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As Cuba Embargo Slammed at UN 191-2, SWIFT Cut-Off, Set-Aside Wasted

By Matthew Russell Lee

UNITED NATIONS, October 27 -- The annual UN General Assembly vote against the US' embargo on Cuba has no abstentions this time: only two against (US and Israel) and 191 for. The US speech was given by Ronald D. Godard, U.S. Senior Area Adviser for Western Hemisphere Affairs, and said "We find it unfortunate that despite our demonstrated bilateral progress, the Cuban government has chosen to introduce a resolution that is nearly identical to those tabled in years past."

  Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in his speech, "SWIFT cancelled a service contract; the first payment of the company Sprint to initiate direct telephone calls as well as several other banking transfers for the operations of charter flights were withheld."

  Inner City Press only the day before, on October 27, asked the UN's Special Rapporteur on Unilateral Coercive Measures about SWIFT; he said an alternative SWIFT might be needed. One would have liked to hear the view of the foreign minister of Cuba, impacted by SWIFT.

(Footnote: But the first of only four question was set-aside for UNCA, now the UN Corruption Association, which took funds from a Macau based businessman then gave an award to his "media," and got him a photo op with Ban Ki-moon. There's been no answer on that, either.) But we will continue to ask about SWIFT, and about the embargo or blockade. Watch this site.

   For years, the US has restricted to within 25 miles of New York City not only Cuban diplomats but also UN staff members who are Cuban nationals.

On September 29, Inner City Press asked Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla about the status of this 25 mile rule. Video here. He replied that for the ten years he lived in Manhattan he was subject to it, adding that it has been modified so that principal officers are not only restricted, and others give notice of such travel. But what about Cuban UN staff?

  (Inner City Press also asked Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla if Cuba believes the UN should pay compensation to the families of people killed by the cholera the UN is accused of bringing to the island. His reply was about Cuba's medical commitment, here.)

On September 29, this was Cuba's read-out of the Raul Castro - Obama meeting:

“Raul Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, met this Tuesday with Barack Obama, President of the United States, in the context of the High Level Segment of the Seventieth Session of the UN General Assembly.

“During the meeting, which was held in a respectful and constructive climate, both dignitaries exchanged their views on the visits paid by His Holiness Pope Francis to Cuba and the United States. They agreed on the need to work on the agenda that both countries will be discussing in the next few months as part of the process toward the normalization of relations.

“In particular, both Presidents discussed issues related to cooperation in mutually beneficial areas and in third countries, as it is the case in Haiti. The dialogue on bilateral and multilateral issues and the solution of problems that are still pending between both nations.

“President Raul Castro reiterated that for Cuba and the United States to be able to have normal relations, the blockade that has caused damages and hardships to the Cuban people and affects the interests of American citizens should be lifted, and added that other issues that are harmful to the sovereignty of Cuba should also be resolved.

"The Cuban President ratified Cuba's willingness to work in order to build a new type of relation between Cuba and the United States based on respect and sovereign equality."

Back on August 4 Inner City Press asked the UN's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it:

Inner City Press: On the host country agreement, I wanted to ask whether, given the new re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba, whether Cuban nationals who work for the UN are still subject to a 25-mile restriction outside of New York.

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Again, that’s a question to ask the US authorities.  This is not a restriction that is imposed by the United Nations.  It’s a question of the bilateral relations between those two countries.

Inner City Press:  Right.  But given the UN speaks up about restrictions on travel on its staff in countries likes Sudan and don’t ask Sudan if they’re restricting our staff, I’m asking you are UN staff members who are nationals of Cuba still restricted within 25 miles, as a UN question?

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  No, that’s a question actually of US policy.  Does the US policy make that restriction?  Please ask the US Government on that.  That’s not something that’s put upon anyone by us.

  Again, this misses the point. When Sudan or other countries imposes restrictions on the movement of UN staff, the UN (sometimes) speaks up. To say, ask the country imposing the restriction on UN staff makes no sense, or is craven. We'll have more on this.

 Back on July 1, on the day the US' Jeffrey DeLaurentis handed President Barack Obama's letter to Raul Castro, setting July 20 for the re-opening of embassies, Inner City Press asked a Cuban diplomat in New York if the restrictions on him, and on Cuban UN staff, to stay within 25 miles of Columbus Circle would remain in place.

