[News] Alarcon Says Castro is "Very Alive and Very Alert"
news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Aug 2 18:39:48 EDT 2006
Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
Exclusive From Havana: Cuban National Assembly
President Ricardo Alarcon Says Castro is "Very
Alive and Very Alert"; Condemns US Plans for
Post-Castro Cuba and Bushs Meeting With Exiles
Advocating Cubas Violent Overthrow
In an exclusive interview from Havana, Ricardo
Alarcon tells Democracy Now!: "I met with
[Castro] personally before the announcement was
issued, and yesterday, I was in communication
with him also. He is perfectly conscious, very
good speech as always. We talked for over a half
an hour on many things going on in the world, the
impact that the announcement has had."[includes rush transcript]
On Monday night, 79-year-old Cuban President
Fidel Castro temporarily handed over power to his
brother, Raul. This marks the first time since he
became president in 1959 that Castro has ceded
power. The Cuban President was forced to undergo
surgery to repair an ailment that has caused
intestinal bleeding. In a speech read by an aide
on Cuban television Monday night, Castro said
that his ill health was caused by overexerting
himself during his travels last month. Raul
Castro, who is 75, is Cubas defense minister and
first vice president. Under Cubas constitution,
he is first in line to take over from the
president in case of incapacitating illness or
death. Three weeks before Monday's announcement,
a U.S. presidential commission called for an $80
million program to support opponents of Castro.
The funding has been billed as democracy
promotion. Critics say it will work to undermine
Cubas government the same way that US democracy
funding has destabilized regimes in other
countries such as Haiti and Venezuela. We are
joined by Ricardo Alarcon -- the President of the Cuban National Assembly.
* Ricardo Alarcon. President of the Cuban
National Assembly who has often been refered to as Castro's heir apparent
AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Havana, Cuba, where
we're joined on the line by the President of the
Cuban National Assembly, Ricardo Alarcon. We welcome you to Democracy Now!
RICARDO ALARCON: Good morning, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us.
First, how is President Fidel Castro's health?
When did you last speak to him? And what is he talking about?
RICARDO ALARCON: Well, I was with him, I met with
him personally on Monday afternoon, before the
announcement was issued. And yesterday, on
Tuesday, I was in conversation with him also. I
must say that he's perfectly conscious. Hes in
very good spirits, as always. We talked for over
half an hour on many things: what's going on in
the world and [inaudible] yesterday about the
impact that the announcement has had.
Of course, he is forced to have a period of rest.
He underwent a complicated surgery. And hes in,
I would say, a normal period of recovery after an
important surgery -- thats essentially what I
would say -- but very alive and very alert, as
always, very interested in what's going on around him and around the world.
AMY GOODMAN: What is the surgery he underwent,
and what is wrong with Fidel Castro?
RICARDO ALARCON: Well, what is wrong with Fidel
Castro is that he really works a lot. He has been
working his entire life. He's not a head of state
that is available only for a few photo
opportunities and some ceremonies, and so he
really takes his responsibilities and his duties
as a mission. That's why he, apart from being
substituted provisionally according to the
constitution as the head of state, as the head of
the power and so on, he also had to designate
certain comrades for specific programs, on
healthcare area, on education, on energy and so
on, programs that he was conducting personally.
He is a very rare head of state. He's a head of
state that works and works very, very much.
And, of course, if you travel, you go to the
eastern Cuba and make two speeches in the same
day and have many meetings and so on --
notwithstanding his very healthy reality --
things happen, and at some point he suffered a
sort of crisis that probably was most created by
the stress and the excessive effort that his body was making. And that's it.
But notwithstanding all of that, I will say that
he is doing fairly well. It is a serious matter,
of course. I do not want to diminish the
complexity of the situation, because always
surgery, intestinal surgery, as any doctor can
tell you, it's a serious matter. And the recovery
process is also some period of care, and he needs
a lot of attention and care. And that is why he
cannot be at the same time holding certain
responsibilities, because, I repeat, for him that
is not a photo op. Its a matter of hours and
hours dedicated to healthcare programs, to
education, to energy-saving programs, and so on and so forth.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ricardo Alarcon, as you say,
President Castro is legendary for the long hours
that he keeps. The two opportunities over the
years that Ive had to interview him, both of the
interviews didn't start until about 1:00 in the
morning and went on for several hours. But here
in the United States the commercial press and in
Washington, they're trying to make much over the
fact that he has not been seen or that he had not
made the announcement himself. Your reaction to
some of the speculation here that he is even much
sicker than the government is letting out?
