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U.S. abstains from U.N. vote on Cuban embargo for the first time

Although there is little chance the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress will lift the embargo, the American ambassador to the United Nations said the abstention is an acknowledgment the blockade has been ineffective.

By
Stephen Feller
Members of the Cuban delegation congratulate Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla (right), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, following the vote to end the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba at the United Nations in New York on October 26, 2016. Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations, is seated at centre. Photo by Amanda Voisard/UPI
Members of the Cuban delegation congratulate Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla (right), Minister for Foreign Affairs of Cuba, following the vote to end the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States against Cuba at the United Nations in New York on October 26, 2016. Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez, Permanent Representative of Cuba to the United Nations, is seated at centre. Photo by Amanda Voisard/UPI

NEW YORK, Oct. 26 (UPI) -- The annual vote at the United Nations to condemn the decades-long American embargo against Cuba took a seemingly minor but significant change this year: The United States abstained from the vote, rather than vote against the condemnation.

The United States abstained from voting for a United Nations resolution against the embargo, which officials said was meant to reflect the shift in U.S.-Cuba relations during the last two years.

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The final vote was 191 countries in favor of the resolution urging the United States to end the embargo, no votes against it and two abstentions, the United States and Israel. Nearly every other year a version of the resolution has been voted on, both countries have voted against it.

The abstention from voting garnered applause from other ambassadors after U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power announced it.

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Noting that the resolution is "a perfect example of why the U.S. policy of isolation toward Cuba was not working," Power also cautioned that "abstaining on this resolution does not mean that the United States agrees with all of the policies and practices of the Cuban government."

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Although President Barack Obama has said he would like to see the embargo lifted, he does not have the power to do so and the chance of the Republican-led Congress doing it is slim because the party largely continues to support the policy.

Even so, Obama has moved in recent years to thaw relations between the United States and Cuba, establishing diplomatic relations between the countries for the first time in more than 50 years, relaxing travel restrictions and lifting caps on people permitted to bring Cuban products such as cigars and rum back to the U.S. with them.

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Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez thanked Power for the shift in the American vote and said the progress made between the two countries is good, but made a strong call for the embargo to actually end, rather than just be eased.

"The human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable," Rodriguez said. "There isn't any Cuban family or sector in our country that has not suffered from its effects."

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