On October 12 the State Department announced that on October 16 the U.S. will commence a campaign “Jailed for What?” about the continuing plight of Cuba’s political prisoners. This will take place in the U.N. Economic and Social Council and will be led by Ambassador Kelley E. Currie, U.S. Representative to the Council and will also involve Ambassador Michael Kozak of the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor; Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) Luis Almagro; Carlos Quesada, Executive Director of the Institute of Race and Equality; former Cuban political prisoner Alejandro Gonzalez Raga; and others.
The Department’s release stated, “The estimated 130 political prisoners held by the Cuban government are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.] and many other democratic governments support. Holding the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom are key components of President Trump’s National Security Presidential Memorandum of 2017.”
When the Council met on the 16th to consider this U.S. initiative, about 20 Cuban diplomats and supporters staged a noisy protest.  They shouted, chanted “Cuba si, bloqueo no [Cuba yes, blockade no]” in protest against a decades-old U.S. trade embargo that will be the subject of an October 31 resolution in the U.N.. General Assembly. They also banged their hands on desks to drown out the U.S. presentation.
Nevertheless, U.S. Ambassador Currie and others, including OAS Secretary-General Almagro, persisted. The Ambassador’s prepared remarks were the following:
- “A few weeks ago, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel came here to the United Nations and painted a rosy picture of his country as a paragon of solidarity, democracy, and human rights. But to the more than five thousand Cubans who were arbitrarily detained for political reasons in 2017, this is a sick joke.
- More and more, Cuban repression relies on raids of activists’ homes and offices, short-term detentions, and public denunciations known as ‘repudio.’
- At the same time, reputable NGOs report that well over 100 Cubans currently languish in jails or under house arrest as political prisoners. The Cuban government tried, convicted, and sentenced many on arbitrary charges like ‘contempt’ of Cuban authorities or ‘pre-criminal social dangerousness’ – bogus legal constructs meant to deny human beings of their most basic rights to free thought and expression.
- In the case of independent journalist Yoennis de Jesus Guerra Garcia, it was the specious charge of illegally slaughtering livestock, which police found after he ran several press accounts critical of local authorities.
- However, their real transgression was to protest, criticize the regime, question the irrevocable character of socialism in Cuba, or exercise their freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Cuban constitution.
- Cuba’s political prisoners are an explicit sign of the repressive nature of the regime and represent a blatant affront to the fundamental freedoms that the [U.S.]and many other democratic governments support, and that are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The urgency of this injustice is exemplified by the grave state of health of Cuban democratic activist Tomas Nunez Magdariaga, who spent 62 days on a hunger strike in protest of his unjust imprisonment. We welcome his long overdue release and return home.
- President Trump is taking action to hold the Cuban regime responsible for its human rights violations and supporting the Cuban people’s aspirations to live in freedom.
- Today, we come to the [U.N.] to remind the world that today, in Cuba, there are political prisoners. They come from all over Cuba, these men and women – activists, lawyers, workers, from different faiths and walks of life.
- They are united in their quest to speak out for a better, freer, more democratic Cuba for themselves and their children. And their imprisonment is not only a violation of the fundamental freedoms all of us cherish, but it is also a human tragedy.
- We are grateful for the participation today of OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro, who has championed the cause of democracy and human rights throughout the Americas, including for Cuba’s political prisoners.
- We welcome Carlos Quesada, a civil society activist whose organization works side by side with activists in Cuba and other Latin American nations to enhance their ability to promote and protect the human rights of marginalized and vulnerable people.
- We are especially honored to have with us today Alejandro Gonzalez Raga, a Cuban journalist and former political prisoner, who will tell us his firsthand experience of the horrors of the Cuban prison and justice system.
- And we will hear from Miriam Cardet, whose brother, Eduardo, is currently serving a three-year sentence in a Cuban jail. Eduardo is a leader in the Christian Liberation Movement who criticized Fidel Castro in November 2016. Several days later, he was arrested. Though witnesses at the scene say authorities beat him during his arrest, it is Cardet who was sentenced for assault
- The ‘Jailed for What’ campaign will draw attention to the cases of specific political prisoners.
- We urge our partners to join with us in calling on the Government of Cuba to release all political prisoners.
- Many Member States in the [U.N.] call themselves friends of Cuba. The [U.S.] is proud to call ourselves friends of the Cuban people.”