RICARDO ALARCON: I think that the letter or the
announcement that he wrote himself with his
hands, the decisions that are in that document
reflect a person that is very much aware of what
is going on and capable of taking decisions
immediately after having been obliged to undergo
a complicated surgery recovery. Of course, he's
not a young fellow. He is 79 years old.
But listen, I have seen some, not only the
speculation, but some very shameful
manifestations of people, like some people appear
to enjoy a human beings physical sufferings or
risks, and that reminds me when beginning almost
a few weeks ago was the anniversary of the
commencement of the Spanish Civil War. There was
a general, notorious Franco general who became
famous for an infamous phrase. Remember what he
said: Long live death! You see some groups in
Miami, some federal congress people, some
spokesmen from the U.S. government like enjoying
the idea of this man being ill or even a longing
of his death and even invented it. And they have
spent years speculating, afflicting to him diseases, [inaudible].
The facts are reflected, announced publicly by
him, himself. And he said the truth. And
unfortunately for those people, I can tell you, I
will repeat, I met with him personally. We spent
half an hour, not just talking about the
document, talking about Lebanon, talking about
the U.S., talking about the situation in the
world. And he was very alert, as always. We even
exchanged some jokes. And yesterday, again, we
communicated. And those are the facts, of course.
I communicated. I saw him. But he is resting,
physically resting. He has to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon, we're going to
break for 60 seconds with music, and then we're
going to come back to you. We'd like to play for
you the response of the White House, the White
House spokesperson, Tony Snow, what he had to
say. We would also like to ask you about what
President Fidel Castro had to say about Lebanon
and the United States, as he recoveries from his
surgery. We're speaking with Ricardo Alarcon,
President of the Cuban National Assembly. Well be back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We're talking with the President of
the Cuban National Assembly. We're talking to
Ricardo Alarcon. He is in Havana right now, has
already met with the Cuban President Fidel Castro
after surgery and has spoken him yesterday, as
well. I wanted to get your response, Ricardo
Alarcon, to White House spokesperson, Tony Snow,
who yesterday dismissed Raul Castro's leadership
and said the U.S. government will not be reaching out to him.
TONY SNOW: The one thing that this president has
talked about from the very beginning is his hope
for the Cuban people finally to enjoy the fruits
of freedom and democracy, and for the dictator
Fidel Castro to hand off power to his brother,
who has been prison keeper, is not a change in
that status. So Raul Castro's attempt impose
himself on the Cuban people is just much the same
as what his brother did. So, no, there are no
plans to reach out. The one thing we want to do
is to continue to assure the people of Cuba that we stand ready to help.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Tony Snow, White House
spokesperson. Your response, Ricardo Alarcon?
RICARDO ALARCON: Well, let me tell you that this
appearance -- all change of personalities in the
Cuban government, which is a matter exclusively
that belongs to us -- we are an independent
country -- has become a very serious security
issue for us. Remember that the U.S. government
in the year 2004 adopted, approved a program that
President Bush said that was going to be
seriously implemented to not to permit, precisely
-- in fact, in Cuba, is the moment would appear.
A few weeks ago, on July the 10th, President Bush
approved the last report of a so-called
Commission to Assist a Free Cuba. That means a
clear plan of intervention in another country,
and this program, this last report, begins with a
chapter with the title, "Hastening the End of the
Castro Regime." It's not something waiting for to
"help," quote/unquote, the Cuban people in the
future. It's a plan to hasten the end of our
government and begins with a phrase that should
concern Americans a lot, saying that that report
is just the unclassified part of something else.
They said that they have additional measures that
remain classified, in other words, secret.
What means that? Are they going to announce or
are they announcing new military adventures
abroad? Are Americans really prepared to, after
having gone to war in Iraq out of lies and
distortion by all those same folks, people like
Mr. Snow, are they prepared now to go to another
war just because Mr. Snow and Mr. Bush do not
like the kind of government that we have down
here in Cuba? I don't like the U.S. government,
to be very frank, but that doesn't give me any
right to have plans, secret or otherwise, to
change the way the American system operates. I
think that's a very dangerous approach.
That's why we said that, in our communiqué --
Fidel repeated that yesterday, by the way, the
second letter that was made public here in Cuba,
that this issue, this matter that should be very,
in a way, legally speaking, technically speaking,
a rather simple matter, the substitution of the
president by the vice president and so on and so
forth, according to the constitution and the laws
of a particular country. And it's an impeding
approach that I think is a little bit outdated.
