On January 25, 2003, Cuban Vice President Ricardo Alarcon granted me an interview.
SAUL LANDAU: You’ve observed the Bush war on terrorism. Is it working?
RICARDO ALARCON: Terrorism is a real problem that has to be effectively answered and the American strategy since 9/11 is not eliminating terrorism. It’s waging war and killing people. Maybe among some of those killed from the bombs were terrorists, but it’s simply false to pretend that by promoting more violence and disseminating violence all over the world you are really attacking the sources of violence and terrorism. It’s a real tragedy.
On the other hand, there’s a legal obligation for every state to cooperate bilaterally, at the sub-regional, regional, and multilateral level in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions that were drafted and introduced by the U.S. delegation. It has to be obeyed by every UN member. Cuba is a member of the UN. So is the U.S. The resolution adopted on September 28, I think, after 9/11 specifically asked for concerted efforts by agreement, bilateral, regional, and sub-regional, to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and to fight other forms of transnational crimes. The <U.S.-drafted> resolution adopted by the UN Security Council clearly established the connection between those phenomenon.
And we know that they are well connected. We have the Cuban Five. Five Cubans were detained in the U.S., condemned and sentenced to very harsh terms. During the judicial process it was clearly documented, first that terrorist activities are launched from southern Florida against Cuba. Second, that some of those active are also connected with drug trafficking. Third, that those activities not only affect Cuba, but also, even the U.S. and its citizens and its property. Some of those Cubans arrested were also cooperating with the FBI and at their request they tried to verify not only the terrorist activities in which some of those groups in Miami were involved, but also their involvement in drug trafficking.
In 1998, a group of people were caught in Puerto Rico, en route to Margarita Island, where they were planning to assassinate President Castro who was attending an international conference there. After they were acquitted, the owner of the boat was taken back into custody because he was under investigation for drug trafficking in the same boat, using the same weapons that they intended to use kill Fidel Castro.
LANDAU: Didn’t some Cubans skyjack a plane and fly it to Florida about a month ago? What happened to them…and the airplane?
ALARCON: The Cubans are free. I think that was a clear violation of international law and of the agreement that we have with the U.S. But it goes beyond that. What actually happened? Somebody entered into U.S. airspace without authorization, without flight plans. Suppose that guy would have been an Al Qaeda terrorist! Is it alright in southern Florida to enter U.S. airspace without authorization? And because you’re a Cuban you will be not punished but gratified with admission and freedom to move around? I think that Americans should make an issue of that and remember that it was also in Florida that a young American boy took a small plane and crashed it into a tall building in Tampa; somebody crazy enough to try to imitate what happened on 9/11. A small plane may also be used as a small weapon, to kill people and damage property. Can you take a small plane and fly it over Washington D.C. and New York City now?
But Miami is another country. You can do whatever you want in southern Florida. Why? Because you have an area of U.S. territory under the control of a group of terrorists that have been plotting terrorism against Cuba with official support from the U.S. for 40 years. The plane was not returned to Cuba. I think it was auctioned, that’s the word, and somebody bought the plane.
Things in Dade County, Miami, would surprise, astonish, Americans living in other parts of your country. It’s the only place where you can plot terrorism against Cuba, of course, and get U.S. government support. These days security is so important an issue, the leaders of your government are scaring people all over; yet, at the same time they permit lawlessness and absence of security in the segregated republic of Dade County where you can do anything apparently with U.S. government backing if your effort is aimed at destroying Cuba. The goal of the mafia living in Miami is to recapture Cuba.
Terrorism and violence, crimes against Cuba, have been part and parcel of U.S. policy for almost half a century. Now, unfortunately, Americans have learned for the first time what terrorism is, organized and promoted from abroad. We condemn that. There’s no justification for 9/11. But the only honest, effective answer would be to have a U.S. policy that instead of promoting war, instead of tolerating and promoting terrorism right now against Cuba, that actually and consistently opposes all forms and manifestations of terrorism from any where in the world, including the U.S. territory.
Turning back to the case of the 5 Cubans, that was a disgrace. They were condemned for trying to fight terrorism in your country. It’s a disgrace that nobody in the big media in the U.S. even mentioned what happened on 12/14/01 and repeated on 12/27/01, when a court in Dade County sentenced 2 of those Cubans, U.S. citizens by birth. The judge imposed on 3 of them the harshest sentence possible and he added additional special conditions, and I quote, “for their supervised release the day they serve their sentence.”
They were prohibited from visiting places in Miami where it’s known that real terrorists frequent. Look at the contradiction, just three months after 9/11, the Attorney General and Federal Judge recognized that there are terrorists in your country. And it’s known where they are. No one arrests them. On the contrary, at the request of the government federal courts are prohibiting U.S. citizens not to dare pretend to be around or do anything against those terrorists.
The U.S. does not fulfill its obligations to fight terrorism. It’s protecting terrorists. The most quoted phrase by President Bush or ever repeated by him refers to the same idea every time he speaks.
“Those who harbor a terrorist are as guilty as the terrorist himself.” Agreed! Is the U.S. government innocent or guilty of protecting terrorists? Can you at the same time be effective in fighting terrorism in this war?
LANDAU: Do you think if the anti-Castro terrorists had an “Abu” or “Bin” in their name it might have made a difference?
ALARCON: (laughs) Maybe.
LANDAU: I remember, more than 30 years ago when planes were being hijacked to Cuba from the U.S. and the Cuban government said we won’t accept anymore of this and that stopped the hijackings. I can’t recall any planes that have been hijacked to Cuba recently, but there are regularly Cubans who hijack planes to the U.S. Do you think that the U.S. doesn’t understand that this sets a precedent?
