[Marxism] Saul Landau: Interview with Ricardo Alarcon (Part I)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at earthlink.net
Thu Feb 10 04:59:45 MST 2005

(Landau: "How would fair elections in Iraq look?"

(Alarcon: "Why don't U.S. soldiers vote? Hold a referendum
for American soldiers to choose between staying there for
the rest of their lives for democracy and freedom, American
style, or returning home. It's a relevant issue.")

February 10-16, 2005

Interview with Ricardo Alarcon (Part I)
By Saul Landau

(Columnist Saul Landau recently returned from a visit he
made to Havana, Cuba. During his stay, he had the
opportunity to interview Cuba's vice president and
president of its National Assembly Ricardo Alarcon de
Quesada. The lengthy interview has been divided into two

Landau: Elections in Iraq?

Alarcon: "Much ado about nothing," as Shakespeare said.
Elections were a pretext to extend U.S. control. I don't
believe the U.S. will withdraw. They can't give a sense
they may abandon Iraq without giving the impression of
having suffered a big defeat. I don't think elections solve
political problems in Iraq. The U.S. occupation remains an

Prior to the elections, CNN international had vast coverage
of voting elsewhere, Iraqis in the U.S., Australia and
Europe. And the turnout wasn't that big. It may have been a
very big fraud. One commentator committed a Freudian slip
referring to women voting, saying that Iraq was a secular
society and women were accustomed to exercising rights. In
the future, women may be deprived of rights in a religious
society. But before the occupation, women had rights.

Secondly, Iraqis may have been Shiite, Sunni or Christian.
I was there. Some of them wanted me to know what religion
they belonged to. Catholic or Muslim, not Shiite or Sunni.
Now everyone refers to different ethnic groups. Imagine
American Protestants forming hostile groups of
Presbyterians versus Episcopalians. It's stupid. Those
Iraqi religious divisions may lead to war. Remember the
religious wars in Europe.

These religious conflicts may infect the next
administration in Iraq as a supposed consequence of the
elections, but in fact the invaders provoked the religious
conflicts. The news talks about pressure from the Arab
world. What about pressure from the occupier? The Iraqi who
chose not to vote made a statement, especially when under
the guns of the occupier, with CNN filming and soldiers
distributing leaflets on the streets - electoral
propaganda. Imagine, a machine gun in one hand and leaflets
in the other. This image symbolized the nature of those
elections. And some people even in those circumstances
refused the leaflets. They said: "I don't care." That's a
difficult thing to tell a patrolling group on the street.

Landau: And the U.S. media?

Alarcon: American propaganda machinery excels at
manipulating elections. I remember a group of U.S.
legislators trying to play a role in guaranteeing fair
elections in the Ukraine. Remember the recent contested
elections there? At the same time groups in the U.S. were
demanding the right to review votes in Ohio, or trying to
get recounts because of claims that there were voting
violations there. I don't remember a single U.S. senator
going from Washington to Cleveland or Cincinnati to see
what was happening, but they went all the way to Iraq.
Remember the 2004 referendum and elections in Venezuela. A
number of U.S. politicians and the U.S. media got very
concerned with fair voting in Venezuela but not in their
own states. If they were to apply to U.S. elections similar
standards to those they applied to Venezuela, my god, in
Venezuela even the opposition accepted the result of the
plebiscite as did international groups. Later, opponents of
Chavez accepted them. People from the opposition were
elected. The possibility of questioning election results in
the U.S. is vanishing. And recounting - that word that will
disappear from the English language dictionary.

Landau: Anything positive about the U.S. election?

Alarcon: The most beautiful thing, somewhat missed in the
media, happened in Puerto Rico. A U.S. territory under U.S.
administration had the old fashioned vote, where you mark
what you want to mark. It's possible to count and recount
once, twice endlessly and assure that whoever gets more
votes wins. In the U.S., you cannot do that in many places.
So, while the U.S. media focused on Iraqi elections and
ignored voting complaints by African Americans, the Puerto
Ricans were recounting their ballots, one by one. They get
exact results in polling station by polling station,
municipality by municipality. They saw who won and who
lost. In the U.S. a kind of monarchial principal reigns, as
if the candidate was the owner of the people's will.
Supposedly, one candidate concedes to demonstrate that his
opponent won. Recall how Mr. Gore conceded in 2000? So
what? Was he the owner of the people's votes? In the U.S.
it's a far cry from one man one vote. And the winner is not
necessarily the one who gets more votes as the 2000
election showed.

