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Interview with Ricardo Alarcón, president of Cuban Parliament

Elections: Cuban, U.S., and Spanish

by Bernardo Gutiérrez Público

Ricardo Alarcón always speaks after a long silence. He listens. He has a deep silence. And after studying/analyzing in silence, truth sprouts after the calm. He responds. Then there is no extra word. Each is a dart, a well-aimed missile that destabilizes doubts that question his statements. And that is because he knows the arguments and weaknesses of the enemy, to perfection.

For 12 years he was the Cuban Permanent Ambassador to the UN. Later he was Minister of Foreign Affairs. Undoubtedly he is the greatest expert in the Castro government on the United States. And, also, he knows internal policy as no other because since 1993 he has been the president of the National Assembly of Popular Power [parliament – editor].That is why –since he knows foreign and internal relations– many consider him one of the main candidates to succeed Fidel Castro. There is one thing: he has no beard. And usually –and perhaps because of that– he is well thought-of by US citizens, because of his apparent moderation.

Bernardo Gutiérrez Público [BGP] for Rebelion: A week ago elections were held in Cuba. Dissidents and foreign media criticized them. How would you defend the electoral system?

Ricardo Alarcón: There is the idea that it is a right of parties and not of the people. It is an objection that comes from Europe, that there are no parties … [Cuban elections are non-partisan. While the Communist party is the sole party in Cuba, it doesn't run candidates. For further information see our collected articles about Cuban editor] They have substituted the original idea of democracy for party-ocracy. Spain did have a tradition of participation, the town councils, for example. They existed before participative democracy. It was a form that linked the people with local power. Western democracy has two principal problems: how do you nominate a candidate, and access to the people that vote. Because, why does no one ask [why] the devil [are they] candidates in the US? Offstage there are only financial resources that permit them to pay advertisements on television … In our case: the base is the electoral district. The barrio [neighborhood] more or less. The candidates were chosen in each barrio.

How were they elected? A US journalist asked me on Sunday. Are you running for president? (are you a candidate for president?) And I said no. In this country you do not "run for president." I don't know if I will be pushed. We are not candidates here. The main requirement is to be proposed by others and approved by the collective. Everyone can nominate anyone. In Spain, anyone out in the street saying "I want to run for mayor," they send him to the loony bin. Try it out. Mostly in the Madrid of Gallardón and Esperanza Aguirre... [laughts]. And it should not be that way. It should be the normal situation, not having a party nominate its candidates …

{Keep in mind that] 96% of Cubans participated when the vote was not obligatory.

BGP: Is there pressure applied to vote in Cuba?

Alarcón: There are many reasons. Voting is not so distant like people in other parts. In October everyone knows who the candidates are, who proposed them and where they live.

BGP: But is there freedom to vote?

Alarcón: There is a great freedom in voting. What happens is that a great majority did exercise the "united vote" because there is a level of acceptance of the electoral system… [Alarcón refers to the fact that 91% of Cubans voted for the united slate put together by a manifold meetings of a plethora of both local elected bodies and mass organizations (student, youth, women’s, small farmer, veterans groups, and trade unions). A vote for the united slate is regarded as a vote of confidence in both the electoral process and the revolution. Some 4% chose to vote for listed individuals rather than the slate, while 3.7% cast spoiled or blank ballots in opposition to existing system. An additional 1% of ballots were ruled invalid either for technical reasons or possibly as deliberate acts of protest. – editor]

BGP: Critics say that there are certain social pressures…

Alarcón: It may be. There is popular pressure, among the neighbors … but no one is forced.

BGP: In the interview you gave to Juventud Rebelde [‘Rebel Youth’, daily Cuban newspaper and website run by the Union of Young Communists – editor] you affirmed that democracy is a utopia. What did you mean?

Alarcón: I did not mean to criticize anyone. Well, everyone. For all those who shamefacedly present themselves as examples of democracy. That is a joke, a lack of respect. Democracy is equal to utopia. And I learned that reading European authors, in fact. The idea of delegating some one to represent that sovereignty, is a fiction. Only an ideal society, one of equality, solidarity, and fraternity could truly represent the rest. But that is not so. That is a chimera.

BGP: Then democracy is not good for Cuba…

Alarcón: No, that's not it. The colonialist idea that Cuba should democratize "like me," is rubbish.

BGP: Now, there are candidate elections in the primaries in the United States. What is you opinion about this? Would you prefer one candidate over another one?

Alarcón: In reality no one knows who will be the candidates. Other times they were singing. The Democrat’s main candidates are a black man and a woman. That has never happened before. Anything can happen.

BGP:  Why don't 50% of Americans vote?