ALARCON: 30 years ago we kept telling Americans that you’re playing with fire. The hijackings began, from Cuba to U.S. The first hijacking was on January 1, 1959. The Batista people that escaped and landed in your country by plane or boat without visas, passports and authorization, yet all of them were warmly received by U.S. authorities. That was the beginning of this whole story. Then commercial planes were hijacked from Cuba to the U.S., using violence. We always said this was creating a new form of international crime and that was the case.
So, Americans started doing the same thing the other way. We stopped that. We said this is wrong and we won’t admit anyone and we will punish you. On one occasion, a plane was hijacked by 2 Cuban Americans and we returned the plane to the U.S. as we always did.
Since that moment, no more planes came from the United States to Cuba. Lately, we have a series of hijackings of small planes and boats from Cuba and the US fails to return them, the perpetrators or planes. They are repeating history. That was the way the hijackings began in the 60s. Probably, there aren’t many people in the administration who read books and who would find the facts of how that terrorism was developed in the 60s and 70s. They are again playing with fire, using double standards and displaying irresponsibility, a lack of maturity and rational approach to the way an official should behave.
We have a different ideology, different political perceptions, but people in government must have a sense of responsibility. If not, go into private life. Nobody has the obligation to be president, the secretary of something or attorney general. You must pledge allegiance to respect certain principles of the constitution and law. If you can’t, go manage your own business. But you should not be a person with responsibilities. And that’s a big problem with the U.S. government.
LANDAU: Are you suggesting that Washington officials have memorized only the first three words of the old Christian adage: do unto others?
ALARCON: (laughs) It’s important not to rewrite history. 9/11 was when Allende was overthrown and killed. Airplanes also attacked buildings in Santiago, including La Moneda palace. And from that moment, thousands of Chileans were killed, tortured, disappeared and so on. And it was well known that the U.S. was not innocent in that. The U.S. was very committed and guilty of that big crime.
It’s an insult to Latin Americans to talk about 9/11 like it never happened before. 9/11 was a terrible crime against a people. Neither 9/11 1973 or 2001 could be justified. 9/11/80 was also the day when a friend of mine, Felix Garcia, was assassinated in Queens, New York by a Cuban American terrorist. The assassin is living in Miami today, probably walking around having some Cuban coffee. I can give you his address.
It’s simply shocking that in your country right now in its big war against terrorism, you have convicted terrorists who have killed Americans in downtown D.C. [referring to Virgilio Paz and Jose Dionisio Suarez who pled guilty to conspiring to assassinate by a car bomb Orlando Letelier. Letelier’s American colleague, Ronni Moffitt, also died in the blast, organized by the Chilean secret police] or NYC or Miami that are free. Those people were freed by Attorney General Ashcroft in July and August 2001. They watched TV on 9/11 as free men and didn’t have any concern that they could be taken into custody for questioning because they know that they belong to terrorist activities that will continue to have support from the same government.
LANDAU: I believe even the FBI opposed the release of Dionioso Suarez and Virgilio Paz.
ALARCON: Weren’t they invited to the Bush speech on May 20 in Miami? I don’t know. I read a story that Orlando Bosch was among the guests of honor that appeared very close to President Bush on the front row. Apparently, some White House advisor realized that it would be a little too much if he smiled and shook hands with the most notorious terrorist according to the FBI. Mr. Bosch was not in the front row, but was transferred to the front row of the gallery and could be seen in the media coverage. And I understand that Mr. Aquit [refers to Reynaldo Sixto Aquit Manrique, aka El Chino Aquit, arrested while pouring gasoline on a Miami warehouse in 1994] was on then platform with Bush, a man with a terrible history of terrorist actions, just two rows behind the President. Some of those people had not only committed crimes against Cuba but also against Americans on U.S. soil.
These perpetrators have special connections. Not everybody can attend the special gathering or drink with the President. Those who harbor the terrorists are as guilty as the terrorist himself? What about those who harbor and embrace and get together and have dinner together and have drinks with the terrorists?
LANDAU: Aren’t these also the people who continue to support the embargo?
ALARCON: The embargo has consequences for Cubans and also affects Americans who are denied their right to travel to Cuba. They can travel to North Korea, not to Havana, because there’s a travel ban against Cuba. Americans are denied their right to trade with Cuba. It’s in the interest of American farmers and others to have normal commercial relations with Cuba, as is the right of American students to go to Cuba, those who love movies, to come to the Latin Film Festival, or those who love jazz to attend one of best jazz festivals or book fairs in Latin America. Why should Americans be deprived of certain rights because the government wants to serve the interests of a small, aggressive mafia that wants to recover Cuba and their property?
LANDAU: The justification for the embargo and travel ban is to punish Fidel. Has he missed a meal?
ALARCON: (laughs) No. Those who suffer are the elderly, children, and women about to deliver babies. But many Cuban Americans know that, that’s why tens of thousands of them travel to Cuba and send remittances to help their families. The only group that is narrow and small minded and that don’t care are the rich Cuban Americans who don’t care if an old lady dies for lack of a particular medicine or if a little boy suffers from malnutrition in Havana or in Miami, where by the way, people also suffer for other reasons. They want to go back to the good old days for them when they lived well in Cuba while our population were starving and suffering at that time.
SAUL LANDAU is the Director of Digital Media and International Outreach Programs for the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His new film, IRAQ: VOICES FROM THE STREETS, is available through The Cinema Guild. 1-800-723-5522. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.