For observers of the United Nations, yesterday – a day of noisy protests; a day of impassioned speeches from Barack Obama, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Muammar Qaddafi – was a day unlike any other in recent memory. Qaddafi’s rambling oratory was especially noteworthy (and, yes, as True/Slant’s MP Nunan points out, Qaddafi’s translator deserves an award) but for sheer drama, Dec. 11, 1964, was the day to be at the United Nations.
That was the day Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara addressed the U.N.’s General Assembly, in a speech that – like Qaddafi’s and Ahmadinejad’s – lashed out at the United States, but also weighed in on the subject of imperialism (“imperialism wants to turn this meeting into a pointless oratorical tournament”); the glory of Cuba (“our country is one of the trenches of freedom in the world”); Washington’s military footprint in South Asia (“the Democratic Republic of Vietnam . . . has once again seen its frontier violated”); the U.N.’s ineffectiveness at stopping South Africa’s apartheid (“can the United Nations do nothing to stop this?”); and scores of other subjects:
By itself, Guevara’s speech was enough to make Dec. 11, 1964 noteworthy, but it was the two assassination attempts on Guevara’s life – one from a woman with a knife; the other from two men who fired a bazooka at the U.N. building – that gave the proceedings their surrealism. The woman, Molly Gonzales, jumped over a small U.N. fence to get into the main building, but she was tackled by police officers – and when Guevara heard of her attempt, he said, “It is better to be killed by a woman with a knife than by a man with a gun.”
The bazooka was a more serious matter. Two men with the group called the Cuban Nationalist Movement fired it from across the East River in Queens. The men wanted their rocket to hit the U.N. building as Guevara spoke, but the shell (or shells) fell harmlessly into the water. As with the knife attempt, Guevara joked about it, saying it “has given the whole (visit) more flavor.”
Besides the bazooka and knife attempt, protests engulfed the U.N. that day, along with a bomb threat, from someone who reportedly said, “I have put a bomb in front of the U.N. building. Keep people away between 11:30 and 12:30 p.m. Long live Cuba.”
Guevara would be killed three years later, but at the U.N., he could joke about the death threats against him. His dark humor made the day even more memorable.