The Cuban delegation to the United Nations interrupted a meeting on the island’s ongoing imprisonment of political dissidents on Tuesday by shouting insults over the speakers, calling the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) a “puppet” of the United States and refusing to let participants express themselves.
The Cuban government typically organizes mob on the island for actos de repudio, or “acts of repudiation,” in front of the homes of known dissidents to intimidate them into silence. Increasingly, however, Cuban delegates abroad have used the same tactics to silence high-ranking international diplomats at multilateral venues.
Tuesday’s event was the launch of a United Nations campaign titled “Jailed for What?” seeking to highlight the stories of human rights abuses against dissidents in Cuba. The United States has spearheaded the campaign and Ambassador Kelley Currie, who represents America on the U.N.’s Economic and Social Affairs committee, led the event. Senior State Department official Michael Kozak accompanied her, as well as OAS chief Luis Almagro and Miriam Cardet Concepción, sister of Cuban political prisoner and head of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) Eduardo Cardet.
Almost immediately after the first speaker, Ambassador Currie, began to speak, members of Cuba’s official diplomatic delegation began banging on tables and shouting over her, attempting to force the U.N. to cancel the event.
Speaking over the noise, Currie called Cuban “president” Miguel Díaz-Canel’s self-congratulatory speech at the U.N. General Assembly last month a “sick joke” and denounced actos de repudio. She noted that well-documented NGO evidence suggests “over 100 Cubans currently languish in jails or under house arrest as political prisoners,” not counting those the government arrests on a weekly basis and releases to keep political prisoner numbers relatively low, particularly members of the Ladies in White group.
“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,” Currie stated, noting that “President [Donald] Trump is taking action to hold the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom.”
Currie asked United Nations security officials to remove the disruptive officials on multiple occasions during the remarks, but they refused. Kozak made a statement military to Currie’s, urging those “who would like to hear” to listen to his statement on headphones “over all this foolishness.”
The disruptive Cuban government agents attempted to silence Cardet more loudly than anyone else. Cardet was invited to attend in person but the Cuban government forbade her from leaving the country, forcing her to make her statement via live video. “Our family is suffering and trying to defend our truth,” she told listeners, noting that Cardet’s health had declined significantly since his illegal imprisonment in 2016 and that the government “have threatened him, they have threatened us and tried to silence us,” and kept his true health status from the family.
After the event, organizers condemned the Cuban government for its “shocking and disturbing” attempts to silence international diplomats in New York.
“I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today,” Currie told reporters. “You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior.”
Kozak cynically thanked the mob “for a demonstration of exactly what we are talking about the mob “for a demonstration of exactly what we are talking about.”
“You can imagine what it’s like in Cuba if the government of Cuba behaves like this in the chambers of the United Nations with security present,” Kozak noted.
The Cuban government celebrated the embarrassing spectacle online, sharing videos sharing the belligerent statements shouted at the delegation that the U.N. video opted not to highlight.
— Cancillería de Cuba (@CubaMINREX) October 16, 2018
In an extensive statement, the Cuban Foreign Ministry (Minrex) accused the United States of human rights violations and celebrated its uncouth intervention at the U.N. event.
“[Minrex] rejects in the most energetic way the defamatory campaign against Cuba regarding human rights launched on October 16 by the United States,” the statement read. “A country with a corrupt-by-nature electoral system and a government of millionaires … where hatred, division, selfishness, calumny, racism, xenophobia, and lies are promoted … cannot speak on human rights and democracy.”
“On the Cuban archipelago, the only prisoners deprived of their rights and dignity, tortured and confined for large periods of time with no legal basis … are the ones the United States government keeps in arbitrary detention and torture centers at the Naval Base at Guantánamo,” the statement alleged.
The Cuban government, from Raúl Castro on down, denies the existence of any political prisoners on the island. In cases like Cardet’s, the regime identifies dissidents as common criminals and typically accuses them of desacato, or “disrespect,” a catch-all crime on the island.
Tuesday’s incident is far from the only one in which the presence of Cuban government agents has disrupted discussions on human right. At the Summit of the Americans in Peru in April, the Castro regime flooded a forum on civil society with a mob of dozens of agents flown in to disrupt scheduled conversations with Cuban dissidents, forcing the cancelation of the event. Cuban agents vandalized billboards that pro-democracy activists paid for to highlight the suffering of the Ladies in White at the hands of the regime.
In 2015, the first year that Cuba was invited to the Summit of the Americas, Cuban government agents physically assaulted Cuban dissidents invited to the event on the streets of Panama. The police did not ban the Cuban agents from Summit events.