This wasn’t the “Missiles of October,” the famed nuclear showdown between Cuba and the United States in 1962, but tensions between the two countries were impossible to ignore at the United Nations Tuesday afternoon.
A US event meant to highlight the plight of Cuba’s political prisoners was drowned out by the noise of Cuban diplomats banging on tables and voices screaming, “Cuba yes, blockade no” across a large conference room, a reference to the US economic embargo against the island nation.
Cuban diplomats were using both hands to slap the rectangular table while others were yelling in Spanish, and although US Ambassador Kelley Currie repeatedly asked for security, officers stood watching the protest without intervening. Why? Because the protesters were accredited UN diplomats from Cuba, and yelling diplomats cannot be physically restrained based on UN security protocols.
The United States may be considered the most powerful member — financially and diplomatically — at the United Nations, but despite its status, security would not step into the fray.
The near 90-minute meeting was met with the sound of dissent by Cuban diplomats, with panelists trying their best not to acknowledge the uproar.
“I was ready to end the proceedings, but I’m damned if I’m going to do it for you. So I can sit here all day and let you shout yourselves silly,” Ambassador Michael Kozak told the protesters. Kozak, of the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, moderated a panel after Currie’s remarks.
“I have never in my life seen diplomats behave in the way the Cuban delegation did today,” Currie, the US representative on the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, told reporters after leaving the conference room, calling protesters actions “shocking and disturbing.”
“It makes you wonder that if the diplomats of this government behave this way, how do the police behave?”
The “thuggish behavior” displayed by the diplomats has no place at the United Nations, Currie said, adding that the island nation and its diplomatic representatives should be ashamed of themselves.
The estimated 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government 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,” the State Department said in a statement describing the event.
“Holding the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom are key components of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum of 2017.”
Cuba forcefully objected to this meeting being called by the United States, appealing in vain in recent days to the United Nations, and writing a letter to the UN secretary-general.
The “Jailed for What?” event was an attempt by the United States to hoodwink the international community into ignoring its own human rights violations at home and abroad, a statement released by the Cuban Mission to the United Nations said.
The United States has a “pattern of systematic violations of all human rights,” it said, citing torture of Guantanamo detainees, the murder of African-Americans at the hands of police officers, and imprisonment of immigrants.
The secretary-general of the Organization of American States, a former political prisoner, and the sister of a current political prisoner in Cuba comprised an expert panel in the meeting. But of all the words exchanged, the ambassador may be the only person who may want to retract her opening comments.
“Thank you for coming,” Currie said, welcoming everyone to the event.