Cuban diplomats shout down American ambassador in hour-long, unprecedented display

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By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS — What was expected to be a quiet but informational meeting on the plight of political prisoners in Cuba, was suddenly jolted into chaos by table thumping and harangues hurled at an American Ambassador by Cuban regime diplomats packing the audience. A sober human rights presentation was instantly turned into tawdry political theatre.

Set in the high ceilinged and wood paneled Economic and Social Council, (ECOSOC), the U.S. delegation sponsored a symposium “Jailed for What” on the plight of Cuba’s 130 political prisoners which was transformed into a shout-down session as soon as Amb. Kelley Currie commenced her opening remarks.

Cuban delegates staged a loud demonstration during remarks by U.S. Amb. Kelley Currie.
Cuban delegates staged a loud demonstration during remarks by U.S. Amb. Kelley Currie.

Nonetheless Amb. Currie stated forcefully, “Cuba’s political prisoners are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the United States and many other democratic governments support, and that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Cuban delegates, apparently joined by some Bolivians, began shouting and table thumping in unison for nearly an hour, totally drowning out all the American presentations which nonetheless continued unabated with an admirable display of sangfroid. Up to 35 diplomats vying to be Khrushchev wannabes banged on the polished wood tables in a political tantrum. Soon slogans were being chanted too; bedlam prevailed.

Amb. Currie later told reporters, “I have never seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban government delegation did today. It was very shocking and disturbing.”

Chants of “Cuba Yes, Blockade No” echoed through the ECOSOC room, while frothy emotions stifled discussion. The embargo which dates to 1962 and was imposed by President John F. Kennedy, comprises economic sanctions which are rooted in the Castro regime’s seizure of American properties on the island following the Cuban revolution. It remains in force despite the Obama Administration having reopened diplomatic relations with Havana in 2015.

While the Cubans certainly have the right to disagree with Washington’s position, they don’t have the right to disrupt other voices and opinions. Sadly these actions mirror precisely what has happened in Cuba since Castro’s communist revolution where dissent was quashed and others’ opinions shouted down, shut down, or silenced.

UN security, already on high alert before the conference, handled the situation professionally though the officers were not allowed to interfere with or remove the protesters as they were diplomats!

In all my years covering the UN I have never witnessed such a large, lengthy and sustained protest inside a chamber.

U.S. Ambassador Michael Kozak from the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy and Human Rights, stated, “I want to thank the Cuban delegation again for giving us such a graphic demonstration of how they deal with alternative viewpoints in their country.”

But let’s return to Cuba’s political prisoners for a moment, the whole point of the symposium which was squelched by strident political theatrics.

Human Rights Watch states, “The Cuban government continues to repress dissent and deter public criticism. It routinely relies on arbitrary detention to harass and intimidate critics.”
The human rights watchdog Freedom House moreover lists Cuba’s Political rights and Civil liberties as ranking 14 out of 100 and Not Free.

Cuba’s Ambassador Anayansi Rodriguez Camejo described the disruption as an exercise of “revolutionary diplomacy,” recalling “the legacy of our historical leader Fidel Castro.” Moreover she added, “Cuba is proud of its human rights record.”

Later, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley characterized the incident a “mob scene” and made an official protest to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. Addressing the incident, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Cuban diplomats threw a childish temper tantrum.”

The “Jailed for What” presentation would have been largely overlooked if it were not for the Cuban bully boy tactics which became the story.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]