The U.S. at this moment is not prepared really
seriously to entertain more wars and more wars
and so on and so forth. That's why they have
issued on July the 10th this last report, but the
most important part of it remains secret. For our
part, of course, we will do our best to defeat
all of those plans, those announced and those
that remain secret. We have a long experience in
fighting and resisting U.S. attempts to undermine
our independence and to defeat our sovereignty.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Ricardo Alarcon, you mentioned
that in your discussions with President Castro
after his surgery that you discussed to some
extent the situation in Lebanon. Could you share
with us some of his thoughts about that and also
how the Cuban government is viewing the
situation, the escalating battles going on in the Middle East right now?
RICARDO ALARCON: Well, we are really very, very
concerned about this situation. We have condemned
the violation of Lebanese sovereignty and the
attacks on Lebanon, the attacks on Gaza, and we
are concerned that the situation, as it appears,
is leading towards an enlargement, an extension
of the war. The last news that I saw, the Israeli
troops may be approaching the Syrian border. It's
something that should provoke some international
action to stop that. We believe strongly that the
very first issue -- we agree on that with the
Lebanese government -- is to stop the fighting
immediately. Many people are dying on both sides,
mostly civilians, and that's really sort of a
senseless policy of violence and aggression that must be ended right away.
AMY GOODMAN: Does Cuba, does the President, does
Fidel Castro have a relationship with either the
Iranian leadership or the Syrian leadership? And
before his illness, was he communicating with them, if he does?
RICARDO ALARCON: Well, we have -- it's not a
secret -- we have very friendly relations with
both Syria and Iran, also with the Lebanese
Republic. As a matter of fact, part of our
population comes from that background, Lebanese
Christians, Lebanese that immigrated to this part
of the world. That's why it's an issue that
touches us very directly, I would say, and we
understand that they are also concerned and they
are, as many people around the world. Remember
that if we don't have yet a ceasefire, it's only
because of the U.S. and Israeli position. Even
Europe, practically everybody, has been demanding
for that, but you have again the UN Security
Council paralyzed due to the successful efforts
of Mr. Bolton and the U.S. delegation.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Id like to ask you, in terms of
the current situation in Latin America, obviously
a lot has changed over the years, as U.S.
administrations have continued to support the
embargo or to lead their sole embargo against
Cuba in Latin America, and do you think that in
the current climate of the more popular
governments that have come to power in many
countries in Latin America that the United States
would dare to try to intervene directly in Cuba?
RICARDO ALARCON: I think that at this moment in
the current administration that you're enjoying
in Washington, there are people that are thinking
if they could, they would even intervene
militarily. That's why they went that far in the
2004 program adopted by Mr. Bush and in the last
report. The problem is that I do not see how
could anybody rationally in the U.S. consider the
possibility of promoting or provoking another
war. I don't think that that idea would be very
popular among Americans at this particular
moment. They are not really enjoying a very easy
situation in Iraq, as they thought was the case
when they had begun that intervention. That's why
the previous report was more openly aggressive.
Now, they have to reserve those areas to these secret plans.
But let me tell you that in this last report they
recognized how Cuba has advanced and, at the same
time, it reflects a desperate effort to reinforce
that embargo, notwithstanding the reality that
nobody else is supporting it. For example, now,
according to what Mr. Bush decided on July the
10th, no humanitarian items could come from U.S.
churches to the Cuban National Council of
Churches. That includes the Jewish community.
They had been receiving, traditionally, support
for their rights and their activities, the
Evangelicals, the Protestants, the Anglican
Church and the Jewish community, from their U.S.
counterparts. Now they cannot anymore.
They are threatening to criminalize violations of
the travel ban to Cuba. They are, in this last
report, trying or threatening to undermine what
they refer to as large-scale healthcare programs
for foreigners in Cuba and elsewhere. What means
that? That they have to recognize that at this
moment millions, millions of people, Gonzalez,
had received free healthcare here in Cuba or in
Venezuela, or are receiving it in Bolivia, in
Ecuador, in Indonesia, in Pakistan, in Guatemala,
all over the world, that there are 30,000 Cuban
doctors abroad helping people to recover vision,
to fight illness and so on. They recognize that,
and they say that they will not permit exports of
equipment that may help those programs. All of
that is in that report. That, unfortunately, has
not been noticed in some U.S. media that keeps
talking about a so-called "aid program" for Cuba
after the Castro regime doesn't exist anymore, and blah, blah, blah, blah.
