UNITED NATIONS - The UN General Assembly on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly for the 17th year in a row in favor of lifting the 46-year-old US trade embargo on communist-ruled Cuba, as Havana hoped for better ties with a new US administration.
Some 185 of the assembly's 192 members approved a resolution, which reiterated a "call upon all states to refrain from promulgating and applying laws and measures (such as those in the US embargo) in conformity with their obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and international law."
The United States, Israel and Palau voted against the resolution, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The margin of support for ending the embargo has grown steadily since 1992, when 59 countries voted in favor of the resolution. The figure was 179 in 2004, 182 in 2005 and 184 in 2007.
Ronald Godard, the US State Department's senior advisor for Latin American affairs, defended the embargo and blamed the communist regime in Havana for Cuba's woes.
"The real reason the Cuban economy is in terrible condition and that so many Cubans remain mired in poverty is that Cuba's regime continues to deny its people their basic human and economic rights," he told the General Assembly.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque welcomed the vote but also looked ahead to future US-Cuban relations after next week's White House election between Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.
The US economic, trade and financial sanctions were imposed 46 years ago following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of the Caribbean island nation by US-backed Cuban exiles.
Noting that the US embargo is "older than Barack Obama and my entire generation," Perez Roque said the new US president "will have to decide whether to concede that the embargo is a failed policy which each time creates greater isolation and discredits his country or whether he continues, with obstinacy and cruelty, to try to wear out the Cuban people with hunger and diseases."
McCain has promised that if elected he would press Cuba's communist rulers to free the island's people.
"If I'm elected president, I won't meet unconditionally with the Castro brothers, while they keep political prisoners in jail, stifle free media and block free elections in Cuba," he recently told a rally in Miami, home to a huge Cuban exiled community.
The comment was a swipe at his 47-year-old Democratic rival, Obama, who has said he would meet with the leaders of countries that are enemies of the United States.
A national survey by the Zogby polling organization, released on October 2, noted that 60 percent of Americans believe the White House should change its policy towards Cuba.
In an apparent reference to Obama's campaign theme of "Change," Perez Roque said that "to be coherent with the theme of change in this country (the United States) also means to change the embargo against Cuba and maintain normal and respectful relations with our country."
But Perez Roque warned that "if group interests prevail, notably those of the Cuban (exiled) mafia which controls southern Florida and which exerts great influence, then there cannot be any progress."
In Cuba itself, authorities were jubilant after the UN vote.
It reaffirmed "the world rejection of the genocidal and criminal policy of this siege and the failure of the George W. Bush administration in its aggression against Cuba," Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, head of the Cuban Communist Party's external relations department, told the Cuban news agency Prensa Latina.
Speaking on behalf of the European Union, France's UN deputy ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix meanwhile said the 27-member pan-European bloc rejects "all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to common accepted rules of international trade."
He said the EU believes that "the lifting of the US trade embargo would open Cuba's economy to the benefit of the Cuban people."
Antigua and Barbuda's UN Ambassador John Ashe, speaking on behalf of the Group of 77 and China, said the 132-nation alliance renewed its call on Washington to lift sanctions.
The embargo not only undermines the principles enshrined in the UN Charter and international law, but also acts to "severely threaten the freedom of trade and investment."