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Cuba renews drive for UN to condemn US embargo

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September 20
11:53 PM 2015

Cuba renews its annual campaign urging the United Nations to condemn the US economic embargo.

Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez told media the Cold War-era embargo had cost Cuba some $833.7 billion over five decades. "Seventy-seven percent of the Cuban population was born and has lived under the cruel effects of the blockade, the humanitarian impact and damage is extreme and cannot be measured (only) in numbers," he said.

For the past two years, 188 member countries voted in favor of a non-binding UN resolution condemning the US embargo. Only the US and its ally Israel voted against it.

The UN General Assembly will again vote on that resolution on October 27.

Pope Francis, who is visiting Cuba for three nights starting Saturday, is expected to articulate the Vatican's opposition to the embargo. "He wants to show his closeness to the Cuban people, and that means acknowledging the hardships they have endured under the embargo," a Vatican official was quoted as saying.

From Havana, Francis is flying to Washington, where he will be the first pope to address the US Congress on Thursday. The pontiff is expected to note Vatican's position on the embargo, but not to the extent that he will be seen as meddling in US politics.

Pope Francis had helped broker a deal between the US and Cuba on normalizing their relations. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced the negotiations in December. The talks resulted in the countries restoring diplomatic ties, with the re-opening of embassies in Washington and Havana in July.

On Wednesday, Obama campaigned against the embargo during a speech to the Business Roundtable, a Washington lobby group for corporate chief executives. He asked the group to press Congress to remove it.

Noting that there are significant opportunities to be gained from normalizing ties with Cuba, Obama said "it doesn't make sense for us to keep sticking to the old ways of doing business."

The president said that while reform in the Communist island would not happen overnight, the rapprochement would eventually lead to "personal freedom and, I think, a long-term political transition."

The Obama administration has already taken steps to relax trade and travel restrictions, but only Congress can fully lift the embargo on Cuba.

Republicans, who control Congress, and some of Obama's fellow Democrats are against the lifting. They say Cuba must first end political repression and monopoly of media.

Both Obama and Castro will be in New York to speak before the UN General Assembly on September 28. No bilateral meetings had been set, although Rodriguez said there could be "interactions" between the two leaders.

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