The Magazine

Cuba's 5-Fingered Diplomacy

Assault and battery in Geneva.

May 3, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 32 • By KATHERINE MANGU-WARD
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"I DIDN'T GO to the U.N. to get into a fist fight," said Frank Calzon, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba--or, as he is known in Havana, "lackey to the United States, traitor to the motherland, capitalist pig, terrorist, and CIA agent." Calzon went to Geneva to deliver two three-minute speeches on Cuba's human rights record to the 60th annual meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights last week. He wound up unconscious on the floor.

On the day the resolution condemning Cuba passed by a single vote, Calzon was standing outside the chamber where the commission meets. "It's like in the lobby of a theater. There are 60 or 80 people, lots of people," he said. A young man ran down an escalator and approached Calzon from behind, clasped his hands, and struck Calzon on the back of the head. Calzon fell, unconscious. American ambassador Kevin Moley witnessed the incident and ran after the assailant. Two Swiss guards got to the man first, however, and tackled him.

Cuban ambassador Jorge Mora Godoy arrived on the scene and demanded the assailant be released into his custody, but at Moley's insistence, the guards led away the young man--who turned out to be an accredited member of the Cuban delegation.

When Calzon came to, U.N. security officials told him that a crowd of pro-Castro delegates had gathered around shouting and had tried to kick him where he lay on the floor. Another Swiss guard had pulled a mace canister and cleared the area.

"There was a provocation from Frank Calzon against one woman in the Cuban delegation," said Mora Godoy later, employing a charge he has lobbed at other U.N. diplomats. Ambassador Moley filed a statement and has said he wants to press charges. Since everyone involved has diplomatic immunity, however, it is unlikely the Cuban delegate can expect anything worse than ejection from the country by the Swiss.

In his official report of the assault, U.S. delegation head Richard Williamson cites "a series of incidents and intimidation" by the Cuban delegation. The attack on Calzon was the fourth provocation directed toward members of the U.S. delegation during the session that ended on Friday. The others, as related by Williamson, included a drive-by threat ("We're watching you") and a "scuffle" over position papers that had to be broken up by a guard. Freedom House representatives chime in with their own stories of chest tapping and muttered menace.

Jeane Kirkpatrick, who headed last year's U.S. delegation to Geneva, says of Cuba's unusual behavior, "They have an obsessive desire to control the symbolic environment in which they live." In the case of Frank Calzon, who has long been her colleague and friend, "someone, some speech escaped their control. . . . It's enormously difficult for them to bear."

"They're very effective," says Kirkpatrick, "at making common cause with other dictatorships in U.N. bodies where they hang out." The issue that presumably pushed the Cuban delegate to violence was a resolution brought before the commission by Honduras. It asked Cuba to admit a U.N. human rights inspector and "deplored" the treatment of 75 dissidents jailed last March, many under sentences of 20 years or more. The vote on the resolution was close, 22-21. Russia and China joined Cuba and several African countries in voting no, and 10 members abstained, including Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina.

Though the annual Cuba resolution generally does not contain the word "condemn" and is phrased in positive (or positively Orwellian, depending on who you ask) terms, Cuba regularly wages a year-long campaign against it and sends a "huge" delegation, says Mark Falcoff, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a member of last year's U.S. delegation. Approximately 25 delegates from Cuba descend on Geneva to fill four seats in the chamber, along with a huge crowd of secondary participants from Cuban non-governmental organizations and media.

How do all those extra people in the entourage fill their days? "Some are translators; winning over Russian diplomats takes lots of chatting," says Falcoff. The rest? Well, they might not exactly be diplomats by training. Cuban embassies and missions have long housed agents of the DGI, Cuba's answer to the KGB, and Cuba regularly accredits NGOs that are actually state organs, like the Federation of Cuban Women, for participation at the U.N. Rumors about DGI agents with diplomatic passports were confirmed by one of the highest ranking defectors from Cuba, Alcibiades Hidalgo, who was fired from his position as Cuban ambassador to the U.N. in 1993 after he objected to the use of Cuba's diplomatic mission as home base for its intelligence operation. Soon after, he fled to the United States.