Tuesday, October 30, 2012

With the Cubans in Switzerland (Part III)

Things were getting hot at the UNCHR, with emotions running high. The Cubans were openly threatening delegates; one friendly Central American Ambassador told us that the Cubans had said to him, "It would be very unfortunate if bad things began to happen in your country again." This referred to previous Cuban backing of terrorists in that nation. The Cubans also tried to feed us bad information hoping we would bite. They put out a story via friendly journalists that Cuban heavy weight boxer and national hero Teofilo Stevenson  had defected while on a visit to Europe. Valladares immediately smelled a rat. He noted that Stevenson was a fanatical Castro supporter; he suspected that the Cubans wanted us to make a big deal out of the defection, use it in a speech, and then--presto!--they would produce Stevenson to give an impassioned defense of Castro. Valladares proved right. A source spotted Stevenson at a European hotel in the company of Cuban officials. They wanted to keep him under wraps for the surprise. They got increasingly desperate as the days wore on and we said nothing about the "defection." One evening a Cuban delegate slid over to me at a Geneva supermarket, where I was in shock at the price of oranges, and said, "I suppose you will stoop so low as to use the Stevenson defection in your speeches." Valladares laughed when I told him what the Cuban had said.

The big day of the vote was rapidly coming upon us. We could not be sure about the procedural motion. One of my colleagues, a budding Karl Rove, was a wizard at keeping vote tallies, and who had been approached, and who had said what, and what the likelihood was of their vote. His conclusion was a gloomy, "We are one vote short on the procedural motion." We had to knock out one of the "yes" votes on the procedural motion or we had no chance of winning.

Then, an miracle. A very reliable friendly source provided us a report by a European government on the state of human rights in Cuba. The first line in the very detailed and dire report stated flat out, "The Reagan Administration is right about human rights in Cuba." This report had been meant only for the senior levels of that government, which, despite the conclusions of its own report, was voting for the procedural motion. Only a very small number of us knew about the report's existence. The issue became how to use it without compromising the source while knocking out that "yes" vote.

Valladares had the answer: the old Remington typewriter. We dragged my wife away from her shopping in France. I took the report and sliced it up, literally. With scissors and tape, I rearranged sentences and paragraphs; with a pen, I introduced typos and grammatical errors, and even added a sentence or two. My wife retyped the whole thing on that old typewriter. Valladares had the report sent to a friendly journalist in a country far from Switzerland. The journalist ran the story, noting the hypocrisy of the European country's position. Once that story came out, I went to another journalist from another country, and said "Have you seen this story from XX?" (Note: Remember this is before the internet.) He took it and ran it again. I then gave that new story to a local reporter who ran it in the local press citing the other two stories as the sources. That local story caught the eye, with our help, of a journalist from the country whose government had commissioned the report. He ran it in a major paper back home.

Pandemonium broke out within that European country's government. They launched a hunt to find the source of the leak but were having trouble finding it since the original story had come out in a paper very far removed from the action in Geneva. Suspicion, nevertheless, fell on the country's delegation. Those delegates were in a state of panic, especially since we and others kept asking them about the report, and how it was that they were not going to support us on the procedural motion.

The day of the vote came. We trooped in, and mirable visu, that European country's desk was empty. The delegation had been called back the night before to the capital because of the scandal over the report. The procedural motion would fail. The Soviet delegation was very good at numbers, too. They immediately realized that the motion would not pass, and that we would have a vote on our Cuban human rights text. They were simply not sure how that vote would go--neither were we, frankly. The Soviet delegate ran over to the Indian and asked her to delay introducing her procedural motion; he and a colleague then grabbed the Cubans and had a very animated and increasingly heated discussion with them. The Cubans were very unhappy. The Soviet came back and handed me a piece of paper. It was a short paragraph in English to be adopted by consensus--i.e., without debate or a vote--naming a rapporteur for Cuba. The Soviet said to me, "I have instructions from Moscow not to have a fight with the US over Cuba. Will you accept this and call off the vote on your text?" While the Soviet text did not have the condemnatory language, it gave us what counted: a process to produce a report on human rights in Cuba that would keep the issue on the agenda. I consulted with Valladares and the others. We all agreed that it would have been sweet to have the vote and win, but there was the risk that once some of the weaker Euros found out about the Soviet offer, if we turned it down, they might not back us on the vote. This way we were guaranteed a rapporteur. 

We took the deal.

Addendum: Before the rapporteur could go to Cuba, the Cuban authorities rounded up several political prisoners, force fed them to fatten them up, and shipped them to France and Spain. The rapporteur subsequently wrote a series of reports critical of Cuba. I had the honor of meeting one of those freed prisoners some years later.


  1. "he and a colleague then grabbed the Cubans and had a very animated and increasingly heated discussion with them" Just watching this must have been fun. Oooh wish I'd been there, well done!
    I remember the Cubans claiming Teofilo would have took Ali, but always had a reason he couldn't fight him.

  2. You evil SOB. :) Well done!


  3. Exceptional. Thank you for that.

    In re Benghazi, are you aware of the term "Cross Border Authority" (CBA) and that only the POTUS can issue it?

    Were you aware CBA is the cardinal authorization apparently denied by Obama that paralyzed emergency response and rescue interdiction during the unfolding Benghazi tragedy?


    1. The problem as far as I can understand it is whether or not Obama issued an "Execute Order" to the military. He has implied that he did, but Panetta's subsequent statements seem to cast doubt on that.

      I am writing another post on Libya; I hope to have it up late tomorrow.

    2. Yes Diplomad that's what I've been going on about.

    3. I am puzzled. One of the theories going aroung is the Ambassador was invovled in getting ex libyian arms to syrian (al queda) rebels. If true why would an Al Queda affliate attack it's own source weapory?

    4. Yes. There are, of course, competing groups. While this is pure speculation, I think we must also look at the possible role of the Syrian regime in fomenting the attack.

    5. Syrians? That's pretty good speculation (hadn't really considered that, note to self, duh.). If it is them, killing an ambassador is pretty strong stuff. Wonder where the Russians come into that. If they knew, did they approve? Could be big stuff, but it still doesn't really effect the crux of how the no go result came about.

    6. Syria and/or Iran. Either would be happy to stop arms flowing to Syrian rebels. But why use an ambassador as the principal in all this? Why not use a CIA operative with a different skill set? And deniability? It's all a cock-up, I think.

  4. Slightly off topic: I've known Leftists who scream "racist!" at everything and everybody, but when pressed as to why Cuba rations rice and beans rather than unleashes "unprecedented productive forces" as Marx promised, they tell you with a straight face it's because Cuba's white middle class moved to Miami after Castro took over (never mind the Afro-Cubans who gave us Santeria).

  5. Brilliant strategy and tactics. As a fellow inmate at USUN '86-'88 I had the honor to observe your splendid, patriotic work in the Third Committee trenches. Some of the best memories of my F.S. career.