UNITED NATIONS -- The United States has taken a diplomatic blow as 59 nations voted to criticize the U.S. ban on trade with Cuba, and only two countries joined the United States in voting against the resolution. Seventy-one countries abstained.
Yesterday's vote, which U.S. officials have said that they were expecting, was largely an expression of anger in many foreign capitals over a new U.S. law telling foreign-based subsidiaries of American companies that they cannot engage in new trade with Cuba.
Country after country, even staunch U.S. allies like Canada, gave speeches yesterday saying that the Cuba Democracy Act signed by President Bush last month is an infringement on their sovereignty. They said that companies based in their respective countries were subject only to their laws.
"The government of Mexico rejects whatever attempt of other states to impose their laws on Mexico," said its U.N. ambassador, Jorge Montano.
Only Israel and Romania sided with the United States.
Savoring one of their biggest recent successes at the United Nations, Cuban diplomats said that they were elated and expressed hope that President-elect Bill Clinton would reverse U.S. policy.
"Without a doubt, it is a political victory for our people, who have been struggling for many years to resist this U.S. measure," said Rene Mujica, one of the top diplomats at the Cuban mission. Cuba says the embargo is aggravating poverty in its country, which has lost several billion dollars in subsidies from the former Soviet Union.
"We are ready and willing to give the new administration the benefit of the doubt," Ms. Mujica said. "We understand the new administration does not have responsibility in this."
U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alexander Watson said after the vote that the resolution was a reaction to the Cuba Democracy Act but not to the embargo itself. The U.S. embargo is 31 years old.
Mr. Watson, the only diplomat to speak on the floor of the General Assembly against the resolution, defended the U.S. policy.
He said that the trade sanctions were imposed after Cuba expropriated "billions of dollars" in property from American individuals and companies after the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power.
"The U.S. chooses not to trade with Cuba for good reasons," he said. He maintained that the issue of the embargo was a bilateral one, between the United States and Cuba, and that the United Nations had no right to inject itself into it. He said that the United States was trying to press Cuba to end human-rights abuses.
The non-binding General Assembly resolution expresses concern about "the recent promulgation of measures . . . extending the economic, commercial and financial embargo against Cuba" and urges nations to "repeal or invalidate" any such laws "as soon as possible."