Afterwards Currie said, “I have never in my life seen diplomats behave the way that the Cuban delegation did today. It was really shocking and disturbing. You can understand very well why people feel afraid to speak their minds … with this kind of government, this kind of thuggish behavior. It has no place here in the United Nations.” She added that the U.S. would raise objections to this protest with the proper U.N. authorities.
Cuban U.N. Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo protested to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres ahead of the event, and on Tuesday she described the event as a “political comedy. Cuba is proud of its human rights record, which denies any manipulation against it. On the contrary, the U.S. lacks the morals to give lessons, much less in this matter.”
Cuba’s Formal Opposition to the U.S. Initiative
Meanwhile in Havana the Cuba foreign Ministry released the following lengthy statement against the U.S. campaign:
- “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cuba rejects in the strongest manner the defamatory campaign against Cuba on human rights, launched on October 16, by the [U.S.] government at the headquarters of the [U.N.]
- As already warned, this action is part of the sequence of declarations against our country made in recent weeks by high-level officials of the United States government, which show growing hostility towards Cuba and the Cuban Revolution.
- It is striking that it takes place only two weeks before the vote by the UN General Assembly on the draft resolution entitled ‘Need to end the economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed by the United States government against Cuba.’
- This type of action pursues the objective of making pretexts to maintain and intensify the blockade,which constitutes a massive, flagrant and systematic violation of the human rights of Cuban women and men.
- The government of the United States has no moral authority whatsoever to criticize Cuba.Instead of worrying about the alleged ‘political prisoners”’who, they claim, would exist in Cuba, they should do so for the violations of human rights that take place in their own territory. In our country there are no political prisoners since the triumph of the Revolution in 1959.
- A country whose electoral system is corrupt by nature and has a government of millionaires,destined to apply savage measures against low-income families, the poor, minorities and immigrants cannot speak of human rights and democracy . A country in which, in electoral campaigns and political processes, there are no ethical limits, hate, division, selfishness, slander, racism, xenophobia and lies are promoted. In which money and corporate interests are what define who will be elected.
- In the [U.S.], the right to vote is denied to hundreds of thousands of Americans because they are poor. In nine states, those who have legal bills or judicial fines to pay cannot vote. In Alabama, more than 100,000 people with debts were removed from the voters lists in 2017. The information media are the preserve of corporate elites. An extremely small group of corporations controls the content that the public consumes, while any version or discrepant opinion is annulled or marginalized.
- It is a shame that in the richest country in the world about 40 million people live in poverty, 18.5 million in extreme poverty and 5.3 million in conditions of absolute poverty. The life of the ‘homeless’ is miserable. In 2016, 553 742 people spent their nights outdoors in the [U.S.].
- The design and application of policies has been hijacked by the so-called ‘special interests,’ that is, corporate money. The lack of education, health and social security guarantees, restrictions on unionization and terrible gender discrimination are everyday practices.
- American women are clearly discriminated against in the workplace and continue to receive lower wages than men for doing the same jobs. The poverty, health and safety problems of children are worrisome. People with disabilities suffer violent abuse. Sexual harassment and widespread rapes motivate multiple complaints and protests. The murders of LGTBI people increased during 2017, in a context of continued discrimination against this group in state and federal legislation.
- In the [U.S.], the average wealth of white families is seven times higher than the average wealth of black families. More than one in four black households had a net worth of zero or negative. The unemployment rate of blacks is almost double that of whites.
- The government of the [U.S.] should answer for the 987 people who died during 2017 at the hands of law enforcement agents using firearms. According to these data, African-American people, who make up 13% of the population, accounted for almost 23% of the victims.
- There is systematic racial discrimination in the application of the law and in judicial bodies. Black male offenders were sentenced, on average, to sentences that were 19.1% longer, than those offenders who were in similar situations.
- Hate crimes based on race reached a record in recent years and only in 2016, a total of 6,121 hate crimes occurred in the [U.S.].
- Violent crimes have been increasing. The government of that country, at the service of the arms lobby, does not exercise effective control over them, which caused a continuous increase in homicides, even among adolescents.
- The [U.S.] should put an end to the separation of migrant families, and to the imprisonment of hundreds of children, even in cages, separating them from their parents. While the United States turns its back on the human rights mechanisms of the [U.N.], Cuba maintains a high level of activity and cooperation, which has earned it respect in the relevant organs of the Organization and among the member states.
