Ambassador of Cuba to the U.S.A.: “They will not be able to destroy our symbols”

Havana, May 4

(Prensa Latina)  The attack against the Embassy of Cuba in the United States on April 30, shocked people in the two countries and abroad who immediately condemn the event and expressed their solidarity with the Island.

Since an individual opened fire early morning against the building of the Cuban Embassy in Washington D.C., versions of what happened and the motives of the assailant started to circulate in the social media and some American press media.

Likewise, many voices condemned the assault, remembered the history of aggressions against representatives of the Caribbean nation abroad and, even saw links between the event and the rhetoric of the current U.S. Administration against Cuba.

Prensa Latina held an online interview with Cuban Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, to know the details of what happened and how that day took place in the diplomatic venue.

Can you tell us exactly how the events took place in the early morning of April 30?   

At 2:05 a.m. a vehicle arrived and parked right in front of the Embassy, where parking is prohibited. An individual approached the entrance gate holding a Cuban flag in his hand and threw the flag against the gate yelling phrases that we could not hear. He later returned to the vehicle and took an AK-47.

He started shooting towards the façade of the Embassy and when he emptied about half of the magazine, he changed position and continued shooting towards the Embassy´s lobby. When he run out of bullets, he threw the rifle against the entrance gate of the exterior fence, returned to the vehicle, took an American flag that he wrapped around his shoulders and started yelling phrases and gesticulating while stood in the middle of 16th St., that is a five lane street. He continued to do so until the police arrived around 2:10 a.m. and subdued him without resistance.

But what you are telling us does not match the police report that was made public. Why can you provide those details with such precision?

In situations like this the preliminary written reports can have inaccuracies. What is indeed regrettable is that they leak while still containing such inaccuracies. We have, besides the testimony of our co-workers, the video of the surveillance cameras that we shared with the secret service. In this video you can see clearly the offense against our national symbol and the satisfaction of the individual in holding the American flag while he was yelling.

How was the reaction of the Embassy staff? Did you call the police?

Every Cuban embassy abroad has a protocol to implement in these cases, precisely because of the history of aggressions that we have faced in these 60 years. The protocol foresees not only calling those who must intervene in the situation, but also the security measures for the staff.

We were informed immediately and a small group of officials came to the Embassy from our place of residence. The police had already closed down the block and we had to enter the Embassy on foot.

We learned later on that calls have been made from the neighboring embassies and neighbors and also that the mechanisms that the city has to warn against shots fired in open spaces had worked. As we have said before, the Metropolitan Police and the Secret Service acted professionally from the very beginning.

How did you find the staff who was inside the Embassy? What were your first thoughts when you arrived at the place?

The personnel in charge of the security was calm as always. They are professional and are trained for this. They immediately informed us with the details of what happened and the measures taken.

Our first thoughts were about the comrades who have fell in similar situations in the past. The pictures of Félix García, Adriana Corcho, Efrén Monteagudo, Jesús Cejas, Crescencio Galañena and many others passed flashing through our minds, but we came back to reality to reach out to all our staff and know about their state.

We spoke and informed our superiors in Havana. We were worried because our families had learned first about the event from a distorted version through the social media. We started to assess the internal damages, since roughly 10 bullets had gone through crystals and came into the lobby in several directions.

Besides the officers from the police that assisted with the incidence, did any other U.S. federal agency contact you then or later?

We called the Department of State early morning and then we called again at dawn. When we called the first time they did not know about the events and in the second call they promised that they would bring themselves up to date on the situation and provide us with details of the information they would gather; this has not happened in more than 96 hours (four days) after the event.

Likewise, we delivered two diplomatic notes, one in Havana and the other one in Washington, D.C. which have not been responded.

Neither the State Department nor the Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, have formally and publicly condemned the event. However, when referring to Cuba a day after the aggression, the Secretary spoke against the Cuban medical brigades that today provide assistance to dozens of countries in the world.

It is that rhetoric full of hostility, as explained by our Foreign Minister that has been privileged by the current Administration and promotes actions that are so reprehensible.

