With Valladares as the head of our team, we went for broke on Cuba. Unlike our previous failed effort, we spent months lobbying, pressing, cajoling, and making the case for a condemnation of Castro's human rights record. Thanks to Maureen, we got the President, the Vice President, his sons, and a number of senior Congressmen, Republican and Democrat, to weigh in. The Cuban exile community all over the world pressured local politicians and held demonstrations in front of key embassies. Through it all, I remained troubled that it should prove so difficult to have the UN's human rights body condemn one of the planet's most blatant human rights violators. Had we sought to condemn Pinochet, we would have needed zero lobbying.
We arrived next year in Geneva moderately optimistic that if our text came to a vote we would win or, at least, have a 50-50 chance of it. The key was "if it came to a vote." Many delegations at the UN will claim to support a text, but then support a procedural motion to defer action on that very text: Having your cake and eating it, too. When it came to our resolution on Cuba, we had managed to knock a few of the prior year's potential "no" votes into the "abstain" or "absent" column, but positions on the procedural motion remained fluid and vague. The Soviets and Cubans knew that, as well, and were fiercely determined not to let the text come to a vote.
The Valladares nomination had drawn tremendous press and public interest, and, if nothing else, turned Cuba's human rights record into a topic of discussion. The Cuban delegation had a visceral hatred for Valladares. Under tremendous pressure from Havana to ensure that he failed, the Cubans would do whatever possible to smear or rattle him, even bringing his former jailers and torturers to Geneva. We learned from a reliable source that the Cubans planned a "bash Valladares" session in one of the UNCHR meetings. We decided to foul that up. One of the rules in the UNCHR was no personal attacks. We knew that if they started one we could interrupt on a point of order; the Chairman would rule in our favor, and then give back the floor to the Cubans; they would insult Valladares again, another point of order, and so on. That would get tedious and could turn the mood against the delegation raising the points of order, and lead an exasperated Chairman to allow the offending delegation to finish its statement. We did not want that sort of a floor fight given how shaky our coalition might prove, and needed the Chairman, a very polite and elderly African diplomat, on our side. We, above all, wanted the Cubans to know that the game had changed; we would not play by the established rules while they played by their own.
One Saturday morning with a Cuban friend, now a prominent writer and commentator, I got into my father-in-law's Ford Fiesta, which I had driven from Spain. We went around Geneva visiting typewriter sales and repair shops looking for a badly functioning manual typewriter. Try finding something bad in Geneva. Shop owners showed us the latest IBM Selectrics, and were baffled that we wanted a manual that did not work well. Finally, in the back of a small shop, we found it: an old dusty Remington-Rand with a sticky "e" key. The owner thought us nuts, but sold it for a reasonable price.
That day and well into the night we had my wife on that Remington typing crazy screeds, all in capital letters, in French, Spanish, and broken English. These contained vicious attacks on Valladares, accusing him of the most vile acts you can imagine, and urging the reader to listen to the forthcoming Cuban address to the UNCHR for more details. Our little notes appeared as teases for that speech. We put them in envelopes addressed to heads of delegations (we skipped the Soviet bloc). The next day, we bought my wife a rail pass, and put her on a train that ran all over Switzerland. At each stop, she found a mailbox and dropped one envelope. She spent the day on that train. The very efficient Swiss postal service promptly delivered our little oeuvres.
The day of the Cuban speech, we went into the chamber noticing that several delegates had the sheets we had sent. Some had approached the Cuban delegates, who angrily denied having anything to do with the notes. As the meeting began, a European delegate took the floor and delivered a passionate condemnation of the note he had received, and proceeded to lecture the Cubans on their lack of civility and disregard for the rules. Another delegate followed. The Chairman said that he, too, had been bothered by the note, and asked the Cuban delegation if in fact the address they were going to make was a personal attack on the US delegate. The Cuban delegate, obviously confused, said that his address would clarify who, in fact, the head of the US delegation was and why he should not be at the UNCHR. The Chairman ruled the Cuban out of order and suspended his speech. The Cubans were furious. One of the Cubans kept staring at me and mouthing insults. Later in the cafeteria, a Cuban delegate, whom we had labelled "Maria La Loca" because of her fanatical devotion to Castro, came up to me and said, "We know it was you. You won't get away with this." I tried to adopt my most beatific "I don't know what you mean" smile while I sipped my coffee. My colleagues at the table could barely contain their laughter.
To be continued.
Note: I am also writing another post on Libya which I hope to have up tomorrow or the day after.