A U.S.-led event to draw attention to the plight of political prisoners in Cuba under the repressive communist government was hijacked Tuesday by pro-regime diplomats — who screamed slogans and banged tables in a display an American diplomat called shameful.
The event, “Jailed for What? The plight of Cuba’s political prisoners,” featured former political prisoners and human rights activists and took place in the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council chamber (ECOSOC).
The meeting was led by U.S. ECOSOC Ambassador Kelley Currie. Within moments of her opening statement, diplomats started screaming slogans and banging their hands on tables as part of an effort to derail the event. Diplomats from Cuba and Bolivia — including Bolivian Ambassador Sacha Llorenti, who is currently the president of the U.N. Security Council for October — were among those banging on tables.
Currie, along with other speakers at the event, continued with their remarks — choosing instead to raise their voices over the ensuing cacophony. Currie did not stop her speech, instead speaking louder while hailing the bravery of Cuban political prisoners and noting the Trump administration is “holding the Cuban government responsible for human rights violations.”
After the event, Currie told reporters that the protesters were “most of the Cuban diplomatic mission” and that the meeting was delayed after the Cuban delegation refused to allow U.N. security to conduct a sweep of the room.
“I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing and it makes you wonder that if the diplomats of this government behave this way, how do the police behave?” she said, adding that the delegation “should be ashamed of themselves.”
Michael Kozak, a senior State Department official for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor who also spoke at the event, thanked the Cuban delegation “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,” he said. He also refused to close the event until the allotted time was up, even going so far as to taunt the yelling diplomats.
“I can sit here all day and let yourselves shout yourselves silly,” he said.
Miriam Cardet Concepcion, the sister of Eduardo Cardet Concepcion — who was jailed for three years for criticizing former leader Fidel Castro — appeared by video after being refused permission to travel by the Cuban regime. Her appearance only emboldened diplomats and protesters, who raised their voices to interrupt her video message.
One U.N. employee told Fox News that he had never seen anything like the display in all the years he’s been at Turtle Bay.
Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, told Fox News that the theatrics were typical of the Cuban regime.
“The Castro regime always creates this kind of scene, even here at the United Nations,” he said. “It doesn’t reflect the Cuban people or the Cuban nation as a whole, just the regime.”
The Cuban Mission released a lengthy statement blasting the event as “a political comedy staged on false arguments and with supporting actors of a dark history at the service of a foreign power.” It said that Cuba had requested the event be canceled.
“It is part of the actions aimed at subverting the legitimately established constitutional order and of the interventionist agenda that has gained renewed momentum under the current administration, whose fascist, racist and xenophobic ideas are a matter of grave concern in the international community,” the statement said.
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, told Fox News that missions must certify that public meetings are consistent with the purposes and principles of the U.N. and that they are non-commerical in nature. He said the U.S. had done so with regards to Tuesday’s event.
“The sponsoring Permanent Mission is fully responsible for the content and conduct of the meeting,” Dujarric said in reference to the protests. “It is not the role of U.N. security to physically remove any delegate from a meeting unless they pose a physical threat.”
The chaotic display is likely only to feed concerns from critics that the U.N. has become a playground for despots and human rights abusers, who use the body to attack the U.S. and Israel in particular. In her remarks after the event, Currie said that “every day probably in the United Nations there’s an event bashing Israel.”
Last week, the U.N. General Assembly voted to elect a number of countries with poor human rights records to the controversial Human Rights Council — including Eritrea, Cameroon, Somalia and Bangladesh. Those countries will join other countries with poor human rights records, such as Cuba, China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, on the world’s top human rights body.
“This lack of standards continues to undermine the organization and demonstrates again why the United States was right to withdraw from it earlier this year,” U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement.