UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- Diplomats representing more than 135 countries spoke against the American economic embargo of Cuba ahead of votes Thursday on a U.N. resolution condemning the policy and proposed U.S. amendments criticizing the lack of freedom of expression and other human rights in Cuba.
The Trump administration's decision to call for individual votes on a series of amendments to the resolution represented an escalation of its action last year and reflected worsening U.S.-Cuban relations. In 2017, the U.S. returned to voting against the resolution after the abstention by the Obama administration in 2016 for the first time in 25 years.
Diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba were broken in 1961 as relations between Washington and Fidel Castro's government deteriorated. Cuban President Raul Castro and then President Barack Obama officially restored relations in July 2016. But relations have deteriorated under President Donald Trump, and U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley and others have sharply criticized Cuba's human rights record.
During Wednesday's General Assembly session there was unanimous support among speakers for the Cuban-sponsored resolution on the "necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba."
Egyptian Ambassador Mohamed Edrees, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 which represents 135 developing countries and China, pointed to "the positive steps ... focused in the right direction" taken by the Obama administration and expressed regret at the Trump administration's new policy "aimed at strengthening the embargo against Cuba."
He said the G77 "believes this is a setback in the process of achieving normalized relations between both countries." He said the group reiterates its call for the embargo to be lifted and appeals to the international community "to further step up efforts" in support of lifting the embargo.
Ambassador Sheila Carey of the Bahamas reiterated the Caribbean Community's "unequivocal opposition" to the embargo, saying last year's near unanimous vote in favor of immediately lifting it "is a clear indication of prevalent disapproval by the U.N. membership."
In 2017, the 193-member General Assembly adopted the Cuban-sponsored resolution by a vote of 191-2, with Israel joining the U.S. in voting "no." That was the same vote as in 2015. In 2016, the U.S. abstained.
Carey noted that Cuba is the most populous country in the Caribbean and "we are a sisterhood and brotherhood of nations that continues to enjoy mutually beneficial relations."
She said CARICOM, which maintains friendly relations with the U.S. and Cuba, is concerned at "the proposed rollback" of progress toward normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations.
"As an important player in international affairs we hope that the United States will be open to considering the opinions and concerns of its friends and traditional partners on this issue," Carey said.
South African Ambassador Jerry Matjila said: "The imposition of this unilateral coercive measure by a major economy, such as the United States, against our fellow developing country, one of its closest geographical neighbors, has caused immeasurable damage to the development of the people of Cuba and remains as ever before, unjustified."
He expressed regret that the gradual relaxation of the embargo under Obama has been reversed "and the people of Cuba are once again faced with a monumental obstacle toward the fulfillment of their basic human rights, including the right to development."