Under ordinary circumstances, when U.S. foreign policy toward another country that is codified by Congress is under attack at the UN General Assembly, it is logical for American diplomacy to rise to that strategy's defense. But, this is no ordinary time, and the U.S. embargo against Cuba is not a normal rational policy supported by the American people with the approval of the majority of congress. It is a remnant of the Cold War. In Havana, president Obama announced his intention to end it.
This year, when the United Nations General Assembly approves its 25th resolution to condemn the embargo, the Obama administration should do exactly what it has done when anachronistic laws are under challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court: either abstain from defending it or provide intellectual ammunition for its demise.At a moment when foreign policy experts, political support, and the electoral calendar are unusually and favorably aligned, the U.S. delegation should rid itself of its burden of defending a repudiated policy that no other country supports. When the vote on the embargo resolution is called, the U.S. should simply abstain - in defense of Obama's diplomatic opening towards Cuba and as a reflection of what is right.
To defend the embargo policy in the United Nations as if it promotes human rights in Cuba would contradict everything President Obama and Secretary Kerry have said about the best ways to promote democratic values in the island. If the State Department disagrees with the tone or some specifics of the report condemning the embargo, American diplomats can state clearly their differences with the approach, but why not to abstain on the vote and confirm how the new policy of engagement and dialogue takes into account the prevailing views of the international society at this multilateral forum? There are diplomatic precedents in American foreign policy for such shift in the multilateral arena to back a bilateral rapprochement with Cuba. In 1975, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger instructed the American delegation to the OAS General Assembly in San Jose, Costa Rica to vote in favor of a resolution to end hemispheric sanctions against Cuba.
President Obama has openly rejected the embargo against Cuba as outdated and against the national interest of the United States. In two State of the Union Addresses, he has called on Congress to end the embargo in his State of the Union Address, and this year traveled to Havana to announce the coming of a new era of dialogue, rapprochement and as much trade as laws of the two countries allow.
The new presidential directive about relations with Cuba announced by the White House described how the U.S. Mission to the United Nations "will identify areas of possible collaboration with Cuba" and "will also participate in discussions regarding the annual Cuban embargo resolution". Why not to announce a disposition to expand cooperation with Havana not only in new international health efforts but also in other areas as part of the new narrative for abstention? Why not to set a new precedent and help a potential Hillary Clinton's administration's vote on this issue?
Americans of both political parties, across all demographic groups, support Obama's diplomatic move on Cuba overwhelmingly. President Obama's decision to modernize U.S.-Cuba policy is likely to be affirmed in the coming election.Hillary Clinton endorsed lifting the embargo in "Hard Choices," her State Department memoir, and in a presidential campaign appearance speaking in support of engagement and rapprochement with Havanain Miami. Even her opponent, Donald Trump has expressed support for a policy of dialogue and communication with Cuba before he entered in his most recent desperation phase twitting the opposite. In South Florida, as the most hardliner defenders of the isolation policy run for reelection, they put their stands on 'Promoting Strong Families!' (Sen. Rubio), 'Keeping the Promise of Social Security!' (Rep. Curbelo), or 'Calling on Trump to Withdraw!' (Rep. Ros-Lehtinen), at the center of their campaigns, not Cuba.
Why then to carry on with the stain of an irrational policy? Why not to coordinate with Israel and change American and Israeli votes together encouraging some reconciliation between Cuba and Israel?
The only people in the whole world who still want to defend the embargo in the United Nations is the Miami based Cuban American lobby. To say that the Cuban pro-embargo groups have been heavy handed and insulting toward President Obama is putting it mildly. In 2008 and 2012 they compare candidate Obama with Hitler, Stalin and Fidel Castro. After presidents Obama and Raul Castro agreed to restore diplomatic relations on December 17 2014, the pro-embargo crew in Congress denounced president Obama for violating the laws they laboriously passed to constrain the foreign policy powers the constitution gives to the diplomat in chief. Senator Rubio called president Obama "the worst negotiator of my lifetime" and "wilfully ignorant of the way the world works". The Obama Administration owes nothing to them. Since they like the embargo so much, let them defend it.
For supporters of communism in Cuba, all this may seem like manna from heaven but they should be careful what they wish for. The defeat of the embargo position in the United Nations General Assembly is a certainty. An American vote to abstain in the United Nations General Assembly this year would signal the United States has aligned itself with the general principles of the international order in which its liberal democratic values are dominant, with all the policy implications that entails. An atmosphere of dialogue and peace without hostility between Washington and Havana calls for the adoption of international human rights standards on both sides of the Strait of Florida.
In the long run, a comprehensive engagement policy opens opportunities for trade and exchange between Cuba and the United States. This new policy would separate demands for democratization in Cuba from the unsavory company of Cold War authoritarian anti-communism and well condemned immoral and illegal sanctions. Promoting good governance in Cuba serves engagement policies from most countries of the world because their citizens will feel safer to travel and do business when Cuba improves its rule of law and transparency standards.
American manipulations of human rights to advance an interventionist regime change agenda harm Cuba but an American commitment to human rights within the framework of international law serves the Cuban people. It is a matter of universal values. Human rights are not American or Cuban. Excessive concentration of power and its associated abuses are problems fought by Cubans in Cuba. Democratizing Cuba's one party system is not an imposition from outside to Cuban nationalism, but a request of an increasingly pluralistic society. It is a demand of Cuba's development and political stability. Cuba's greatest asset is the education of its people, the more freedom Cubans have to connect to internet, to open new private businesses, to exchange ideas and report cases of corruption within their government without fear of helping a U.S. interventionist policy of sanctions and hypocrisy; the better.
Sometimes, abstaining is winning, especially when it offers the opportunity of developing a policy alternative coherent with the soft power, values and dignity of a democratic superpower.