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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
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
Cuba, May/June 2007

Ricardo Alarcon is president of Cuba's National Assembly of the People's Power. The 70-year-old is one of the most public and outspoken individuals in the Cuban government and a close confidant of the Castro brothers. He also served as Cuba's ambassador to the United Nations for 12 years, and he was minister of foreign affairs in the early 1990s.

Alarcon is a devoted cigar smoker. He began smoking cigars in the 1950s while he was a student at the University of Havana, where he was president of the student union. Ever since, he has enjoyed a fine cigar almost every day. "I light my cigar the first thing in the morning, and I spend the rest of the day with one," says Alarcon, whose favorite smoke is the Cohiba Lanceros. "My wife says I have a sixth finger."

James Suckling, European editor of Cigar Aficionado, met with Alarcon twice at the beginning of the year. The interview below is from his second meeting with the politician in the offices of Cuba's National Assembly in Havana. Alarcon's personal assistant, Miguel Alvarez Sanchez, and friend Miguel Barnet, the esteemed Cuban writer, were also present.

Cigar Aficionado: How is Fidel Castro at the moment? In our last meeting, you said that he would be a much less public figure than in the past.

Ricardo Alarcon: He is doing fine, and I would never want to forecast what will happen with him, or when he will appear, or anything else. I don't like to do this for one simple reason: everybody should be accustomed to be surprised by him. That won't happen again to me. Fidel Castro is older than me, but he is one of the strongest men I have ever known. I remember many long nights working with him. And we would be very tired. But he would be moving around like the youngest guy in the room. There would be Carlos Lage, Felipe Perez Roque and others, and we felt like the old guys in the room.

Cubans hate to be ridiculed. It is very risky to say how Fidel Castro will be. But he is doing very well. He is improving.

CA: The problem was something with his intestines. It was never cancer, right?

Alarcon: No. No. No. It was not cancer. But the operation that he had by definition takes a lot of time to recover from. And this is especially so when you are 80 years old. It wasn't done at the best time, but it had to be done. So now he has to recover.

CA: Do you see him very often?

Alarcon: No, but I have been in contact with him very often.

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