The United Nations has again turned its attention to the economic embargo that the United States has imposed on the government of Cuba because of its disregard for democratic principles, fundamental freedoms and human rights. In a non-binding resolution approved by a 186-2 vote, members of the UN General Assembly called on the US to end the trade sanctions, calling them a harmful vestige of the long-ended Cold War.
Debate over the sanctions has flared within the international body almost annually since they were imposed in the early 1960s, when the Castro government seized and nationalized properties there owned by American citizens and companies. Criticism of the embargo obscures the fact that our nation's dealings with Cuba are in fact multi-faceted and that the financial restrictions are but one element of U.S. policy toward the island nation.
Sanctions on Cuba are designed to deny its government the material and financial resources it could use to repress its people. Our policy remains focused on protecting human rights, ensuring fundamental freedoms and improving the well being of the Cuban people.
The US has repeatedly reached out to the Cuban people to promote the free flow of information to, from and within that country by, among other things, easing restrictions on travel and remittances and other forms of people-to-people contact. Meanwhile, the US is the leading supplier of food and humanitarian relief to Cuba. Last year alone we sent more than $370 million in agricultural products, medicine and medical devices, wood and humanitarian items to Cuba. Private donations allowed under U.S. policy totaled $861 million. The U.S. Department of Commerce approved almost $4.7 billion in export licenses to Cuba in 2010.
Taken together, this outreach hardly constitutes an effort to isolate and hurt the Cuban people. Indeed, the US remains strongly committed to supporting their right to freely determine their future, despite Cuban government efforts to deprive them of that right for more than half a century.