The Washington Diplomat / July 2005
By Larry Luxner
If you can't beat 'em, at least you can always crash their party.
That's exactly what a group of protesters did Jun. 20, when they showed up at a fancy black-tie dinner at the Cuban Interests Section in Washington. The $89-a-plate event, organized by Professionals in the City, had been heavily promoted as "an extremely unique opportunity to explore the culture, cuisine and music of Cuba, one of the most fascinating and misunderstood nations of our time."
After gaining entrance to the elegant mission using tickets prepaid by sympathetic non-Cubans so as not to arouse suspicion the activists began engaging other attendees in conversation as they sipped Havana Club cocktails. Careless screening by Cuban state security officials made it even easier for the intruders to slip in.
Shortly into the salsa fest, they started handing out three different versions of glossy 4x6" cards with photographs and messages alluding to oppression in Cuba. One card showed a lavish buffet at a Varadero tourist hotel the kind most Cubans are denied access to while another one highlighted Amnesty International prisoner of conscience Dr. Oscar Biscet.
Partygoers were also given small stickers reading "We support freedom in Cuba," and a few of them even stuck the decals on their clothing.
"People were coming for a party without realizing the statement their presence was making," said Chuck Roman, who is active in a conservative group called the International Young Democrat Union. "They're basically going to a social event at Fidel's house. While they're having a great time, the real Cuban experience is not so nice."
But the ruse only lasted so far.
"Within a few minutes, the watching army of security agents and collaborators encircled the activists, mostly dispersed in small groups, taking their cards and demanding they leave," said Maria Werlau, a New Jersey-based Cuban exile who organized the protest. "All left when approached without resisting, quickly escorted by Cuban agents to the front gate, where D.C. police were stationed."
Werlau told The Washington Diplomat that two Cuban government agents roughed her up after she refused to hand over the cards she was passing out. Officials of the Cuban Interests Section couldn't be reached for comment, though Michael Karlan, who runs Professionals in the City, reportedly told some of those who were forced to leave that their tickets will be reimbursed.
This isn't the first incident at the Cuban Interests Section, which is officially an annex of the Swiss Embassy. In 2000, a group of protesters was attacked by 10 Cuban diplomats in front of the building, says Werlau, "in full view of U.S. Secret Service agents, one of whom was injured in their defense."