U.S. Ambassador to the United National Nikki Haley apologized to the Cuban people on Thursday for the Obama administration’s tolerance of the Castro regime.
Haley's remarks came along with the announcement that the United States would return to a policy of opposing a U.N. resolution that condemns the U.S. embargo on Cuba.
In 2016, then President Barack Obama’s U.N. ambassador Samantha Power abstained on the U.N. resolution, voted on each year. The Obama administration's decision marked the first time the United States abstained in 25 years. Haley criticized the 2016 decision before the General Assembly on Thursday. She highlighted the "continued repression" of the Cuban people and apologized for how the previous administration downplayed their situation.
"When the United States abstained on this resolution last year, its decision was explained by saying, ‘We recognize that the future of the island lies in the hands of the Cuban people.’ There is a casual cruelty to that remark for which I am profoundly sorry," Haley said.
"Regrettably, as of today, the future of Cuba is not in your hands," she added. "It remains in the hands of your dictators."
Haley referred back to the Obama administration's stance that the embargo only "isolated" the United States, and explained that the Trump administration holds the opposite view. She said the reason for the change in policy is the democratic nature of U.S. government.
"To those who are confused as to where the United States stands, let me be clear: As is their right under our Constitution, the American people have spoken," Haley said. "They have chosen a new president, and he has chosen a new ambassador to the United Nations."
Haley also excoriated those in the U.N. General Assembly that tolerate the Cuban communist dictatorship.
"For over 55 years, the Cuban regime has used this debate in the United Nations General Assembly as a shiny object to distract the world’s attention from the destruction it has inflicted on its own people, and on others in the western hemisphere," Haley said.
"Each year, this assembly’s time is wasted considering this resolution, and the United States is subjected to all manner of ridiculous claims—anything to deflect attention from the regime that is actually responsible for the suffering of the Cuban people," she added.
Haley declared the vote to be a waste of time, referring to the fact that, ultimately, only the U.S. Congress can lift the full embargo. She further said the United States does not fear being isolated over the U.N. resolution.
"As long as the Cuban people continue to be deprived of their human rights and fundamental freedoms—as long as the proceeds from trade with Cuba go to prop up the dictatorial regime responsible for denying those rights—the United States does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else," she said. "Our principles are not up for a vote. They are enshrined in our Constitution."
Haley also addressed Cubans directly, saying the United States would continue diplomatic relations with Cuba:
The Cuban regime is sending the warped message to the world that the sad state of its economy, the oppression of its people, and the export of its destructive ideology is not its fault. In the spirit of sending messages, I would like to direct the rest of my comments towards the Cuban people. The American people strongly support your dreams to live in a country where you can speak freely, where you can have uncensored access to the Internet, where you can provide for your families, and where you can determine your leadership. We know that many of you have been made hopeful by the opening of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba. That status is not changing. Our friendship and goodwill toward the Cuban people remain as strong as ever.
She went on to argue that the Cuban government’s treatment of political opponents has only worsened after U.S. outreach, including "almost 10,000 politically motivated detentions in Cuba in 2015 alone." She also condemned Cuba’s support of Nicolas Maduro’s Venezuelan dictatorship, and of sham elections in Cuba.
"The United States opposes this resolution today in continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny," Haley said. "We might stand alone today, but when the day of freedom comes for the Cuban people—and it will come—we will rejoice with them as only a free people can."
The 193-member General Assembly passed the non-binding resolution on Thursday with 191 votes in favor. Israel and the United States were the only countries to vote in opposition of the resolution.