Cuban diplomats disrupt UN meeting called by US on prisoners

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — About 20 Cuban diplomats and supporters disrupted a U.N. meeting called Tuesday by the United States to spotlight the island nation’s political prisoners, loudly banging on tables and shouting in Spanish, “Cuba, yes! U.S. blockade, no!”

It was impossible to hear U.S. Deputy Ambassador Kelley Currie, senior Trump administration officials or the secretary-general of the Organization of American States above the noise in the U.N. Economic and Social Council chamber that continued for more than 45 minutes.

Toward the end of the meeting, U.N. security officials ordered out more than a dozen pro-Cubans in the balcony who had joined in the shouting. Those protesters yelled “Long live free Cuba!” (Viva Cuba libre!) and one kept shouting “Liars!” (“Mentirosos!”) as they was escorted from the chamber.

It was a very rare protest by accredited diplomats who have the right to attend any open U.N. meeting, and reflected the serious deterioration of U.S.-Cuban relations during the Trump administration following the restoration of ties in 2015 under President Barack Obama.

The U.S. had severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 after the revolution led by Fidel Castro. An economic embargo, initially imposed in 1958 and subsequently expanded, remains in place.

Despite Obama’s opening, serious issues remain, especially the U.S. call for human rights on the Caribbean island.

Currie told reporters outside the chamber that the Cuban diplomats “should be ashamed of themselves” and that the U.S. would raise their actions with the proper authorities in the United Nations.

“I have never seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban government delegation did today. It was very shocking and disturbing,” she said. “This kind of rubbish behavior — it has no place here in the United Nations.”

Cuban Ambassador Anayansi Rodriguez Camejo called the meeting a “farce,” ’'a political comedy” and “a new chapter in the long list of aggressions against Cuba.”

“The truth is on our side,” she said. “Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it.”

Currie said the U.S. sought to raise the issue of political prisoners because the U.N. General Assembly’s human rights committee is meeting and “it’s an issue that we feel is under-highlighted and needs additional attention.”

Even before Tuesday’s meeting, the two countries were trading accusations.

The United States said Cuba has jailed 130 political prisoners in a “blatant affront” to fundamental democratic freedoms and announced it was formally launching a campaign Tuesday at the U.N. called “Jailed for What?” to hold Cuba’s regime responsible for human rights violations.

Rodriguez said Monday that the U.S. has itself violated human rights, especially in the use of torture, detention and “arbitrary deprivation of liberty” at its Guantanamo military base, where terrorism suspects have been held for years. She also pointed to U.S. immigration policies that have separated parents and children.

Among the speakers at the session were Secretary General Luis Almagro of the Organization of American States, Executive Director Carlos Quesada of the Institute of Race and Equality and former Cuban political prisoner Alejandro Gonzalez Raga. The sister of political prisoner Eduardo Cardet Concepcion spoke by video.

But their words were drowned out by the constant banging on tables and shouting of slogans.

The U.S. envoy said Almargo highlighted “the role that Cuba plays in destabilization in Venezuela and Nicaragua.”

“Therefore, we feel that it is important to shine a light on a regime that is undermining peace and security across Latin America as well as persecuting its citizens at home,” Currie said.

Cuba’s ambassador called the OAS a “puppet” organization and said the event was put on with actors serving “a foreign power, many of them paid by Washington.”