How was the rest of April 30 for you?

On the one hand, we were attending the access requests of the Secret Service and on the other hand, we were responding to the information requested from Havana.

The experts spent lots of time working in the exterior of the Embassy, the garden, the façade, the gate and finally the lobby. They finally left at noon. We reckon that they gathered enough information on what happened.

After that, we dedicated time to several internal tasks with our staff. On May 1st, you saw the pictures. Our staff is always calm, disciplined and firm. All Cubans have access to a good education, particularly in History. We understand the meaning of what took place and what it meant for our people in Cuba that are always watching every detail.

What reactions have you felt from the people who has relations with you in Washington, Cuban Americans, and other diplomats?

From early morning we started getting messages and calls of solidarity and indignation. Many people does not understand how a citizen can drive for kilometers on a highway with an assault rifle and ammunition, stop in the heart of Washington, D.C. and open fire against an Embassy.

We are located on 16th St. that ends in the White House, only two miles away thereof. We are surrounded by two Embassies (Poland and Lithuania), only a few meters from the cultural centers of Mexico and Spain. We are surrounded by apartment buildings.

I can tell you that the diplomatic community, specially the Latin American and Caribbean diplomatic community has followed up on this event seriously concerned. We have received calls from Cubans from all over, from people who are regular relations of our Embassy, who visit our consulate. They simply cannot understand.

Reports from the police handled by the press talk about the identity of the individual, his alleged motives, etc. What can you say about that?

First, that leak is regrettable, not even the officers who have worked the case can explain. We do not know who have done it, nor the objective, but obviously it is not to support the investigation. Officially, we do not have details about the identity of the assailant, that´s why we cannot comment on that.

It appears that someone is trying to marshal a media opinion even before the information is known officially. In the United States not all information is leaked, only what high-ranking officials want it to be leaked. I can say now that there is no reason that can justify such an aggression, which is in nature an act of terrorism.

There have been talks about the alleged metal condition of the individual and some people begin to assimilate it as the content of a TV series. But it is hard to think that a mentally disturbed can have access to a driver´s license easily, can have faculties to drive and find a point on a map, own and use an assault weapon and then not be so disturbed as to not resist the police. An alleged disturbed person that seems to also know how to operate his social media very well.

Minister Bruno Rodríguez in his remarks to the press that very same day, said that certain individuals can feel driven to execute such acts in the middle of an exacerbated anti-Cuban rhetoric. What´s your opinion about that?

History is witness to that. If you take the date of occurrence of similar events in the past and make a relation with the state of the bilateral relations, you will find that attacks against our embassies and staff took place precisely when the attitude of the United States was most hostile against Cuba.

The assailants are not only politically driven, but they also feel that they are in the opportune moment and can feel that they have certain immunity.

When you see every day, absolutely every day, high-level officials of the U.S. government attacking Cuba, reinforcing the blockade, even when we are all battling against COVID-19 and the U.S. officials gruesomely and immorally attack our brigades and our medical doctors, well, verbal terrorism only lacked armed terrorism and it happened.

What was the impression of the Cuban staff when they saw the bust of José Martí damaged as well as the façade of the Embassy?

The statue of our Martí is a precious work by maestro José Villa, casted by expert Lázaro Vázquez. We officially installed it on July 1st and was a sort of party for Cuban Americans who live in the area and for many friends. Martí is and should be sacred to any Cuban, regardless of his/her place of residence or political affiliation.

The staff of the flag was perforated, one of the few flags that out of respect for the victims of COVID-19 in the United States and the world remains at half-staff.

As for the façade, the entrance door and the columns, as one can remember people worked hard to recover this beautiful building that was a 100 years old in 2019, and we celebrated the occasion in a reception. The Cuban State invested important resources for that purpose, which the city of Washington, D.C. appreciated, because we are all part of a district with historic values.

Those who attended the re-opening of the Embassy on July 20, 2015 were able to appreciate the spectacular building as were those who have visited afterwards. In short, many of our symbols were attacked. Is there anyone out there thinking of destroying them? The answer is: they will not be able to.

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