Interview with Ricardo Alarcon (Part I)
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 issue.
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 implications.
Landau: You had mentioned before that the U.S. is declining.
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 resume friendly relations.
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 â€œillegalâ€ 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.
** Ricardo Alarcon Quesada is Cuba's Vice President and President of its National Assembly
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