The head of the National Council of Churches applauded a symbolic non-vote on a perennial U.N. resolution as a step forward in normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba.
The U.N. General Assembly has previously adopted 25 resolutions calling for an end to the U.S. embargo on Cuba, and each time the U.S. voted no. This time, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N Samantha Power told the General Assembly the U.S. would abstain.
“This abstention is yet another signal that the United States is ready to normalize relations with Cuba,” said Jim Winkler, president and general secretary of the 38 member ecumenical organization founded in 1950. “We receive this news with gratitude and celebrate with our counterpart, the Cuban Council of Churches.”
Winkler, former general secretary of the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, said the next step is for the U.S. Congress to lift the blockade in place since just after Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959.
President Obama has called on Congress to lift the embargo and taken steps to ease its restrictions. The U.S. and Cuba began normalizing relations in 2014, and in March Obama became the first U.S. president to set foot on the island in nearly 90 years.
Power said she abstained from the resolution rather than voting for it because the U.S. doesn’t agree with the reasons stated in the resolution. The vote was 191-0, with Israel joining the U.S. in abstaining.
Winkler said the NCC and the Cuban Council of Churches have worked for decades to bring an end to the embargo.
“We join together in celebrating this symbolic but important step that comes on the heels of the lowering of other trade restrictions,” he said. “We continue to call on Congress to end the embargo which has lasted over half a century.”