  Yes, was the reply, with a shaking of the head. How this is legal under the Host Country Agreement between the US and UN is not clear. But the UN says nothing about it.

  Later on July 1, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement welcoming the move, but saying nothing about the US' restrictions not only on Cuban diplomats but also on UN staff of Cuban nationality, who work for Ban. Ah, leadership. Ban said (with the bracketed word "more" crossed out) --

"The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement today that Cuba and the United States will reopen embassies in Havana and Washington, D.C.. The restoration of diplomatic ties is an important step on the path toward the normalization of relations.

"In keeping with the principles of its founding Charter, the United Nations supports efforts to promote [more] harmonious and good neighbourly relations among States. The Secretary-General hopes that this historic step will benefit the peoples of both countries."

  Back on April 1 as talks continued between Cuba and the US, including in Havana on telecommunications, Inner City Press on April 1 asked the UN to confirm that Cuban nationals who are UN staff members are for now required to seek prior approval before venturing more than 25 miles from Columbus Circle in Manhattan.

  While the UN openly complains when restricted in certain other countries, this restriction it refuses to confirm or discuss. From the UN's April 1 transcript:

Inner City Press: I wanted to ask you about UN staff's ability to travel more than 25 miles outside of New York... I'd like you to comment on whether Cuban staff, i.e., employed by the UN, but from Cuba, are subject to that restriction, and what the Secretariat has done either historically or recently to oppose that, and your position on the legality of the host country limiting UN staff to a certain distance from Manhattan. 

Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq:  As you know, there's a Convention on the privileges and immunities of UN and associated staff, so I would just refer to you that.  So for any problems that we have in any of the countries where we operate, we take them up with the local authorities, and in this case, it would also be an issue for the Host Country Committee.

Inner City Press:  Right, but can we either now or later today just get an answer from the UN, maybe it's OHRM or OLA, are you aware, because I am, of restrictions imposed by the host country on UN staff members from particular countries, and what's your position on that?  [overlapping talking]

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Like I said, our position is in line with the Convention on the privileges and immunities of the United Nations and associated staff.  So we have that as a clear point.  And then if we have concerns with any countries, we take them up at different levels.  And like I said, in this case, sometimes there would be issues for the Host Country Committee and we'd take it up there.

Inner City Press:  I'm just wondering, can the UN not say whether it has staff members based here in New York who are restricted from traveling?

Deputy Spokesman:  Whenever we have any concerns, we take them up with the authorities as need be, including with the Host Country Committee. 

   Back on March 26 Inner City Press asked US State Department spokesperson Jeff Rathke about US limitations on Cuban diplomats. From the State Department transcript:

Inner City Press:  Cuba has complained that its diplomats accredited to the UN in New York are not allowed to go more than 25 miles outside of the city or from Columbus Circle.  And I wanted to know whether this restriction is one of the things that’s being negotiated.  Is it considered being lifted?  Is it – where does it stand, and how do – and what’s the U.S. – given that generally people accredited to the UN can travel freely, how does the U.S. justify it?
MR. RATHKE:  Well, we’ve said from the very start of our rounds of talks with the Cuban Government that one of the topics we want to discuss is the ability of American diplomats in Cuba to move around freely and, of course, the Cubans have a similar concern.  I’m not going to get into the state of those discussions, but that’s clearly a topic that we’ve been talking about over the last few rounds.

  Rathke went on to say it is part of the negotiations.

 Back on March 13, after Cuba came out in strong defense of Venezuela after US President Obama's executive order, the US was disappointed but not surprised, a senior State Department official told reporters on a background call.

   Inner City Press wondered from the UN, what of the US' requirement that Cuban diplomats -- and even Cuban UN staff members -- must stay without 25 miles of Columbus Circle in Manhattan?

  Will that restriction, which seems contrary to the Host Country Agreement between the US and UN and the Vienna Conventions, be removed?

   Currently in charge of the US' “interest section” is Jeffrey Delaurentis, formerly with the US Mission to the UN. What does he say about the 25 mile restriction? And how might he fare in a nomination process in the US Senate? Watch this site.


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