[News] Alarcon Says Castro is "Very Alive and Very Alert"

Anti-Imperialist News 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 Bush’s Meeting With Exiles 
Advocating Cuba’s 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 Cuba”s defense minister and 
first vice president. Under Cuba”s 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 
Cuba”s 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. He’s 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 he’s in, 
I would say, a normal period of recovery after an 
important surgery -- that’s 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. It’s 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 I’ve 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 being’s 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. We’ll 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: I’d 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.


AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much for being with us.

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