Also each year, Cuba updates its estimate of how much the embargo has cost it, using a complicated — and some say flawed — calculus that takes into account years of interest, the end of the gold standard and other factors. Last year's estimate summing 49 years of sanctions was $975 billion.
Even some critics of the embargo call Havana's claims exaggerated, saying that while the sanctions had a tremendous impact when first put in place, Cuba was able to adapt and benefited from relationships with like-minded allies such as the former Soviet Union and Venezuela.
"There's no doubt that the embargo is detrimental to the Cuban economy. It complicates international financial transactions, but more importantly, it limits Cuban families' access to medicine," said Geoff Thale, a Cuba analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, which supports ending the policy. "At the same time, Cuba's economic problems go beyond the embargo."
While 50 years of socialism have brought advancements in areas such as education and health care, even island authorities acknowledge their perennially struggling economic system must change. President Raul Castro is in the process of allowing more private-sector activity, decentralizing state-run businesses, implementing agricultural reform and slimming government payrolls.
The United States actually does have significant trade with Cuba under a clause allowing the sale of food products and some pharmaceuticals.
According to the most recent information available from Cuba's National Statistics Office, the U.S. was the island's seventh-largest trading partner in 2010, selling $410 million in mostly food products. However, that was down from nearly $1 billion in 2008, as the island increasingly turned to other countries that don't force it to pay cash up front.
Many U.S. businesses would love to be allowed into the Cuban market, but an end to the embargo seems a long way off.
The issue is seen as a political nonstarter in the United States, where every four years, presidential candidates take turns courting the Cuban-American vote in Florida, a key swing state.
President Barack Obama has said Raul Castro's economic openings are insufficient, and it's unlikely he would do anything in an election year to risk losing support in Florida, which he won in 2008. Even if he wanted to lift the embargo, the Helms-Burton Act of 1996 stipulates that it would have to be approved by Congress.
Raul Castro, for his part, says recent changes in the U.S. such as allowing Cuban-Americans to visit relatives more often and send them more money are merely cosmetic.
Backers of the sanctions say it's as important as ever to maintain what they call the moral high ground, saying islanders will be grateful whenever change does come.
Critics cite the annual U.N. votes to argue that times have changed and the embargo is a Cold War relic that ought to be thrown onto the scrap heap.
"It's no longer a matter of the United States leading a movement to isolate Cuba in the hemisphere," said Smith, a staunch opponent of the embargo. "Quite the contrary: If anyone's isolated, on this issue anyway, it's us."
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