vote adds to Cuba embargo tale
Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/5/07
Seven days after President Bush called on the world's nations to "make tangible efforts" to support his campaign to undermine the government of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, he got a resounding answer.
On Oct. 23, 184 of the United Nations' 192 member countries voted to condemn the U.S. embargo of Cuba — an economic stranglehold that's been in place for nearly half a century.
Only delegates from the United States, Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands voted against the nonbinding resolution. Micronesia abstained. Albania, El Salvador and Iraq didn't bother to vote.
Imagine that. The Bush administration couldn't even get Iraq to back the embargo.
The U.N. vote marked the 16th consecutive year the world body has proclaimed its opposition to the embargo. But this year's vote was the most telling. It came in the wake of a major policy address Bush gave on Cuba in which he said the ongoing transition of power from Fidel Castro to his younger brother Raul is unacceptable.
"Life will not improve for Cubans under their current system," Bush said. "It will not improve by exchanging one dictator for another. America will have no part in giving oxygen to a criminal regime victimizing its own people. We will not support the old way with new faces, the old system held together by new chains."
Cuba, Bush said, "is a tropical gulag."
So why did the vast majority of nations — including all but one of this country's closest allies — support a call for ending the embargo? Because it's a bad idea that has only gotten worse with age. What started out as a prohibition against Americans traveling to Cuba and a ban on U.S. companies doing business there has morphed into something even more troubling.
In 1996, Congress passed the Helms-Burton Act, which imposes a steep fine on Americans who travel to Cuba without permission and allows the U.S. to levy sanctions against foreign firms doing business there. That's right, we've made it illegal for companies in other countries to do business in Cuba. While this law has proven difficult to enforce, it has outraged most of the world's governments.
Consider this as well: More than a few nations believe the only "tropical gulag" in Cuba is the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. It's there, near Cuba's southeastern tip, that the Bush administration has held hundreds of foreign terrorism suspects for years without charges.
Back in June, former Secretary of State Colin Powell — whom the Bush administration used to make the case for war in Iraq before the United Nations — said the Guantanamo Bay prison should be closed.
"Essentially, we have shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system by keeping a place like Guantanamo open," Powell said.
That it hasn't been closed makes Bush look like a hypocrite for condemning the Castro government for jailing Cuban dissidents.
Powell's condemnation of the terrorist prison comes four years after the Senate and House voted to ease the embargo against Cuba. At the time, both bodies were controlled by Republicans.
The legislation was pushed by farm-state Republicans. The embargo prevents American farmers from selling most of their products to Cuba's 11 million people. The legislation was derailed by Republican congressional leaders.
The point here is that Bush has little support for his Cuba policy among Democrats or members of his own party — or the world in general.
Instead of trying to get others to embrace his failed Cuba policy, Bush should forge a new one. He should end the ban on Americans traveling to Cuba and allow American firms to do business there.