- The [U.S.], which was the promoter and support of the bloody military dictatorships in our region, with the complicity of the OAS, has declared the validity and applicability of the Monroe Doctrine as an instrument of foreign policy, in total disregard of the Proclamation of America. America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace.
- In the Cuban archipelago, the only prisoners who are deprived of their rights and dignity, tortured and confined for long periods, without legal basis, courts of justice or due process, are the ones maintained by the [U.S.] government in the detention center. arbitrary and tortures in the Guantánamo Naval Base that illegally occupies part of our territory.
- In the Monday session of the Commission of Socio-Humanitarian Affairs of the General Assembly of the [U.N.], the Permanent Representative of Cuba, Ambassador Anayansi Rodríguez Camejo, presented the denunciation of this provocation that received the express repudiation of 11 countries. The Ambassador of the [U.S.] to the ECOSOC, was left without arguments and in absolute isolation.
- The Coordination Bureau of the Movement of Non-Aligned Countries, summoned in an emergency, met with the presence of 91 delegations, of which 17 intervened expressly in opposition to the slanderous maneuver.
- The Permanent Missions of Bolivia, Nicaragua and Venezuela were there in solidarity with Cuba. As was seen in the television images, the Member States and the other guests, almost without exception, declined to participate in the farce on Tuesday, which was attended by ‘representatives’ of alleged ‘non-governmental’ organizations. . . .
- Fulfilling scrupulously the requirements published by the Department of State, 22 representatives of 9 US non-governmental organizations that advocate the end of the blockade and the normalization of relations with Cuba were registered to participate. Curiously, all but one were prevented from attending by the undemocratic hosts. Other guests were expelled from the room.
- The journalists, who ended up being the majority of those present, showed faces of fun or resignation, in the case of those intended to please the owners or publishers of the profitable disinformation industry.
- It is of special concern that the anti-Cuban “event” was allowed to take place in the great headquarters of the [U.N.] Organization and that it was held on World Food Day, precisely by the State that votes against the The right to food” Resolution of the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly.
- To do so, the rules governing the use of [U.N.] rooms and services have been violated, which make it clear that ‘only events that are consistent with the purposes and principles of the [U.N.] and are justified by their relevance to the work of the Organization.’The Department of State of the [U.S.] intends again to use the facilities of the [U.N.] as its private preserve. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounces that an action of this nature cannot be considered in accordance with the purposes and principles of the Organization, nor relevant to its work, when it is specifically directed against the independence and self-determination of a Member State, and in the framework of a campaign of hostility and threats against Cuba, repudiated by the international community.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs respectfully requests from the General Secretariat of the [U.N.] a rigorous and urgent investigation of what happened, of whose result it informs the General Assembly in a timely and appropriate manner so that appropriate measures can be taken to prevent these aggressive acts against sovereign States. “ (Emphases in original.)
The raucous Cuban protest at the U.S. event was undiplomatic and rude and should be condemned. The lengthy formal statement from the Cuba Foreign Ministry also tested the limits of diplomatic norms, but it could have been submitted at the event without the spectacle of the Cuban protest.
 State Dep’t, U.S. Mission to the United Nations and the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor To Launch Campaign on Cuba’s Political Prisoners at the United Nations (Oct. 12, 2018); Assoc. Press, US: Cuba’s Political Prisoners Are ‘Affront’ to Democracy, N.Y. Times (Oct. 15, 2018).
 Reuters, At U.N., Cuban Diplomats Shout Drown U.S. Event on Political Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018); Assoc. Press, Cuban Diplomats Disrupt UN Meeting Called by US on Prisoners, N.Y. Times (Oct. 16, 2018).
 U.S. Mission to the U.N., Remarks at a U.S. Event Launching the “Jailed for What?” Campaign Highlighting Cuba’s Political Prisoners (Oct. 16, 2018)
 On October 15, Tomás Núñez Magdariaga was released from a Cuba prison after his 62 days on hunger strike. He asserted that he had been tortured five times in prison. (Released Tomás Núñez Magdariaga after 62 days on hunger strike, Diario de Cuba (Oct. 16, 2018.)
 Cuba Foreign Ministry, Cuban Foreign Ministry rejects defamatory campaign to justify the blockade, CubaDebate (Oct. 16, 2018).