U.N. votes to end US embargo on Cuba; US and Israel oppose

FILE PHOTO: Bruno Rodriguez gives a news conference in Havana

HAVANA (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly called for the 31st time on the United States to end its decades-long trade embargo against Cuba as the communist-run island suffers its worst economic crisis in decades, with shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

The non-binding resolution was approved by 187 countries and opposed only by the United States and Israel, with Ukraine abstaining.

Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said in a speech before the assembly that the "blockade prevents Cuba from accessing food, medicines, and technological and medical equipment."

Havana is also prohibited from exporting to the neighboring United States, Rodriguez said, curtailing access to a massive market for its goods and costing Cuba nearly $5 billion in losses in 2022 alone.

"The blockade (embargo) qualifies as a crime of genocide," said Rodriguez, who said the U.S. policies were deliberately aimed at promoting suffering among the Cuban people in order to force change in the government.

The trade embargo was put in place following Fidel Castro's 1959 revolution and has remained largely unchanged, though some elements were stiffened by former President Donald Trump. The web of U.S. laws and regulations complicate financial transactions and the acquisition of goods and services by the Cuban government.

U.S. diplomat Paul Folmsbee, in a brief speech opposing the resolution, said the embargo was aimed at promoting "human rights and fundamental liberties in Cuba" and that the U.S. made exceptions for humanitarian purposes.

"The United States continues to be a significant source of humanitarian goods to the Cuban people and one of Cuba's main trading partners," the diplomat said.

He noted that the United States last year sold Cuba $295 million worth of agricultural products.

The long-running dispute between Cuba and the United States shows little sign of detente, despite some modest gestures of goodwill under the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden.

Biden has taken small steps to ease restrictions on Cuba, boosting consular services but doing little to repeal the Trump sanctions.

(Reporting by Nelson Acosta, editing by Dave Sherwood and Rosalba O'Brien)