Strange Logic

Friday’s New York Times devoted all of 92 words to the story. In what other fragmentary U.S. print daily reports I’ve been able to find on the same event, the Orange County Register spent all of 27 words (out of an article 450-words-long). The St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave it 112. The St. Petersburg Times 78.

I know. I know. Somewhere else, too, another U.S. print daily must have covered the event. Maybe several other dailies. Particularly in the state of Florida. But what all of this comes down to is one simple fact: The event in question doesn’t interest the American news media. Not in the least. Because it interests the American state even less.

Look: Every year since the November 24, 1992 adoption of UN General Assembly Res. 47/19 (i.e., “Necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba“), with its emphasis on the “principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations,” including the “sovereign equality of States, non-intervention and non-interference in their internal affairs and freedom of trade and international navigation,” and, last, its singling-out of the practice by certain states of adopting “laws and regulations whose extraterritorial effects affect the sovereignty of other States,” a.k.a., the American state’s embargo-slash-blockade of Cuba (i.e., it counts as a blockade to the extent that the Americans can force Cuba’s other trade partners to observe it), the General Assembly has discussed and voted on resolutions of this kind 13 years in row.

And every year, the votes in favor or against these resolutions have been roughly the same—the one significant difference being in the number of states willing to vote in favor of the resolutions, rather than copping out and abstaining, as used to happen early on.

Thus, in 1992 (A/RES/47/19), 59 states voted in favor; 3 voted against (i.e., the U.S., Israel, and Romania); and 79 abstained. In 1993 (A/RES/48/16), the vote went 88 to 4 (with Israel and, of course, the U.S. religiously among those states voting against).

In 1994 (A/RES/49/9): 101 to 2. In 1995 (A/RES/50/10): 117 to 3. In 1996 (A/RES/51/17): 137 to 3. In 1997 (A/RES/52/10): 143 to 3. In 1998 (A/RES/53/4): 157 to 2. In 1999 (A/RES/54/21): 155 to 2. In 2000 (A/RES/55/20): 167 to 3. In 2001 (A/RES/56/9): 167 to 3. In 2002 (A/RES/57/11): 173 to 3. In 2003 (A/RES/58/7): 179 to 3. And, of course, 2004 (A/RES/59/11—no link to the final text as yet having been made available): 179 to 4.

To say votes such as these constitute landslides doesn’t begin to capture their real significance. Invariably, the resolutions start out by reaffirming bedrock UN Charter principles, such as those enumerated in the Preamble, and Chapter 1 (“Purposes and Principles“)—we might call these the Bill of Rights of the United Nations. Invariably, the resolutions note the threat that “unilateral application of economic and trade measures by one State against another that affect the free flow of international trade” pose to each state’s basic sovereign rights, specifically citing the “extraterritorial” (i.e., aggressive) consequences that the sanctions imposed by the Americans (though, interestingly, the Americans are never named) under the Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (or Torricelli Act) and the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 have exercised on Cuba and its potential trade partners. And just as invariably, two states vote against such fine rhetoric, year after year. (Picking up the weirdest collection of stragglers along the way. Just as happens over and over again with UN General Assembly resolutions condemning Israeli conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, for example. No draft resolution of any substance ever surviving the American veto in the UN Security Council—the Americans having cast at least 38 vetoes of important draft resolutions within the Security Council since 1972, where the Israeli state is concerned. (On the Americans’ use of their Security Council veto to shield Israel from potential Security Council condemnation or action, take a look at the material archived at “U.S. Vetoes of UN Resolutions Critical of Israel (1972-2004).”)

Reading through the UN’s preliminary archive of the deliberations that took place prior to the adoption of Res. 59/11 (Press Release GA/10288—nothing verbatim is available yet and won’t be for some time to come), one finds the representatives of state after state defending the principles of the UN Charter, the sovereign equality of each UN member state, the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, and the importance of multilateral solutions to international disputes. But, more ominously, one also finds repeated warnings against the threat that unilateral actions pose to international peace and security—particularly when they have extraterritorial consequences. (Really can’t quote this material. Because it’s almost all paraphrase. Sorry. But I hope you take a look at it anyway.)

Revealingly, the State Department’s Area Advisor for Cuban Affairs Oliver Garza defended the embargo as a “bilateral issue,” that is, as an issue strictly between the Americans and Cuba, and therefore an issue that “should not come before the General Assembly.”

