June 24, 2020

Strange But True: UN BAZOOKA'D

Daily News front page, December 12, 1964
World politics landed at Tudor City's doorstep with the opening of the United Nations in 1952, and decades of dignitaries, motorcades and dissenters followed. Today, a look at a notorious protest, one of the "wildest episodes in UN history" according to the New York Times.

The story begins on Friday, December 11, 1964, as Che Guevara, Cuban Minister of Industry, was denouncing US global aggression in an address at the UN General Assembly. It was the height of the Cold War, and Guevara's appearance had drawn angry crowds of Cuban exiles to the front of the building. 
At the same time, across the East River in a vacant lot in Long Island City, a bazooka [encircled above], loaded with a high-explosive shell and aimed at the UN, was fired as Guevara spoke.
The shell missed its target by 200 yards, landing in the East River, sending up a huge geyser of water and rattling the windows of the General Assembly. This didn't rattle Che Guevara, however, who continued his tirade. 

Afterward, when informed of the incident, he remarked it "has given the whole thing more flavor." 
Above, two editions of the Sunday Daily News with different headlines, but the same story: the rocket launcher had been traced to Cuba. This news proved to be false; it was later established that the bazooka was a German-made, World War II‒vintage weapon, purchased for $35 on Eighth Avenue. 

In the end, three anti-Castro Cuban exiles confessed to the failed attack, claiming their motive was a "misguided sense of patriotism" ‒ they never intended to hit the UN, merely to embarrass Guevara. Charges against them were eventually dropped on a technicality.

The bazooka left its mark on the UN: thereafter, the drapes in the General Assembly remained closed during sessions (to protect attendees from potential flying shards of glass). This custom was finally rescinded last year, and the drapes are now open, a nod to "transparency and openness" in the famed chamber.

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