Cuban national assembly president lashes out against U.S. hard line
Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's national assembly, whose name has been brandied about as a possible Castro successor, lashed out Friday against the Bush administration's pre-emptive strike policy, which he likened to Hitler's during the Second World War.
The remarks were made during a wide-ranging three-and-a-half hour, cigar-filled interview with the Gazette that included segments on Canada-Cuba relations, international public policy, the dissident movement and the five prisoners held in U.S. jails.
The Cuban government has been using the threat of a U.S. invasion to justify its clampdown on internal opposition, which includes the imprisonment of more than 75 dissidents and the recent summary execution of three hijackers who tried to take a boat across the Straights of Florida. But Alarcón's remarks, which go farther than even Castro has gone, indicate a hardening in Cuban policy.
"You have a government that happens to be the reigning superpower, that takes for itself the right to attack anyone of their choosing, without having been attacked, and without international endorsement," Alarcón said. "That's exactly what Hitler did."
Alarcón also likened the Bush administration's contempt for the United Nations with Hitler's brushing aside the League of Nations before the Second World War, and characterized Bush's policy toward Cuba as being one of "regime change."
He made a strong distinction between the Bush government and previous U.S. administrations including Bush senior, who he commended for seeking UN Security Council approval during the first war against Iraq.
Alarcón reacted with surprise to Canada's foreign affairs minister Bill Graham's criticism of human rights violations in Cuba.
According to Alarcón, such criticism amounts to a double standard because it ignores U.S. activities in Guantanamo, where the country is holding more than 1,000 prisoners from the Afghanistan conflict. These prisoners include children, and have been denied the protection of the Geneva Convention and recourse to U.S. law, Alarcón said.
But he stressed the importance of continuing relations between Canada and Cuba. Canada sends close to 400,000 tourists a year to Cuba, more than any other country, and is one of Cuba's largest trading partners.
"We have a disagreement. This does not mean we cannot be friends," Alarcón said. "I see a time in the not to distant future when our friendship will grow."
Alarcón also spoke for almost one hour about one of his pet issues, the five prisoners being held in U.S. jails that were convicted on charges related to the monitoring of activities of anti-Castro groups in Miami.
He called most charges on which they were convicted "technical violations" resulting from the fact that the accused never registered as foreign agents. He condemned the fact that they were all held for extended periods in solitary confinement, a fate usually reserved only for those who commit crimes while in jail.
But Alarcón denied that the Cuban government was using the issue to distract Cubans from the harsh economic and social problems of daily life, by harping on the subject daily in speeches, demonstrations and in local media.
On the economy Alarcón characterized Cuba's performance as having done "quite well," despite the U.S. economic blockade, high oil prices and a tough international situation.
"How many countries have reduced unemployment during this time?" Alarcón said. "Here it is less than three per cent. And the economy grew last year."
But he denied comparisons between Cuban government statistics and those in the former Soviet Union, which proved to be notoriously unreliable when the iron curtain came down, calling such bureaucratic number playing "a thing of the past."
James C. Cason, the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba, denied Alarcón's assertions that the U.S. plans to invade the island, calling such statements "hogwash, hokum and mullarky," adding that if he wasn't a diplomat "I would call them lies."
"For years one of the top people in our Cuba section was a Cuban spy," Cason said. "They know full well that we have no plans to invade."
He denied that U.S. policy toward Cuba was one of regime change, and characterized it as one of "rapid, peaceful, transition," to a more liberal social, economic and political system.
Cason denied that the U.S. was funding dissident movements in Cuba. But U.S. officials admitted that they had been distributing books to independent libraries as well as short-wave radios and were providing free Internet access at the U.S. Interests Section to Cubans who requested it.
Although Cuba's national assembly is a rubber stamp body that meets only twice a year, Alarcón is thought to have considerably power due to his closeness to Castro. He was Cuba's foreign minister for many years and is considered to be the best informed of all of the country's leadership on Western affairs.
When Lionel Gelber prize winner Walter Russell Mead, a senior fellow at the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations gave his acceptance speech earlier this year in Toronto, he credited Alarcón as one of his primary influences.
Alarcón's remarks come at a time of increasing uncertainty about Cuba's future. Last Friday during an appearance on Mesa Redonda, a Cuban political show, Castro appeared to lose his place several times in his presentation and had to be corrected by the moderator. At one point his left hand began shaking uncontrollably leading to renewed speculation about his health.
|© 2002 Peter Diekmeyer Communications Inc.|