Garza continued (“United States Rejects U.N. Resolution on Cuba Embargo,” Oct. 28):

The resolution is an attempt to blame the communist regime’s failed economic policies on the United States and to divert attention from its human rights record….

Let there be no doubt: If Cubans are jobless, hungry, or lack medical care, as the regime admits, it is because of the failings of the current government….

The Cuban government is not a victim, as it contends. Rather, it is a tyrant, aggressively punishing anyone who dares to have a differing opinion. Castro has steadfastly refused to allow any kind of political opening and continues to deny Cubans the human rights and fundamental freedoms as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The March 2003 crackdown, in which 75 members of the opposition, including independent journalists, economists, trade unionists, and human rights advocates, were sentenced to an average of 20 years in prison, was brutal even by Cuban standards. The regime continues to harass even those who have been released, subjecting them to near-daily, hours-long interrogations. Cuba has for nearly two years defied the very notion of respecting the will of the High Commissioner for Human Rights by refusing to permit a visit by its personal representative.

As in the past, the Cuban government will once again portray support for this resolution as support for its repressive policies. We, for one, cannot support an economic opening with a country with such an abysmal record on economic and political issues.

We will vote against this draft resolution, and we encourage all delegations to do the same.

(Quick aside. Reading this bunk from a spokesman for the American Department of State’s Off-Castro Desk, I kept waiting for a few words from someone who signed onto the equally bunky “Statement on Cuba” in the spring of 2003 to pop open in a window on the screen before me. But none ever did. No matter. You can always find a copy archived courtesy The Nation.)

(Another quick aside to this quick aside. I also wonder how many of the 120 or so “women and men of the democratic left, united by our commitment to human rights, democratic government and social justice, in our own nations and around the world,” who signed onto this springtime 2003 “Statement on Cuba” also signed onto the springtime 2003 American war over Iraq? Remember: We’re talking about March, April, and May 2003 here. Not 18, 12, 6, or even three months later. But in the very beginning. When the American guns looked to be so triumphant. So unopposed. Quite unlike today.)

What is particularly striking about the American position as expressed here with respect to Cuba and the rest of the world—the Americans are telling the world to butt-out of their sovereign affairs, you see—is how consistent it has been since these resolutions first started popping up in 1992. Thus, the American Deputy UN Ambassador Alexander Watson told the General Assembly in November 1992 that “The Government of Cuba is using these lofty sentiments as a pretext. What it really wants is to involve the international community in one aspect of its bilateral relations with the United States: The United States’ economic embargo against Cuba.” (Frank J. Prial, “U.N. Votes To Urge U.S. To Dismantle Embargo on Cuba,” New York Times, Nov. 25, 1992.)

What this canard means, of course, is that as 1992’s Cuban Democracy Act and 1996’s Helms-Burton Act entangle one sovereign state after another in the spider’s web of the American embargo of Cuba, no matter—this remains a sovereign or internal American affair. So shut up.

Likewise, when these same curmudgeonly states—by now numbering some 179 in all, don’t forget (though the Marshall Islands and Palau have lined up with the Americans and the Israelis, so watch out)—raise a non-binding complaint in the most multilateral of all multilateral fora available in this world that the extraterritorial reach of American Power means that the American embargo is interfering in their bilateral relations with Cuba, this, too, constitutes an unjust interference in the sovereign or internal affairs of the Americans. So shut up.

Necessity of Ending the Economic, Commercial and Financial Embargo Imposed by the United States of America against Cuba : Report of the Secretary-General (A/59/302), Part I and Part II, August 27, 2004

UN General Assembly Resolution 59/11, October 28, 2004 (Not available yet. But for a copy of the draft dated Oct. 14, and probably indistinguishable from the final version, see A/59/L.2.)
General Assembly, for 13th Straight Year, Adopts Resolution on Ending United States Embargo against Cuba, Press Release GA/10288, October 28, 2004

United States Rejects U.N. Resolution on Cuba Embargo,” U.S. Department of State, October 28, 2004

U.N. Urges U.S. to End Embargo Vs. Cuba,” Edith M. Lederer, Associated Press, October 28, 2004
UN Votes Overwhelmingly Against U.S. Embargo on Cuba,” Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, October 28, 2004
General Assembly calls for end to US embargo against Cuba,” UN News Center, October 28, 2004
China urges end of sanctions against Cuba,” People’s Daily Online, October 29, 2004
Russia Condemns U.S. for Cuba’s Blockade,” RIA Novosti, October 29, 2004

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