US abstains for first time in UN vote on lifting Cuba embargo, allows easing of trade rules
The UN assembly has voted each year since 1992 to approve the resolution criticising the US embargo that was imposed on Cuba in 1960. Photograph: (Getty)
The United States on Wednesday abstained for the first time in 25 years from a vote at the United Nations calling for an end to the US embargo against Cuba.
The UN General Assembly adopted the annual resolution by an overwhelming 191 votes in favour, with only the United States and Israel abstaining in the 193-nation forum.
The measure calls on all UN member states to refrain from applying the embargo and to "reaffirm the freedom of trade and navigation."
Washington's abstention was in line with calls from President Barack Obama for the opposition-controlled Congress to lift the decades-old embargo as part of a historic normalisation of relations.
"The United States has always voted against this resolution. Today the United States will abstain," US ambassador Samantha Power told the assembly, drawing loud applause.
"After 55-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we are choosing to take the path of engagement."
Cuban foreign minister Bruno Rodriguez welcomed the US shift as positive, but said that Washington must take concrete steps that go beyond the "vote of one delegation in this forum."
"The blockade continues to be a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of all Cuban men and women and qualifies as an act of genocide," Rodriguez said.
Embargo restrictions have prevented the sale of US medical equipment to treat Cubans suffering from Parkinson's disease and blocked a deal by a Cuban pharmaceutical company that would have allowed it to produce drugs locally, said the foreign minister.
The assembly has voted each year since 1992 to approve the resolution criticising the embargo that was imposed in 1960, at the height of the Cold War.
The United States restored diplomatic ties with Cuba in July 2015 and a month later re-opened its embassy in Havana. Obama made a landmark visit to the communist-ruled island in March.
But restoring full trade and financial ties with Cuba would require legislative action by the US congress, where the Republican majority has said human rights concerns must first be addressed.