Landau: How would fair elections in Iraq look?

Alarcon: Why don't U.S. soldiers vote? Hold a referendum
for American soldiers to choose between staying there for
the rest of their lives for democracy and freedom, American
style, or returning home. It's a relevant issue.

But in Iraq, one group of exiles backed by the CIA ran
against another group. Some people that may have favored
resistance did not take part. Much was said about how the
resistance movement, or terrorists, pressured people not to
vote, but not a word about pressure by the occupying
forces. Aside from distributing leaflets, the army imposed
a curfew, restricted movement, sealed off the country and
called it a free election. If anything like that happened
in another country imagine the amount of U.S. criticism
that would fall on that country. I've heard about this
election as a historic development. Well, let's wait
another 100 years and we'll find out its historic

Landau: You had mentioned before that the U.S. is

Alarcon: Comparatively speaking.

Landau: Specifically, vis a vis Europe. Initially, when
Cuba jailed the dissidents in 2003, the European Union
responded very critically, going along with the U.S.
position, and now the EU is about to resume friendly

Alarcon: Formally, we always had economic and diplomatic
relations with European countries. It was rather childish
what the EU did. Unfortunately, following Spanish
government advice, the EU followed the American line on
Cuba. Even on the Helms-Burton law. Europe at first
complained to the WTO about Helms-Burton and then
negotiated and reached what they called an understanding
with Washington. They withdrew their complaint.

And on May 2004, in the U.S. plan for Cuba, Bush announced
that the U.S. will examine on a case by case basis, country
by country, in terms of implementing Chapters 3 and 4
[punishing countries and companies trading with Cuba] of
Helms Burton more efficiently.

They forgot their commitment to Europe to eliminate or
change those chapters and instead declare they will
implement them more thoroughly. No complaints, no protests
from Europe in what is tantamount to a U.S. slap in
Europe's face. With news of the dissidents' arrest [Cuba
arrested 75 anti-government activists and charged them with
working for the U.S. government against Cuba in March
2003], the Europeans had an opportunity to protest against
the illegal arrest of people not only in Cuba, but
throughout the western world. I refer to widespread torture
and the violation of habeas corpus and other legal
principles. Europeans behaved as accomplices to these
policies as did on U.S. policy toward Cuba. Then they took
some childish steps like refusing high level contacts with
Cuba. Some countries ignored that decision. Another step:
eliminate cultural exchanges. Last year, the Havana book
fair was dedicated to Germany. At the last moment, the
German government, following the European position,
withdrew from the fair. In spite of that, many writers,
publishers and artists from Germany came to Cuba.

And they added another step. They would invite the
so-called dissidents to their official, diplomatic
functions like national holidays and so-on. In other words,
they tried to insult us. Not to have high level or
important contacts with the Cuban government and to put
those people [dissidents], those American agents, at the
same level as legitimate Cuban authority.

Our answer was simple. We cut off contacts with the
embassies here. We said we are prepared to wait the
necessary time. On a personal basis, I enjoyed this period.
It's a burden to attend these diplomatic functions like
receptions and diplomatic dinners if you have work to do.
Of course, we continued as before normal functions with
African, Asian and Latin American embassies in Havana. But
now the Europeans realize it was nonsense and are changing.

But more important, I said that Europe had followed Spanish
advice. That was when Mr. Aznar headed the conservative
government in Spain. In March, Spaniards elected a new
government, which withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq, and
proposed other progressive steps on women's rights, etc.
And regarding Cuba, the new government openly said it
wanted to change the Aznar policy. The socialists have a
more respectful and friendly approach. That was the source
of Europe's new position. Let's hope the EU will follow the
new Spanish counsel. By the way, it's as if we're still a
Spanish colony, which we're not. But I think we've turned
the page. I hope the Europeans have matured and will not
repeat that nonsense.

Landau directs digital media at Cal Poly Pomona University.
He is a fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. His new

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