Alarcón: Many people don't want to and many cannot because they are not allowed. A universal voter registration system is applied in the United States. There are a series of obstacles. It depends on state regulations. You must register … and, curiously, even the vote is during working hours. If you move to another state, it is as if you were Christopher Columbus discovering a new world. Some states require 10 years of residency. 25% of US citizens do not reside in their state.

BGP: Is there a difference in the U.S. between the Democrats and the Republicans?

Alarcón: I am talking about the Republicrat party. Two parties, only one course. It's curious, I have points in common with the ultra right-wing Ron Paul, Republican candidate. He believes in the absolute freedom of the individual. He makes fevered statements such as that the US should withdraw from the IMF or the UN, [against] everything that could represent a restriction of individual rights. [And] he is against the blockade of Cuba, the war in Iraq. From his ultra right-wing individualism it is difficult to understand why he would [still] prohibit the right to travel to a neighboring country or to sell food to Cuba.

But the candidates will be those that tow the middle line [...]

BGP: I insist. Do you prefer Obama or Hillary? Who would be better for Cuba?

Alarcón: The only one who has proposed a new focus, a dialogue with everyone, even with Chavez, Cuba, who is against prohibiting travel to Cuba has been Obama. But they say that during the campaign. Let's see what really happens.

BGP: Simply campaign promises?

Alarcón: They are intent on offering things. They themselves know that they are not committing to anything. In Europe there is a greater degree of authenticity. On the subject of Cuba: the Republicans strengthen the Bush policy. Among the Democrats, Hillary has supported the policy of Bush. Obama has criticized it. Candidates are more interested in who gives them money than who is going to vote.

BGP: It seems that the Miami Cubans are divided… some ask for an end to the blockade.

Alarcón: What we call the Batista Mafia, the old ones, continue to control the anti-Castro discourse. But life goes on. They have children, grandchildren. Some [of the old ones] are dead. There are candidates against Diaz-Balart or even against Ileana Ros Lentinen, the strongest one. That is something new: they want to change the policy on Cuba. They want to lift travel and remittances restrictions. When Bush threatened to strengthen the policy on Cuba they spoke up. Ironically, they will have a great influence on the elections. They will vote for one candidate or another, depending on what they say about Cuba.

BGP: That is why it is very difficult to maintain this policy much longer. The anti-Cuban policy is exhausted.

Alarcón: To what point has the market had an influence on breaking the blockade? [Even though] now there is a delegation of California businesspersons in Havana negotiating the export of food, machinery to Cuba…

[Yet] there are several trends that push for its lifting. In 2007, I met more people in Havana from California than from Spain. Not only businesspersons but politicians, religious persons, civic representatives, jurists. With support of their governor! Obama made a declaration to the Miami Herald calling for an end to travel prohibitions to Cuba before going to Miami.

BGP: In March, Spain holds its elections. What would a move to the Spanish right mean for Cuba?

Alarcón: Do you believe in God?

BGP: No. But if it makes the answer easier…

Alarcón: I was going to say that if God existed would it allow such a catastrophe… I don't want to get into Spanish politics. But what is true is that Spain, and I have talked about it with European politicians, is more respected since Zapatero was elected. Even those who believe in God cross themselves, thinking about Aznar, no, no such misfortune, no.

BGP: What was the significance of Aznar for Cuba and Latin America and what would a victory of Mariano Rajoy mean?

Alarcón: The return of Aznarism to Spain when Bush is gone would be an anachronism. Why? Let him go into exile with Bush. This world has enough misfortunes. But there is life after Bush. Any thing that happens is non-Bush. The PP lost the train of the world. But even in the United States where the policies of Bush are going to end. There is consensus on the rejection of the BUSH policies and when Spain tried to follow, with Aznar. No single American candidate supports the current president. The Republicans are taking distance because they are not suicidal; they are not crazy. Bush's policies are defeated.

BGP: In Spain there are PP members who have also taken distance from Aznar…

Alarcón: Aznarism without Aznar is no great thing, like Bushism without Bush. Everyone in the United States wants a change. This already happened in Spain.

BGP: From a Cuban point of view, what is your take on international Islamic terrorism?

Alarcón: After 9/11 Fidel warned of the seriousness of responding with violence, that it was no solution. And seven years later, terrorism has not disappeared. New terrorists are formed by American bombings, by the massacres, by the hate they have generated. Without that policy, the Madrid disaster would not have happened. Bush and his allies, Aznar, carry many deaths on their backs…

BGP: At the same time the US does not jail terrorists like Luis Posada Carriles, implicated in international attacks…

Alarcón: That is the great fallacy and hypocrisy of that policy, because the regime itself has created chaos at a world level by protecting Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. In Latin America no one believes the story of this fight against terrorism. The rest of the world knows nothing of these individuals thanks to that curious thing that is called freedom of the press. There is a double standard in this fight against terrorism.

