UN votes against US embargo on Cuba for 16th year

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UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 (Reuters) The UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly today to urge the United States to lift its four-decade-old embargo against Cuba in a resolution adopted for the 16th consecutive year.

The measure is nonbinding and such moves in the past have had no impact on US policy.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque denounced the ''arrogance and political blindness'' of Washington in ignoring 15 similar resolutions passed since 1992.

The resolution, entitled ''necessity of ending the economic, commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba,'' was passed with 184 votes in favour, four against and one abstention.

Voting ''no'' with the United States were Israel, Palau and the Marshall Islands. Micronesia abstained.

US President George W Bush last week rejected any easing of sanctions without a transition to democracy on the Caribbean island and said doing so would only bolster the communist government's grip on power.

In his first formal speech on Cuba since an ailing Fidel Castro handed power to his brother Raul in July 2006, Bush labeled the Castro government a ''disgraced and dying order'' and urged Cubans to push for democratic change.

Every year since 1992, the U.N. General Assembly has told the United States to lift the embargo against Cuba. Last year's resolution was approved by 183-4, with one abstention.

''The United States has ignored, with both arrogance and political blindness, the 15 resolutions adopted by this General Assembly calling for the lifting of the blockade against Cuba,'' Perez Roque said in his speech to the assembly.

CALL FOR DEMOCRACY The Bush administration has tightened the embargo, including restrictions on visits to Cuba and remittances to families.

Ronald Godard, the US mission's adviser on Latin American affairs, told the General Assembly that the United States was the largest provider of humanitarian aid to the Cuban people and he blamed Cuba's own policies for hardships there.

He urged the world to press Cuba toward democracy instead of voting against US policy.

''It is long past time that the Cuban people enjoy the blessings of economic and political freedom,'' he said.

Perez Roque, in a stinging attack on US policy, said the embargo had cost Cuba more than 89 billion dollar in more than 40 years, which he said was the equivalent of 222 billion dollar in current dollar terms.

''The blockade is today the main obstacle to the development and well-being of the Cubans and a blatant, massive and systematic violation of the rights of our people,'' he said.

Perez Roque mentioned US film makers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone as examples of how Washington tried to restrict freedom of speech by hampering their efforts to film in Cuba.

''With its grotesque persecution of the honest word and independent art, the president of the United States is emulating the inquisition of the Middle Ages,'' he said.

Several speakers who voted in favour of the resolution, including representatives of the European Union and Australia, said they did so despite serious concerns about human rights in Cuba and they called for the release of political prisoners.

The Cuban minister drew a round of applause as he ended his speech with the words ''Viva Cuba Libre.'' Reuters RJ GC2326

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