MAY 2005

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Interview with Cuba's Vice President Ricardo Alarcon

By Saul Landau
ZNet Commentary
April 10, 2005

Landau: How do you compare Bush's discourse with that of past presidents? And how do you compare them with his deeds?

Alarcon: Words are not his strongest quality. I think that there are discrepancies in his second inaugural address. He talked about carrying the fire of freedom throughout the world. Without sounding rude, I'd say this is, at the very least, an over statement. He isn't going to carry anything much further. He's already having difficulty in maintaining this fire in Iraq. If he wants to do that around the world he will not succeed. Indeed, he's not succeeding in Iraq.

Cuba is one of the places mentioned, not by him but by [Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice the day before.  I advise them not to try. It will cost a lot of lives if the Americans would attack us, more than those dying in Iraq, because this is not a divided country or society that has been suffering under a dictatorial regime. The opposite is true. You will find here a free society, finally emancipated from half a century of oppression and corruption imposed by the US. We attainted our independence in 1959 -- from US domination. That is a fact of history. From an ethnic or cultural point of view we are a unified country, an island on which a common culture and common identity has evolved. We are prepared to make life impossible for an invader.

But more important, what is the meaning of this policy? It is not just irrational, a product of arrogance or impulse, not just the product of a person that doesn't read many books. That explains only his strange selection of words.

Consider Bush's simplistic view of the world; or better, take the more analytical and conscious way the CIA views it. A CIA document published a couple months ago and another in December 2000, forecasts based on research and analysis, consider scenarios of war, peace, turmoil and catastrophes. But there is a common denominator expressed in one sentence: ?US influence will continue to decline.? By the way the CIA does not call for a change of policy, but simply states as a fact that US influence is less today than 20 or 40 years ago.

The US is not going to rise above the rest of the world. It is the sole superpower in cold war terms. But the US cannot exercise complete power over the rest of the world. Russia continues to have nuclear weapons. Economically, for example, China has emerged as a power. Recently the Chinese president toured Latin America and discussed granting Argentina a credit line of $20 billion. 40 years ago, at time of the Alliance for Progress, Kennedy offered the entire continent $20 billion -- over ten year period. Cuba criticized this modest offer at the time because it was too little.

Remember, at that time this little island had established relations with that big country China. The other countries in the Latin America followed the US line and refused to recognize the existence of China. Now, 40 years later, that once non-recognized country's head of state travels throughout the region and offers much more than the US could when it was at its peak. And the US must accept that China plays that role in the world. The Vice President of China was doing a similar same thing in Africa.

Although the US remains the biggest military power, it has trouble controlling a rather small country like Iraq, which it almost destroyed by bombing and an economic embargo before the war. The reality is that US is only the most powerful entity in one area: information and communication.

It was the only dominant force at end of the Second World War, the only nuclear power. Nagasaki and Hiroshima, by the way, are the only cases in which nuclear power has been used destructively. They were not employed by a terrorist state, but by the US democracy - allegedly to defeat Japan. At that time and later, during the Marshall Plan, the US was at the top. Since then it has been declining. That does not mean it is a country in disarray, but it is going downward.

To answer this downhill slide, in my opinion, came the neo-cons who believe that by using the United States' comparatively limited economic and large military resources, but especially by exploiting their advantage in terms of communication technology and near monopoly of information media, they can reverse the trend. That is impossible. The US cannot turn the world back to 1945 and reappear as the only power in the world. The US needs to learn to live in a diverse world with different players, different ideologies and interests and not to pretend to be the owner of the planet.

Those times are gone forever. That is the way history moves. But the new conservative trend departs form traditional conservatism and tries to reverse the world's movement by being interventionist, by sending troops here and there. It is an irrational approach. It's obvious that they will not succeed but their missionary and mythological approach could lead to mistakes even more grave than Iraq.

Landau: In 1945, the US wrote the Nuremburg laws prohibiting aggressive war and also drafted the UN and OAS charters that prohibit intervention. How do you explain US behavior, initiating those laws and then violating them?

Alarcon: The US wrote all those important documents that became the foundation of the international order when it was the most important power in the world. Now that the world has been undergoing change those documents have become obstacles to US interests. At the same time, US officials try to manipulate these documents, like the Human Rights Covenants. If you listen to US officials, they are fulfilling a mission of spreading human rights throughout the world.

The ideas of freedom and democracy are in the UN charter, but together with the principle of nonintervention, prohibition of war. The only thing the UN Charter recognizes as a legitimate reason for war is self defense, a nation subjected to external aggression. Even in those circumstances you have to ask the UN to intervene. Nobody else can intervene. It's a peaceful ideal. The Charter lacks some important points. It doesn't mention colonialism, nor recognize the right of colonial people to self-determination and independence.

But the UN was transformed because after WW II, no one could stop the emancipation of those countries. People became independent and then UN members. It was one of the factors that helped transform the world. How to explain how the US changed its mind after essentially drafting these documents?

