Alarcón's gift for excuses reveals failures

June 18, 2006

Miami Herald- Ana Menendez

Ricardo Alarcón, the president of Cuba's national assembly, is an immensely entertaining and gifted man.

It's not easy explaining Fidel Castro, and a less-experienced performer might have flubbed it. In Alarcón's hands, the difficult task was transformed Wednesday night into a thing of beauty.

Is the old comandante sick, senile or suffering from Parkinson's? None of the above, a suave Alarcón assured those gathered in Broward for the annual convention of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists.

'I would say that Fidel Castro is very, very strong and healthy,' said Alarcón via satellite, a sheen of sweat over his upper lip helping to enhance his humanlike persona. ``More than you could imagine.'

And so it went, a 45-minute interview with journalist Mirta Ojito that touched on Cuban history and U.S. immigration policies while providing important insights into Cuba's political philosophy, the complex and carefully constructed ideology that can be summed up in three little words: Not our fault.


Cuba doesn't have open Internet access? It's the fault of the United States.

Cuba jails journalists? No, it doesn't.

Cuba has a housing crisis? I know you are, but what am I?

At one point, Ojito relayed a question from the audience: The Damas de Blanco want to know when you're going to release their husbands.

Alarcón's answer: ``When will the U.S. government put an end to a policy of genocide of pretending to destroy these people by starvation, by hunger, as is clearly reflected in this volume . . . ?'

And thereupon Alarcón produced one of his props from 1959, a declassified U.S. report on American shenanigans in Havana. It would have been much easier to just answer, ``Never!'

But the Cuban Revolution has never offered straight answers, only convoluted excuses. Poverty, illness, housing shortages, plague, athlete's foot -- everything bad that happens to Cuba is the fault of the United States, specifically the embargo, that misguided policy that Alarcón variously referred to as 'ineffective' and a tool of ``genocide.'

Victims sooner or later fall in love with their own suffering, and Cubans -- on both sides and for widely disparate reasons -- are no exception. But few nations have managed to turn victimhood into so profitable and enduring an art form.

This is not to argue the quality of pain or the merits of the claims to suffering. But self-pity has a way, in individuals as in nations, of stunting the capacity for self-reflection.

Reasoned debate about Cuba is all but impossible because competing versions of victimhood -- each with its own constituency -- have formed a logic-resistant force field.


Alarcón raised some good points that are worth talking about, specifically the skewed U.S. immigration policy that gives preference to politically motivated 'exiles' from Cuba over economically motivated 'immigrants' from Mexico.

He was sometimes funny, even gracious. And he was self-assured and well-spoken in the way of all professionals who are called upon to defend impossible positions.

But most of his answers revealed an infantile weakness for excuses and a mentality stuck 50 years in the past.

In the end, listening to Alarcón for 45 minutes was like being cornered at a party by the 47-year-old loser who still blames his parents for everything that went wrong in his life.

In this case, though, the dialogue served a higher purpose. It's hard to imagine a better way to illustrate the failures of a society that insulates itself from internal criticism. And for that reason alone, the evening was a success.

Instead of protesting Alarcón's interview Wednesday night, exiles should invite him back to speak every week.

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