Monday, October 29, 2012

With the Cubans in Switzerland (Part I)

Taking a little Sandy break from examining the disasters of the Obama misadministration. I want to hark back to when we had a real President and a real Secretary of State, and tell a little story. Yes, the 1980s. I will have to elide some details, blur others, and skate around things that even after these many years probably remain classified. I will straighten it out in my book (sure). To those who read this, were also there, and spot my "errors," drop me a line; we can reminisce and engage in the "fog of bores."

I worked at the US Mission to the UN. Although recruited by Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick's people, thanks to the ponderous State assignment process, by the time I arrived, General Vernon Walters had replaced her. The kindly General liked my writing and conservative politics, and I became a frequent speech writer for him. I also got put on the US delegation to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. Walters further recommended me to Maureen Reagan, the President's daughter and our Representative to the UN Commission on the Status of Women in Vienna, and I ended up working for her, too. I spent my time traveling among New York, Washington, Geneva, Vienna, and African locales as Maureen had a special affection for Africa--great stuff for an otherwise unemployable 30-something.

One day, a colleague and I were reviewing UN documents in my New York office; he suddenly looked up and asked, "Has the UN ever condemned Cuba on human rights?" We pored over the record; we found many condemnations of Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, Israel, Colombia, South Africa, "Western mercenaries," multinational corporations, and the US, but nothing on Cuba. We decided to urge the General to have us seek to get the UN to act on Cuba. He needed no urging.

We planned to draft a resolution pointing out the serious human rights situation in Cuba, get it passed at the UNCHR, have the UNCHR name a rapporteur (reporter) who would travel to Cuba and report back to the UNCHR and the UNGA. As they say, however, no plan survives first contact. We were babes in woods full of wolves. To start, Attorney General Ed Meese threw a wrench in our plans: He had a friend named as the new US representative to the UNCHR. This representative faced a number of business-related legal and ethical challenges that distracted him and hampered his effectiveness as a leader. In addition, he could not hide his disdain for the career Foreign Service; that became tiresome and destructive of morale. More serious, however, we underestimated the difficulty in gaining support for a condemnation of Cuba. Even our Western Group proved lukewarm, with some leftist European governments reluctant to "offend" Castro. At the UNCHR that year we got outmaneuvered by the Soviet bloc, India, and Mexico and two European countries. We learned a bitter lesson in Geneva. We saw our text blocked by an Indian procedural motion not to take up the subject of Cuba; two European "allies" voted for that motion justifying themselves with the lame excuse that, of course, they had concerns about Cuba, but did not think the "time right" for the subject.

We retired to New York to lick our wounds and make new plans. The Meese friend went away, and we needed a new head of delegation. During my time in Geneva, I had met a Cuban exile, and American citizen, by the name of Armando Valladares. He had spent 22 years in Castro's prisons and had written a stunning book about the experience, Against All Hope. He had a natural flair for politics and correctly called a variety of Cuban moves in Geneva. The Castro delegation hated him, and had him followed and harassed. One afternoon in New York, in a conversation with Maureen Reagan I mentioned Valladares, and said if he headed the US delegation the Castro thugs in Geneva would go crazy. I noted that the State bureaucracy had another candidate and it might prove tough to get Valladares. She laughed, "I know somebody." Right there she called her dad, put him on speaker, and in under five minutes it was done: Valladares.

In order to avoid an overly long post, I will continue this saga tomorrow.  It gets good.


6 comments:

  1. I really enjoyed that! Since you don't have a like button, I thought I'd just do a quick "like" comment.

    It's very interesting hearing about the 'old days' and how things were done. Who was the Sr Advisor for Innovation back then? ;)

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    1. Indeed. One hopes that a Romney administration will be, ah, tougher on the Czars than the Bolsheviks.

      Looking forward to the next installment DM!

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  3. "fog of bores."
    Ouch, especially considering my age that one hit home. One big reason I like your posts is that even though your history has some, "ahem" interesting moments, it also illuminates how all organizations and people regardless of titles have their foibles and banalities even the State Dept.. The general public would do well to remember that when weighing our governments actions. Blathered enough. Oh yeah also recommend "The Skeptical Bureacrat", a somewhat kindred "State" spirit of yours.

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  4. Maybe I ougth to look at your "our friends" list on the side before I recommend. Jeez, I am getting old.

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