Those exercising power were not happy with what happened. The reality problem is a serious one. Psychiatrists help those who have trouble dealing with reality. If you do not acknowledge reality you may be suffering from a serious disturbance. I sometimes feel that some American politicians need professional help to remember that they conceived the UN and its structure. Some American politicians now refer to the UN as something to ignore or despise. Do they forget that it was a US creation? To weaken or break this organization, which is what Bush did, was a terrible thing. The UN does not exist any more because of what happened in Iraq. This is a very serious problem. It is not true that it will reconstruct itself on new bases.

I don't want to sound rude, but that is exactly what Hitler did. He was angry with the League of Nations, with reality, after WWI. During the period between the two world wars, Germany became the European superpower, economically, technologically, militarily.

When Hitler set the goal of conquering Europe in the mid 1930s, his dream matched the reality of Europe more than who Bush seeks to conquer the entire world with the current level of US power. Hitler's irrational dream was more rational than the discourse you hear now from American leaders. Hitler made a very big mistake, trying to conquer the USSR. Stalin committed many crimes. He was a dictator, but the Soviet people stopped Hitler. It was the same mistake that Napoleon made, to try to conquer the East. If he had remained the master of western and central Europe maybe he would have continued to hold power. But he overextended himself.

But fascism was rejected by most people. And resistance to Nazism arose in many places. Our Yugoslav brothers and sisters offered heroic resistance in that period. The Nazis never conquered that country. Later on it was made to explode, not by the Nazis but by western democracies.

Landau: You use history as a guide.

Alarcon: History is important. Those who believe they can turn history back should remember the origin of previous wars. The Germans didn't accept Versailles and that was the origin of Fascism.

** Ricardo Alarcon Quesada is Cuba's Vice President and President of its National Assembly

Another text by Landau on William Randolph Hearst
An Imperial Portrait

By Saul Landau
February 12, 2005

After spending $40 for two 75 minute guided walks through some of the 165 rooms and guest houses of La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Mountain), I learned what Gore Vidal already knew about tasteless millionaires: "The more money an American accumulates, the less interesting he becomes."

In the first decade of the 20th Century, after forging a new style of sensationalist journalism in the 1890s, William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951) served two terms in the House, and then aspired unsuccessfully to be Mayor and Governor of New York and President of the United States. Failing to win electoral backing, Hearst built his own intimidating and more formal kingdom: vast media holdings and personal castles.

Hearst hired Julia Morgan, a classy architect, to arrange the imported cathedral ceilings and Roman columns. Morgan added taste and talent to Hearst's accumulation habit. His hotel-sized kitchen and the royally-proportioned dining room gave me hunger pangs, the kind Hearst must have experienced whenever he saw a valuable object that belonged to someone else.

The Castle at Sin Simeon, located on 240,000 acres about midway on the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, now belongs to the State of California. His father, mining mogul George Hearst, had inhaled vast California landscapes and seascapes for less than $1 an acre. When Hearst died, his family learned how expensive maintenance would be and they ceded the gloomy and ornate mansion to the State.

As the bus driver carefully navigated the sharp curves on the winding, narrow road away from the coastal highway, I tried to conceive of what might have motivated this eccentric man to erect the palace that loomed high above us, like a set from a Dracula movie. At age ten, the precocious Hearst started collecting expensive art. A decade later, Harvard expelled him for bringing a mule into the Dean's office with a pejorative reference attached to it. As he used the newspaper business to build on his father's already impressive fortune, his pranks turned downright vicious: like trying to start a war.

In 1895, Hearst bought the New York Morning Journal and spent lavishly to win a circulation war with the New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer. He lowered the paper's price to a penny, increased the number of pages, added more comic strips and, ironically, out sensationalized Pulitzer, who had begun the "appeal to the base instincts" style journalism. Hearst's front page featured headlines like "Spaniards Rape American Women in Cuba," - not true -- to paint Spain as the blackest of hats in its war to prevent independence in Cuba. Hearst wanted the United States to go to war and used his newspaper shamelessly and successfully to manipulate public opinion for intervention.

He liked big events, like wars, and big buildings to live in and to invite adoring guests. Hearst instructed Julia Morgan to join each bedroom with a bathroom so that Jean Harlow would not have share a toilet with Harpo Marx. Cary Grant, the tour guide informed us, made thirty four visits to the Castle during that period. Cary remarked that the Castle "was a great place to spend the Depression."

In those economically bad times, millions lived without indoor plumbing and waited on bread lines while Mary Pickford cheerfully played tennis with Charley Chaplin at Hearst's private courts. Gary Cooper swam laps in the Castle's tiled pool of dreams. Harpo did acrobatics in the Castle library. Why not, since Hearst's vast collection of books looked unread!

The guide showed us the movie theater where guests watched first run films after dinner. We missed the bowling alley - that would have been Tour #3. The State dismantled Hearst's private zoo, a place to retreat when looking at famous people got boring.

