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Interview with Cuba's Vice President Ricardo Alarcon
By Saul Landau
April 10, 2005
Landau: How do you compare Bush's discourse with that of
past presidents? And how do you compare them with his
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
text by Landau on William Randolph Hearst
An Imperial Portrait
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
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
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
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
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
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
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