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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Also present in large numbers at the commission's annual six-week session are cameras from the Cuban state press. Falcoff says, "Cuba regards this as a terribly important event, though I can't imagine they give two hoots about what the U.N. thinks." After the resolution passes every year, Castro reliably declares that it doesn't apply to him. The events at the commission may be "a psychodrama staged for Cuban television," ventures Falcoff. Cuba makes use of the "theater" in Geneva to soothe the "insecurities that all undemocratic governments feel."

Castro recently turned down offers of a more favorable tariff status and extra humanitarian aid from the E.U. because Europe insisted that human rights inspectors be allowed into Cuba as a condition of the deals. Castro also refuses access to and regularly denounces Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Red Cross, and other human rights groups.

He may be wise to do so. Kirkpatrick, Falcoff, and Calzon make the same point from slightly different angles: Castro would love nothing more than to reach beyond Cuba's shores and suppress all criticism of his regime, to control discussion about his policies and practices totally. That, as Kirkpatrick notes, "is the essence of totalitarianism." But when he extended his efforts to squash dissent into the lobby of the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, history suggests Castro may have done his cause more harm than good.

In 1856, Senator Charles Sumner, a Massachusetts Republican, was severely beaten with a metal-topped cane by Congressman Preston Brooks, kin to one of the senators whose pro-slavery stance Sumner had denounced two days before in a powerful speech on the floor. Brooks, like the young Cuban, snuck up on his victim from behind. And like the Cuban assailant, Brooks suffered little more than formal censure for his actions. It took Sumner almost three years to recover from the bloody assault, but today the incident is in every high school history book, alongside the words that had stirred the ire of the pro-slavery faction: "What are trial by jury, habeas corpus, the ballot-box, the right of petition, the liberty of Kansas, your liberty, sir, or mine, to one who lends himself, not merely to the support at home, but to the propagandism abroad, of that preposterous wrong, which denies even the right of a man to himself! Such a cause can be maintained only by a practical subversion of all rights."

Sumner warned that failure to do the right thing about slavery would sully the Senate's "good name in history forever more." Calzon similarly underlines the contrast between the sordid assault and the exalted mission of the place where it happened, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Coming just after debate about whether allegations of repressive practices in Cuba were true, the attack, Calzon said, was "an example that cannot be ignored. This did not happen in the middle of the night in a dark alley."

Moley expanded on that theme to the Miami Herald, one of the few news outlets to cover the story: "It was a vicious punch. If you act that way in the U.N. . . . God forbid, what do you do in your own country where there is absolutely no accountability?"

Frank Calzon knows. "If I was attacked in Cuba," he said, "it would have been more than one punch."

Katherine Mangu-Ward is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.