Cuba Embargo Issue Goes to the U.N.

Once again, the U.N. General Assembly will take up the legality of the 45-year-old U.S. embargo on Cuba when it convenes this fall.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque released a 56-page report on the embargo Tuesday, calling it devastating and an attempt to "beat our people into submission with hunger and disease."

A General Assembly resolution has passed by huge margins for the last 15 years. It demands an end to the U.S. sanctions, calling them a violation of international law.

However the United States has routinely ignored the resolutions because General Assembly decisions are not binding on U.N. members.

Perez Rogue, speaking at a Havana news conference, said the Bush administration had "furiously" increased enforcement of the sanctions, even though the General Assembly had voted 183-4 last year that the embargo was illegal and should be lifted.

The Cuban report to the United Nations on the embargo's impact over the last year lists dozens of incidents, ranging from unfair sanctions on third-country companies to the denial of visas to a children's theater troupe and to a handicapped sports group that wanted to attend an event in Argentina.

"The last year saw an unprecedented application of sanctions," Perez Rogue said. "We are at the moment when the blockade is at its most ferocious as part of the Bush administration's regime-change policy."

Since 81-year-old Cuban President Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his younger brother Raul Castro more than a year ago, the Bush administration has rejected any improvement of relations, announced tighter enforcement of sanctions and stepped up support for government opponents.

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington earlier this week, said the transfer of power represented a "preservation of dictatorship."

"Unless the regime changes, our policy will not change," the highest-ranking Cuban-American in the Bush administration said.

Gutierrez said the embargo had worked by denying Cuba resources it would have used for anti-American activities.

Perez Rogue said he agreed in part with Gutierrez's assessment, except the resources would have gone to improving Cubans lives, not blasting the United States.

Perez Rogue said the embargo cost the country more than $3 billion over the last year and $89 billion since it began in 1962 on the order of President Kennedy.

Over the last year, the report says Cuban musicians have been booted from their jobs at U.S. hotels around the world.

And the report says that blind Cubans were denied U.S. computer programs and equipment. Cuba has also found it much more difficult to make financial transactions around the world, because most banks refuse to handle Cuban funds, for fear of violating the U.S. ban on doing business with Cuba.

Perez Rogue also waxed furious that U.S. companies were allowed to sell rum under Cuba's Havana Club brand name and cigars using its famous Cohiba name.

Mergers and acquisitions by American companies have also led businesses from third countries to pull out of Cuba, the report says.

Spain's Pullmantour cruise operator stopped sailing to Havana last year after it was bought by Miami-based Royal Caribbean, the world's second-largest cruise company. More than 200 Cuban employees were fired.

Cuba also blames U.S. sanctions for the lack of Internet access. The U.S. embargo blocks Cuba from plugging into an underwater fiber optic cable, forcing it to access the Internet using expensive satellite connections.

Perez Rogue said 115 governments submitted reports this year on how the embargo impacted their citizens and companies.

"The sanctions are not a bilateral issue, but an economic war on an international scale," Perez Rogue said.

At 45 years, the U.S. sanctions on Cuba are the longest-standing ever.

While almost every government in the world, including the United State's closest allies, believe the U.S. embargo should be lifted, it remains controversial in the United States, where debate rages every year in Congress on whether it should be eased or strengthened further.

Cuban-American politicians work hard to keep sanctions in place, while others, along with farm and other business lobbies, believe improving relations and doing business with the Communist-run island is the best way to foster change.

Under a 2000 loosening of the embargo, Cuba may purchase agricultural products for cash, spending around $350 million each year.

Florida, home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban-Americans and a swing state in presidential elections, ensures Cuba and the embargo remain on the political agenda.

While most presidential hopefuls from both parties favor keeping sanctions in place, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama and Christopher Dodd have said they would significantly loosen sanctions if elected.

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