Friday, April 16, 2004

A Cuban delegate felled anti-Castro activist Frank Calzon with a sucker punch in Geneva yesterday during a fracas after the U.N. Human Rights Commission decided by a single vote to censure the communist regime for its human rights record.

Mr. Calzon was briefly knocked unconscious and was taken to a medical clinic for treatment. He was released last night.

A State Department official in Washington said he understood from witnesses that a “shouting match” broke out at the U.N. rights meeting immediately after the tally of the vote was posted.

“Frank sort of strolled by. He was paying the fracas no mind, and was subjected to an unprovoked attack. It was a sucker punch, and he fell to the ground,” said the State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Kevin Moley, the U.S. ambassador in Geneva, said in an interview that he had witnessed the assault and that he intends to press charges.

Mr. Moley said the Cuban diplomat rushed down an escalator to get to Mr. Calzon. “He raised his fist and knocked him to the ground. It was incredible,” said Mr. Moley, a former Marine.

Mr. Moley said he took after the Cuban but that two U.N. security guards reached him first and tackled him. A spokesman at Mr. Calzon’s office in Washington, the Center for a Free Cuba, said one of the United Nations guards pulled out a canister of Mace to fend off any further attack.

Mr. Moley said the Cuban ambassador, Jorge Mora Godoy, arrived on the scene soon after the attack and identified the assailant to the security guards as a member of the Cuban delegation.

“I’ll reprimand him and let him go,” Mr. Moley quoted the Cuban envoy as saying.

The Associated Press quoted Mr. Mora Godoy accusing Mr. Calzon of a previous “provocation” against a woman in the Cuban delegation. “He received the due response from our Cuban delegation,” Mr. Mora Godoy said.

Mr. Calzon later issued a statement making light of the attack. “The important thing is the situation in Cuba, where there are no U.N. guards with Mace to protect the fundamental rights of the Cuban people,” he said.

The commission voted 22-21, with 10 abstentions, on a resolution offered by Honduras and supported by the United States and the European Union, demanding that Cuba permit democratic reforms. It specifically censured Cuba for arresting 75 dissidents last year, condemning many to sentences of 25 years and longer.

The measure, one of the most contentious in the annual six-week gathering, asked that Cuba allow a human rights investigator appointed last year to travel to Cuba. Cuba rejected the request as “ridiculous.”

Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Peru and Honduras voted against Cuba. Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina abstained.

Cuban human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez applauded the vote but said Cuba would not allow the investigator to visit because “it has a lot to hide.”

Mr. Calzon was participating in the annual human rights gathering as member of a nongovernmental organization. A well-known figure on Capitol Hill, he is regularly denounced by name in Cuban state media.

The State Department official, who called Mr. Calzon a “real champion for democracy in Cuba,” said members of the official U.S. delegation witnessed the attack.

“If it turns out that the person who hit Frank was a member of the Cuban delegation — a schoolyard bully with diplomatic immunity — this is unprecedented. He was attacked on U.N. property,” the official said.

Cuba also accused the commission of “double standards” and said it would lobby for a condemnation of Washington for running a “concentration” camp at the Guantanamo Bay naval base on Cuban territory, where hundreds of al Qaeda and Taliban fighters are being held.

In a related development, Cuban authorities yesterday released to house arrest Julio Valdes Guevara, a dissident who was sentenced to 20 years last year and is now gravely ill, rights groups said.

Later yesterday, North Korea was also censured, but Russia and China avoided condemnation.

• John Zarocostas contributed to this report from Geneva.

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