In other words, you have a very peculiar
administration in your country, people that do
not accept reality and imagine that they can
ignore reality and change it. The reality is that
Fidel Castro was down there in Cordoba, in
Argentina. Why? Because we were invited. Because
Cuba has joined, has established an association
with Mercosur. But he was together with a number,
a large number of heads of governments in South
America, of the whole Mercosur group and Michelle
Bachelet, the President of Chile, who was
attending. And they condemned, of course, the
embargo, again, and not just in words, but in
actions that are reflected in the strengthening
of our economic and other links with them.
By the way, since Monday we have received
messages from practically every government in
Latin America, expressing their concern and their
solidarity with President Castro in his current
situation, including one very beautiful message
by President Lula that Cubans know, because it
was published here yesterday -- I don't know if
you know about it in New York. But I think that
one has to be absolutely out of his mind to
believe that that policy functions, that that
policy works. The world and the reality around
the U.S. is showing that it is not the case. But
even in America, even in the U.S., you have
people that would like very much to expand trade
with Cuba, to have more normal relations, or to
-- just to travel, just to travel to exercise
that right that now may be even leading some
people to court to be accused, indicted of that
serious crime. By the way, I hope you are aware,
Juan, that they arrested a number of Puerto
Ricans when they arrived in Mayaguez a few days
ago. The crime? Having come to Cuba. Now, it's a
more serious crime, according to Mr. Bush.
JUAN GONZALEZ: No, I was not aware of those
latest arrests, and thank you for informing me about them.
RICARDO ALARCON: They had traveled to Cuba via
the Dominican Republic, and apparently they went
by boat from eastern Dominican to Mayaguez in the
west part of Puerto Rico, and upon arrival there,
they were -- it's not exact -- they don't say
that they are detained in a formal way, but they
were detained. Upon arrival, they are being
interviewed and so on, because -- and they were
notified that they did violate American law, and
now, since July the 10th, they may be indicted
and incarcerated, which is something that is
crazy. It's easier to move out of Mayaguez
because of all the [inaudible] fishing and so on, they hope.
AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon, we only have 30
seconds, and we're going to be going to Beirut in
a moment, but I wanted to ask about your
comments, quoted in Prensa Latina, calling the
President, President Bush, a terrorist for what's
happening in Lebanon right now. It was part of
your condemnation of what you call the Israeli massacre in Qana.
RICARDO ALARCON: Not only because that time -- I
visited Qana, in fact -- very movable to see that
again the same story was repeated. But President
Bush is a terrorist. His policy is terrorism. He
was meeting last Monday in Miami with some very
well known terrorists, this Monday, 48 hours ago.
He keeps five young Cubans in detention,
incarcerated. Next week, on August the 9th, will
be one year after the Court of Appeals revoked
the convictions of those people, but they remain
in prison. And at the same time, you can watch on
Miami TV or read in the Miami press how terrorist
activities continue to be prepared, announced openly, very openly.
AMY GOODMAN: Who did President Bush meet with in Miami?
RICARDO ALARCON: Who is by -- sorry?
AMY GOODMAN: You said that President Bush met
with terrorists in Miami when he was just there this week.
RICARDO ALARCON: Ninoska Perez Castellon, Armando
Perez Roura. They had breakfast on Monday, and he
was on the air interviewing some of the most
radical pro-terrorist programs in Miami.
AMY GOODMAN: And why do you call them terrorists?
RICARDO ALARCON: Because they are terrorists.
Because these people belong to groups that
openly, openly proclaim, proclaim that they have
-- have you heard about Mr. Llama? He was on
Miami TV claiming that he had spent $1.4 million
to buy weapons, including small light planes that
can be tele-directed for terrorist purposes. He
said that in Miami the same day that in Miami
half a dozen Black people were arrested on the
accusation that they were going to blow up the
Sears Tower. This very same day a guy, of course,
white, a white billionaire, appeared on TV saying
that, and then you have your president going down
there to have a meeting. It was a funding
operation that he had, a fundraising operation on
Sunday and Monday, and I know, because that was
published, that he had breakfast with some of
them. Ninoska Perez Castellon, the former leader
of the Cuban American National Foundation, leader
now of the so-called Cuban Liberty Council that
advocates openly military actions against Cuba. Armando Perez Roura --
AMY GOODMAN: Ricardo Alarcon --
RICARDO ALARCON: --who was a daily [inaudible] --
AMY GOODMAN: We're going to have to leave it there.
RICARDO ALARCON: Yeah, sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us.
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