The Castle tours left me with an overwhelming desire to consume. Had Hearst's ghost infected me? Instead of grazing at the greasy hamburger-hotdog-French fry stands that the State offers to tourists at the bus station below the Castle, I ate pumpkin fudge that the State also markets to those who realize that the cure for looking at overindulgence is practicing it.

As I ate more disgustingly sweet fudge, I concluded that the Castle tour had taught me to behave like Hearst himself: reject the adage that "enough is enough." Indeed, the first sugar aftershock stirred my brain maliciously.

Hearst lived much of his life in this bizarre and incongruous place with his mistress, actress Marion Davis, until he died. His children, from his wife, Millicent, whom he never divorced, and his grandchildren also enjoyed spent times staring at the infinite number of imported gewgaws, ornate engravings and tiles in almost every room?

Did his grand daughter Patricia's Castle experience link to her 1974 kidnapping and then supposed capitulation to the "Stockholm syndrome," and thus her membership in the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA)?

This group of so-called revolutionaries supposedly brainwashed Patty and then transformed her from spoiled rich kid to bank robber. The non-descript heiress became Tania (named after the woman who died with Che Guyevara in Bolivia in 1967), a bisexual, gun-toting revolutionary spewing condemnation of the vile capitalist class.

After serving 21 months of a seven-year prison sentence for bank robbery, Patty regained her ruling class senses. To save her wealthy ass, she ratted out her Symbionese comrades, those she briefly loved and went on to star un-brilliantly in several films. In 1998, Bill Clinton gave her a presidential pardon.

When the SLA kidnapped Patty, her father, who inherited the San Francisco Examiner, might have wondered if his old man had somehow offended the Republic of Symbia. Did Patty's participation in proletarian armed struggle offer a poetic epitaph for her conscienceless grandpa?

Or maybe, Patty's flirtation with guns related to grandpa's obsession with power - no matter how misused. After entertaining Mussolini's mistress at his Castle, Hearst checked out the Nazis.

"I flew up to Berlin and had a long talk with Hitler yesterday," he wrote in 1934. "Hitler certainly is an extraordinary man. We estimate him too lightly in America. He has enormous enthusiasm, a marvelous faculty for dramatic oratory, and great organizing ability. Of course all these qualities can be misdirected. I only hope that he and the Germans may have sense enough to keep out of another war."

Journalist George Seldes attributed Hearst's pro-Nazi stance to Hitler's manipulation of the easily flattered - by power - media baron. Seldes reported that US American Ambassador to Germany, William E. Dodd, said that "[When] Hearst came to take the waters at Bad Nauheim [Germany] in September 1934?Hitler sent two of his most trusted Nazi propagandists?to ask Hearst how Nazism could present a better image in the U.S. When Hearst went to Berlin later in the month, he was taken to see Hitler."

Seldes also said that Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, cut a $400,000 a year deal with Hearst, which led him to "completely chang[ed] the editorial policy of his nineteen daily newspapers the same month he got the money."

Hearst sued over such claims, but Dan Gillmor, publisher of the magazine Friday, told the court that "Promptly after this visit with Adolph Hitler and the making of said arrangements... plaintiff, William Randolph Hearst, instructed all Hearst press correspondents in Germany, including those of INS (Hearst's International News Service) to report happenings in Germany only in a friendly manner. All of correspondents reporting happenings in Germany accurately and without friendliness, sympathy and bias for the actions of the German government, were transferred elsewhere, discharged, or forced to resign."

Whether Hearst actually took Nazi money in return for good US press remains in the realm of cloudy biography. The extremely wealthy have ways to turn megalomania into eerie designs. Hearst's accumulation addiction led him to overextend his own fortune. He had to sell part of his art collection and halt construction on the Castle.

When he died, Hearst still had enough money to hold on to his news empire. The film, "Citizen Kane," showed Hearst as a victim of childhood trauma. In his adult life, he compensated for any slight by abusing power.

Hearst's life exemplifies the sickness of empire - personal or national. Vast amounts of wealth warp sensibilities. Those who inherit, steal or even make money tend to think they can export their grandiose notions and magically solve the maladies of others. They call it democracy, of course, or the American way of life.

After two and a half hours of seeing the results of avarice, I grew weary of Hearst's limitless appetites for power, women, and possessions. During the height of the 1930s depression, Hearst deposited $50 thousand a day into his account, from the largest publishing empire in history. But his spending habits on the Castle outstripped his income. He had to sell some accumulated treasures and stop expanding the mansion. Might this teach a lesson to those who run the US empire today?

Landau directs Digital Media at Cal Poly Pomona University and is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book is THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE REPLACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THE TREND.

Landau directs digital media at Cal Poly Pomona University. He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new book: THE BUSINESS OF AMERICA: HOW CONSUMERS HAVE REPLACED CITIZENS AND HOW WE CAN REVERSE THE TREND