BGP: Do you want to deal with the new politics of Latin America? What does this turn to the left in Latin America mean for Cuba?

Alarcón: As [Ecuadorian president] Rafael Correa likes to say, America is not going through an era of change but a change of era. I want to recall an event. After the fall of the Berlin wall everyone knew about it, the media reported it ad nauseam. At the same time no one learned what had produced the Caracazo, the uprising of the people against neo-liberalism, the beginning of an era. Why wasn't this reported to the world? Because talk had to be about the fall of the Communist bloc. What now occurs in Latin America began that day, A system fell there but here another one fell. The economic and political project that the Yankees designed for this continent failed.

BGP: What is true is that there is no single left-wing model in Latin America … There is much talk about Lula and Castro, opposing models.

Alarcón: There is an attempt to divide. The good left from the bad from reductionism. It is a confluence, from different points of view, different course of thought. In general: it questions the economic and political order of the world, seeks real independence. And, in integration, a union of all the countries of the region. We have never had such good relations in the continent. And never before has the US been more isolated.

Cuba even has good relations with Colombia, a regime that is close to Bush. In the liberation of the FARC hostages there was the Cuban ambassador to Venezuela…

Alarcón: Yes, but at the request of Uribe himself who, of course, thanked Fidel Castro and Cuba. We have excellent relations with everyone in the continent and not all are in the left. Uribe is a good example.

BGP: When Cuba enters its 50th year of revolution, has the cycle been completed? What is there left to fulfill the ideas of the revolution?

Alarcón: Fifty years after the French revolution there was a return of the kings, Napoleon had passed … Compared to them, it was not so bad for us. The revolution has had continuity. Abroad there are no questions if Fidel will continue or not. It has been a long time since he went down in history as victorious man. The best is there. In the different conditions he had when he was a young athlete.

BGP: The Cuban system is inexorably linked to Fidel. Do you really think it will continue without Fidel? Could it have lasted so long?

Alarcón: Can you believe that a social system lasts over half a century by the presence of one single man? Castro is an extraordinary individual, he has tremendous merits. But the process transcends him. Abroad there is interest in caricaturizing. Of saying: Cuba is still governed by the same bearded men. They don't want to see that the Cuban revolution is maintained with the widespread support of the people. If you check the ABC archives, criticism then was that they were young people, incapable of taking power.

Now some of the main Cuban leaders are also at that age. You find persons in the Cuban regime that were born after the revolution, several generations that do not surpass the mean of 45 in the assembly of deputies.

BGP: You assured last Sunday that you would "vote for Fidel with both hands and every day…" Will there be a change on February 24 or will Fidel continue at the head?

Alarcón: Now the commission meets with the 614 deputies. When each one says whom they think should direct the assembly and State Council. There is uncertainty. You cannot assure that he will appear like a proposal. I gave mine. I vote for him. There is no question that it is forced. He can say, don't kid with me, no…

BGP: Is there a revolutionary transference?

Alarcón: I have no doubt. They are still saying in Miami that Fidel is dead, in Miami. That it was a double who talked with Lula. That there is a difference between Fidel and Raul. Fidel is open; Raul is reserved, discreet of few words. Two different styles. But there is not one iota of difference in thought.

BGP: More of the same then?

Alarcón: What you cannot make me say that we are going to substitute one with another. That I have another Fidel. But no one is clonable.

BGP: Cuba has made a pilot test of Cuba without Fidel but with Fidel. Is that an advantage?

Alarcón: Of course. But when Fidel became ill, Bush and Condoleezza Rice said: "we are not going to accept Raúl Castro." Well, look now, they have had to accept him. There was a risk. There were people in Washington who wanted to invade Cuba. And here we are. It is a test of stability, of institutional harmony.

BGP: Raúl has opened the door to changes and reforms. What should the first steps be?

Alarcón: The first … I am not clear about that. I think that Raúl is a person with a great political sense; he began with nutrition. There are now municipalities that offer fresh milk, problem solved. The production of food has increased with new payment for producers. Raúl has improved the style of work, the way of doing things. In the Assembly we are going to study how to relate with the people, with their problems. [The session] Friday deals with saving energy, the production of oil…

BGP: On the streets there is talk about migratory flexibility. Also of private property. Of being allowed to sell cars, houses…

Alarcón: That will be dealt with. But food is a priority. As for migratory policies we have been making changes for a long time. But that is beyond us. You can't say that everyone who wants to migrate to Spain can do so. Yes, but what does Spain have to say? The US has more weight. But there have been a strengthening of conditions. A long list was made, in the assembly of the problems of Cuba.

BGP: The government is flooded with these petitions?

Alarcón: Raúl is doing very good things. He is studying the prohibitions that cause violations and that are mistaken prohibitions, out of the times. I know of the long inventory made. But it is difficult to say which item has priority.


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