14ymedio, Madrid, 19 September 2023 — Joel Suárez Orozco worked throughout 2020 in the Cuban United Nations mission, located on the third floor of its headquarters, south of Manhattan (New York). This Tuesday, the young Cuban diplomat was at the door of the same place, but this time to protest against the regime coinciding with the visit of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel to participate in the General Assembly.
“While you are in Cuba you can’t know what freedom is, and this country (USA) gave me that, it gave me the possibility to look over the wall and say: ’They have lied to me all my life,’” Suárez told journalist Mario Vallejo, who was there to cover the demonstrations called by Cuban exiles in front of UN headquarters.
The diplomat explains in a 10-minute interview how he ended up serving as third secretary in the Permanent Mission of Cuba to the United Nations after graduating from the Higher Institute of International Relations in Havana. Suárez specialized in the area of environment and climate change, which led him to get a scholarship at the UN from the Alliance of Small Island Developing States.
“I was lucky that my job was on climate change and sustainable development, and I never had to talk about human rights”
Thus, the Cuban delegation included him in its mission, so that he combined his studies with employment. “I was lucky that my work was on climate change and sustainable development, and I never had to talk about human rights,” he explains, although he acknowledges having “a guilty conscience” for having represented the regime.
Things went sideways later. Suárez, according to him, had opportunities to go to different universities in Europe to continue expanding, as hoped to do, his studies. But the Cuban government denied him the opportunity. “I told them, in the best terms: ’Look, I don’t want to continue working here.’ And then came the interrogations in Villa Marista – I was imprisoned after an illegal exit attempt – the constant siege, impediments to work, moral murders…,” he adds.
Among the things he remembers with the greatest pain is his passage through a Cuban prison, after the denunciation of a citizen of Cunaguá (Camagüey). “There I knew what a prison was in Cuba. You have to live it, you have to experience it to know the repression, abuse, lack of rights, lack of freedom and lack of dignity that political prisoners face,” Suárez explains.
According to his testimony, the cells are hermetically closed rooms with no lighting, no windows and no doors, and officials decide who can walk in circles or get some sun. “Food is unpleasant, freedoms are null, you are at the expense of an instructor taking care of you when he wants, as long as he wants… It’s desperate, they play with the desperation of the Cuban people to blackmail them,” he adds.
Although in the short interview he does not explain how he got out of prison, he does specify that his final departure from Cuba was by sea. “I spent six months hiding in forests and mangroves, because these guys did not want to allow me to study,” he says.
“There are many people who work for counterintelligence, especially controlling the movements of diplomats and getting into everyone’s private lives”
Suárez also recounted the conditions in which Cuban diplomats work, to whom they pay between 200 and 300 dollars a month, he says, and with which it is impossible to live in New York, one of the most expensive cities in the world. “That is already a form of coercion, of limiting freedom of movement, of limiting people’s chances of having a life. Most of them live here, in the east building, and we have to invent creative ways to solve those economic problems,” he explains.
Asked by Vallejo about whether the building houses a mission of espionage agents, Suárez does not confirm or deny. “There are many people who work for counterintelligence, especially controlling the movements of diplomats and getting into everyone’s private lives. I don’t know that there is intelligence working there, although surely they must, because they don’t compartmentalize,” he says.
Finally, Suárez throws a dart at Cuban Americans who seek to do business in Cuba, whom he accuses of benefiting despite the suffering of the Cuban people. “There is nothing that can happen in Cuba, no business opportunity, that does not go through the regime’s approval, and whoever wants to profit has to go through the approval of these people, and, by the way, profit from the human pain and suffering of the Cuban people,” he argues.
The protest against the presence of Díaz-Canel in front of the UN headquarters has been tense, with clashes between Cuban exiles and members of the pro-Castro organization The People’s Forum. The New York Police have had to intervene by forming a cordon to separate the two groups to avoid major disputes.
La protesta contra la presencia de #DíazCanel ante la sede la #ONU ha discurrido con tensión, al producirse enfrentamientos entre los exiliados cubanos y un grupo de miembros de la organización procastrista The People´s Forum https://t.co/pQuhBMQt1k pic.twitter.com/D80RG6WMW3
— 14ymedio (@14ymedio) September 19, 2023
The protest against the presence of #DíazCanel in front of the #UN headquarters has been tense, with clashes between Cuban exiles and members of the pro-Castrist organization The People’s Forum
Translated by Regina Anavy
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