Cablegate: Embassy Discusses Iraq and Cuba with Human Rights

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: Embassy and USAID Officers met with Guatemalan
human rights leaders Frank LaRue, Claudia Samayoa and Orlando
Blanco on April 2 to discuss developments in the
establishment of CICIACS (septel) and to express Embassy
disappointment with the participation of members of their
organizations in a March 27 flag burning in front of the
Embassy, and their total silence in response to the arrests
of human rights leaders, journalists and opposition spokesmen
in Havana. The human rights leaders took note of our
concerns, acknowledged that flag burning was inappropriate
and were non-committal on defending their Cuban brothers.
End summary.

2. On March 27 a group of 40-50 demonstrators, carrying
banners and flags from the major human rights organizations,
protested in front of the Embassy. Among other things, they
burned an American flag and threw red paint on the Embassy
building. Banners of the "Rigoberta Menchu" Foundation and
"GAM" flanked the spot where an unknown woman placed a U.S.
flag, soaked it in a liquid and set it on fire. The banner
of the CALDH human rights group was on a pickup truck a few
yards back (the pickup had the sound system and was used to
block traffic).

3. At an April 2 meeting with leaders of the major human
rights organizations, PolCouns told them, on instruction from
the Ambassador, that the Embassy strongly defended their
right to disagree with us in public and to participate in
protests against U.S. policies they did not agree with.
However, we view the American flag as a symbol of all
Americans, not just the government, and we were all offended
that our friends in the human rights community should choose
this means of expressing their opposition to USG policies.
Furthermore, we had received calls from members of the
American community in Guatemala -- who are also supporters of
the human rights groups -- who were outraged that these
groups were burning our flag in front of the Embassy at a
time when our troops are laying their lives on the line on
the sands of Iraq. PolCouns commented that perhaps for
Guatemalans the desecration of their national symbols did not
have the same seriousness Americans attached to such acts.
Orlando Blanco responded that, indeed, national symbols are
also important to Guatemalans and they can understand our
reaction. DCM and Ambassador reiterated our concerns to
LaRue at an April 2 reception. The GAM and Rigoberta Menchu
Foundation were not present at the April 2 meeting at the

4. Frank LaRue responded with a defense of the human rights
organizations' opposition to hostilities in Iraq, and said he
was unaware that his organization (CALDH) had been present
with the organization's banners and flags. He said that
members of CALDH were authorized to protest, but argued that
he had not authorized their participation as representatives
of the CALDH. When he asked the other human rights leaders
who had organized the protest, Claudia Samayoa said that
LaRue's organization (the CALDH) had provided the sound truck
and the mime. The other leaders similarly argued against the
war, but acknowledged that burning the flag had been "in poor
taste." They promised to urge members of their organizations
to not deface national symbols or to protest in ways that
were offensive to all Americans.

5. PolCouns then noted, again on instruction from the
Ambassador, that many governments around the world were
expressing public concern over the recent arrest by Cuban
authorities of a large number of human rights workers,
journalists and those in opposition to the Castro regime, and
told the human rights leaders that we were surprised by their
public silence on this matter. The human rights leaders
responded that the Cuban situation is "complicated by
political factors, including the U.S. embargo," and they had
decided to avoid the controversy altogether by not commenting
publicly one way or the other. We noted that the human
rights situation in Guatemala is also complicated by many
political factors, but that had not stopped the USG from
making the defense of threatened human rights workers in
Guatemala our highest mission priority. We explained that we
view human rights workers as a special category of people,
who because of the risks inherent in their work, require from
all of us special attention and protection, irrespective of
"political complications." That was why the USG has invested
so much political capital in drawing attention to the need to
provide better security guarantees for human rights workers
in Guatemala. We told them that we hoped they would consider
providing moral support to their Cuban counterparts. The
human rights leaders were non-committal.

6. Comment: The meeting was not confrontational, but laid out
clearly our rejection that the human rights community would
express their disagreement with our policies by burning our
flag and throwing paint on the Embassy building. It also
conveyed our disappointment at their inaction to stand up for
human rights workers imprisoned by the Cuban regime. At no
point was there a suggestion that this disappointment would
affect our joint programs, and the rest of the meeting
focused on how we can work together to support the CICIACS
proposal. But it planted a flag that among friends we must
disagree without gratuitously causing offense.

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