Thursday, June 24, 2021

UN votes against Cuba embargo (June 24, 2021)

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution that calls for the U.S. to lift its embargo against Cuba, as it has since 1992. As is customary, the U.S. and Israel voted against the motion, which was supported by 184 countries. Colombia and Brazil abstained in yesterday's vote -- Brazil had accompanied the Trump administration in voting against the  2019. (United Nations)

The only time the U.S. didn’t cast a no vote was in 2016 during the Obama administration’s opening toward Cuba, when both the U.S. and Israel abstained. (Miami Herald)

The yearly vote is symbolic, and has no practical effect. But it is an indicator of international alliances. This year's vote was seen as a litmus test of U.S. President Joe Biden’s willingness to quickly reverse his predecessor’s tough stance toward Cuba, reports the New York Times. The choice to vote against the resolution appeared to signal that Biden will continue to move cautiously on Cuba. The U.S. ratified the use of sanctions, which it believes are key to advancing democracy and human rights which "remain at the core of our policy efforts toward Cuba," the U.S. Mission's political coordinator, Rodney Hunter, told the assembly. (Associated Press)

But Cuba, and the vast majority of countries in the U.N. focused on the enormous costs the sanctions have levied on Cubans: some speakers yesterday indicated they have cost the Cuban economy around $147.8 billion in losses over nearly six decades, and about $9 billion calculated from April 2019. Many countries flagged the embargo as a Cold War holdover that has been a financial and humanitarian disaster. (Miami Herald)

The resolution has particular relevance in the pandemic context: The embargo is hurting Cuba’s ability to access medical supplies and imposing significant difficulty in obtaining equipment to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, said the country's foreign minister Bruno Rodríguez, citing hurdles the island faced when trying to buy respirators last year. Recent reports indicate that lack of syringes for vaccines is a major challenge. (See Monday's briefs.)

News Briefs

Regional Relations
  • Russian defense minister Sergey Shoygu said his country's allies in Latin America --  Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela -- need Moscow's support now "more than ever" in the face of "threats" that could include "military force" against those countries, reports El País. Speaking in Moscow at an international conference, Shoygu did not clarify whether those countries had asked for assistance, but referenced previous military support that Russia has given in the region.
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to the U.S.-Mexico border tomorrow. She will travel to El Paso, Texas, with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. The move comes amid rising criticism from Republicans and Democrats that neither she nor President Joe Biden has traveled to the place where the country’s immigration problems are unfolding most acutely, reports the Washington Post.
  • Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Salles resigned yesterday, weeks after he was targeted in a federal investigation into illegal logging in the Amazon. Salles has also come under increasing criticism for his stance on development in the Amazon, which critics say has encouraged land grabbing and illegal mining in protected areas. The move comes as talks with the U.S. government aimed at curbing Amazon deforestation have hit obstacles, reports the Associated Press.
  • Salles will be replaced by Joaquim Alvaro Pereira Leite, an Environment Ministry official previously in charge of monitoring the Amazon, who has past ties with Brazil’s powerful farming lobby, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Brazilian police deployed teargas and rubber bullets against indigenous activists -- including children and elderly people -- protesting outside Brazil's congress. Demonstrators have camped out for two weeks in opposition to a bill that would undermine legal protections for indigenous territories, and open them up to commercial agriculture and mining. Footage of the episode showed protesters running and shouting amid the clouds of gas. Some protesters fought back with bows and arrows. Hundreds of protesters returned to the streets after the altercations, and indigenous women handed flowers to police officers, reports the Guardian.
  • Brazil recently surpassed 500,000 coronavirus deaths, and experts believe the true toll may be even higher. With 2.7 percent of the world’s population, Brazil has suffered 13 percent of the Covid-19 fatalities, and the pandemic there is not abating, reports the New York Times. The Amazon region's isolated villages, deep in the rainforest and often accessible only by river, present a unique challenge in providing coronavirus care and vaccination.
  • Uruguay was hailed for its model response to the pandemic last year, but the government's focus on vaccinations without social restrictions this year has delivered one of the world’s worst infection rates, reports the Guardian. But experts also point to the country’s proximity to Brazil, with high rates of infection and a potentially more infectious variant.
  • A member of Peru's electoral court presented his resignation -- a move apparently aimed at complicating the close of a drawn out presidential vote. It is not clear that Luis Arce can legally resign, however, and Jurado Nacional de Elecciones (JNE) has indicated that it will seek to avoid affecting the electoral calendar, reports La República. (See yesterday's post.)
  • Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was able to confront her captors the first time since being rescued 13 years ago from the hands of FARC guerillas who had held her hostage for more than six years in the Colombian jungle. She and other victims participated in a meeting with ex-combatants organized under the umbrella of Colombia's Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP). Former fighters expressed contrition for their crimes, but Betancourt accused them of lack of emotion. "I am surprised that we on this side of the stage are all crying and on the other side there has not been a single tear," she said. (AFP)
  • Business tycoon Carlos Slim is willing to repair part of Mexico City’s subway system, after investigations found that shoddy work by Slim’s engineering firm had caused part of a metro line to collapse last month, killing 26 people, according to Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. But it's not clear whether Slim would absorb any of the cost of fixing the line, which failed less than nine years after it opened, reports the New York Times

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