Cuba Today: An Interview with Ricardo Alarcon

The president of Cuba's National Assembly outlines the country's policies and goals in the face of Bush administration hostility

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Alarcon: Raúl himself has said more than once that the best thing for the U.S. would be to solve this confrontation with Cuba when Fidel Castro and his generation are in charge. Raúl has said this many times. He said that it would be much more difficult after than it would be to do it now.
CA: But there has not been much contact with the American government in recent years.
Alarcon: Nothing. It has been like that since [George W.] Bush became president.
CA: Do you think that might change with the forthcoming presidential election?
Alarcon: Nobody can say at this moment who can win. But whoever wins, changes would have to come from the U.S. The administration is even recognizing that themselves now. Why is it that Mr. Bush is making this trip to Latin America? When was the last time the president of the U.S. visited Latin America?
CA: Well, he did go to Mexico, if I remember correctly.
Alarcon: Going to Mexico is like going to Canada. It's not the same thing. He is going to five countries in five days...Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico. Why is everybody stressing this point in Washington now? It's because you see countries changing everywhere in Latin America. And then you see an astonishingly stagnant U.S. policy and attitude. I can't tell you how I enjoy reading and listening to the official American discourse on Latin America. How Latin America is fine and how democracy is everywhere. And that Cuba needs to join that trend and that it is the only issue for them and so on.
But this is being said when in Latin America everywhere, you are having new governments, which are criticizing their relationship with the current U.S. government and developing relationships with Cuba.
CA: And, of course, Venezuela.
Alarcon: You would have to be in a madhouse to say that Cuba is the isolated one and the U.S. isn't. You would have to be in a madhouse not to see that it is the other way around. Just a few years ago, Washington's will was practically law in this hemisphere. But it is not like that anymore. That is a big change, but the U.S. government is still speaking like it is the 1950s in the height of the Cold War.
CA: Cuba seems to be very active in building these relations with other Latin American countries.
Alarcon: Well, Felipe Perez Roque was just in Honduras strengthening our diplomatic relations. He is now in Panama. These are examples of this.
CA: So you are saying that America not only has little or no relationship with Cuba but you are saying that it is something much larger? America has a bad relationship with Latin America in general?
Alarcon: Exactly.... I hesitate to say this. I have more than a hope. I have a conviction that the United States will have to do something to readdress its situation in Latin America. And we are very much part of Latin America. We are very much part of what is going on in the real world there. They are still talking as if we are in the Cold War, and it has nothing to do with reality. They are still criticizing us because we do not change. They say that we are not changing in the direction of the rest of Latin America. But they are crazy. Latin America is changing in our direction and we are all changing together. They have to realize that one way or another. Cuba is not the most important problem for them. They have a much larger problem now. They cannot ignore Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia and others, not to mention the Caribbean. It is a new world altogether.
CA: You are saying, then, that a new policy with Cuba will come from a new policy with Latin America?
Alarcon: Yes. This will only come from a major change in U.S. attitude, especially with the immigration [of Latin Americans] to the United States. We are neighbors. The U.S. needs to develop a special relationship with Latin America. This is not one of domination. America in a way is part of Latin America and the Caribbean. The highest concentration of Spanish speakers is in Mexico and the United States. Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Miami...these places are where the highest increases in the Spanish-speaking population is happening.
What is going on is not a Cuban invention, but Cuba is part of it. It is not a diabolical Chavez invention, but it has had the support of Chavez. And you have had practically everybody in Latin America working together. It is not just the radicals, the extreme left-wingers. But you have very accepted progressives. This is reality and you cannot ignore it. Or even defeat it. The Cold War techniques don't work. You already have too many problems with terrorism and the wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East. What's a little country in the Caribbean?
CA: Do you see any changes in the embargo in the future? You don't even have any discourse with the U.S. government.
Alarcon: You will see the dismantling or the suspension of certain aspects of the embargo in the future. You see every day more discussion of this. For example, the travel ban, I see movement against this day by day.
CA: Do you support free travel between the U.S. and Cuba?
Alarcon: It would be very good. You feel sorry when you see a country that is trying to teach everyone in the world about freedom and then they are afraid of other ideas and perspectives. You really are the most important beacon of freedom in the world, but how do you not permit these small people of an island to come to America and see the light, and you do not permit your own people to bring that light to that island? I can't understand it. I would abandon the travel ban immediately. Of course. Americans can travel around the world and not Cuba? That's not the way.
CA: More Cubans should be allowed to visit America as well?
Alarcon: More Cubans to America and more Americans to on and so forth. That would be consistent with the humanistic approach of America. The U.S. government's position is unsustainable. It contradicts its own foundations. And the purpose of that ban is to damage Cuba's economy and to hurt its tourism. But honestly, who cares? We receive millions of tourists from other lands. We are doing business with other countries. You are just shooting yourselves in the foot without any advantage.
CA: What do you see for the future of Cuba? What will tomorrow bring Cuba?
Alarcon: I really don't think that anybody should foresee the future. I don't think that it is a good idea to have a notion of where everybody is going.... The future has to be built by humankind. We have to invent the future. And the first thing is to save life and save the right to a future. I might disagree with Al Gore on many things, but I think he made a very important contribution with his movie [An Inconvenient Truth].
For example, it is very important that people are aware of social issues such as the environment, population growth and other things. And when you look at these things, then you can think of the future. It is not a question of how I imagine my little country in the future. The future is we being part of that grand total. There are many questions. Big questions. But I ask, Are we going to survive as a species? If not, then who cares about Cuba?
Rep. Charles Rangel is a Democrat from New York.
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