Some Say Cuban Embargo Helps Castros

United Nations votes for 17th time that the U.S. blockade of Cuba is illegal.

NEW YORK, Oct. 29, 2008 — -- Cuba's warm sunsets have been chilled by the Cold War breeze of strict economic sanctions for nearly 50 years now: The American embargo policy that started with President John F. Kennedy has outlasted nine American presidents, and even Fidel Castro's rule.

And today, it was condemned as an illegal blockade for the 17th year in a row at the United Nations. Cuba's communist government says it has cost the island $90 billion in trade -- and hurts the Cuban people, not Castro.

At a cardiac hospital in Havana, Neida Toribio frets over her daughter's delicate condition. Danai Toribio, 26, has a heart condition that has required three operations because the medical equipment that could fix her problem is embargoed.

"I wish to have a baby and not have to be operated on anymore," Danai Toribio says.

Equally frustrated are those tasked with the care of people like Toribio. Dr. Francisco Carballes Garcia, a cardiology specialist, says the blockade limits his ability to treat patients and often he must improvise.

"Sometimes we have to make inventions," he says, "to find some measures so that they can stay with us with an acceptable quality of life."

Critics like Wayne Smith, a former American envoy to Cuba and now an ABC News consultant, believe the embargo has actually worked against freedom. They believe it hurts the people of Cuba and allows Fidel and Raul Castro to use American sanctions as an easy excuse for a poorly performing economy.

"Fidel uses it to his advantage all the time," says Smith. "Any time he has some kind of economic problem he can say, 'Well, it's largely because of the U.S. embargo."

In the United States, the embargo is losing support even among the Cuban exile population, which according to a 2007 Brookings Institute poll supports unrestricted travel to Cuba and the sale of medicine and food -- even diplomatic relations.

The Cuban American National Foundation, a hard-line exile group, politically influential and vehemently anti-Castro, is one of the few voices left supporting the embargo.

According to Aldo Leiva, with CANF in Miami, there is no reason to lift the embargo given that in Cuba political prisoners are still in prisons and there are few human rights.

"The embargo is a strategy that must be used to promote democracy in Cuba," Leiva says. "It's not so much a stick. It's more a carrot. It's there to offer the Cuban government if it institutes changes that will bring democracy to Cuba."

But that is an isolated view, especially at the U.N., which sees America's embargo as a relic of the Cold War.

"Look, we have no support whatever in the world" Smith says. "Everyone regards it as absurd. Last year, the vote in the U.N. was 182 against the embargo."

The four in favor were the United States, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Israel.

But because of U.S. veto power at the UN, four votes are enough to keep the 90-mile divide between the United States and Cuba impassable.

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