U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has taken Cuba to task, calling the Cuban delegation’s efforts to disrupt an event the United States organized at the United Nations to call attention to the island’s political prisoners a “childish temper tantrum.”
When U.S. Ambassador Kelley E. Currie tried to introduce a U.S. campaign called “Jailed for What?” and highlight Cuba’s intolerance of political opposition on Oct. 16, her words were often drowned out by shouts from the Cuban delegation and their supporters and a relentless pounding on their desks.
During a news briefing Tuesday, Pompeo said he had written a letter to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres “requesting to know what measures the U.N. will take to respond to these actions and make sure that they do not happen again.”
During a face-to-face meeting with Guterres in which Pompeo discussed such weighty topics as efforts to achieve denuclearization of North Korea, progress toward a political resolution in Syria, and how to end hostilities in Yemen, the secretary of state also condemned “the outrageous and disruptive behavior” of the Cuban and Bolivian missions during the human rights event, according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert.
On Wednesday Cuba fought back. Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez said at an afternoon news conference that the “repeated pronouncements of the government of the United States against Cuba have no other objective than to create a climate of greater bilateral tension” as a vote on a Cuban resolution condemning the embargo approaches at the United Nations.
During last week’s human rights event, as Currie, the U.S. representative on the U.N. Social and Economic Council, tried to highlight the cases of an estimated 130 Cuban political prisoners, she paused and called for security to remove the protesters. But the pounding and shouts continued throughout her remarks and during a panel discussion that followed.
“I think we’re getting a good demonstration of respect for freedom of expression in Cuba,” Michael Kozak, of the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, said during the noisy protest.
Since the campaign launch, the State Department has been posting thumbnail sketches on Twitter of Cuban political prisoners such as Melkis Faure Echevarria, a Cuban mother who is serving a seven-year sentence for crimes of resistance that the U.S. says “she did not commit.”
Abelardo Moreno, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, has dismissed the U.S. “Jailed for What?” campaign as a failure and said it is “part and parcel of the recent increase in anti-Cuban rhetoric and strengthening of the blockade,” the Cuban term for the embargo.
Cuba, meanwhile, has been waging its own U.N. campaign, “Unblock Cuba,” aimed at gathering support for lifting the embargo, which it says is a massive violation of the human rights of Cubans. It also has been posting tweets on what it views as U.S. shortcomings in human rights such as the number of Americans living in poverty or who are homeless.
On Oct. 31, the United Nations will vote on a Cuba-sponsored, non-binding resolution condemning the U.S. trade embargo against the island. It has passed every year since 1991, and the United States has perennially voted no — except in 2016 when, under the administration of President Barack Obama, it abstained.
Rodríguez said that in an effort to blunt the generally overwhelming support for the resolution, the U.S. mission to the United Nations began circulating eight amendments to the Cuban resolution Tuesday night. If it weren’t such a serious matter, he said, they would be laughable.
Among them, Rodríguez said, was an amendment mentioning discrimination against women and their lack of access to public office. In the past year, Cuba has made a concerted effort to bring more women into its National Assembly and local and provincial offices.
“This is a maneuver for propaganda purposes ... to manipulate public opinion,” Rodríguez said.
Follow Mimi Whitefield on Twitter: @HeraldMimi