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    Cubas Alarcon blames US for jailings

    Posted on Thu, Jun. 15, 2006

    FORT LAUDERDALE
    Cuba’s Alarcón blames U.S. for jailings
    The speaker of Cuba’s National Assembly answered questions at a Hispanic
    journalists conference via satellite from Havana.
    By OSCAR CORRAL
    ocorral@MiamiHerald.com

    It promised to be a face-off to ignite journalistic fireworks: prominent
    New York Times journalist Mirta Ojito grilling Ricardo Alarcón, the
    speaker of Cuba’s National Assembly, at the Hispanic journalists
    convention in Fort Lauderdale Wednesday.

    But while Ojito did ask questions that at times left the usually
    loquacious Alarcón fumbling for words and made him squirm, he said
    almost nothing that has not already been heard before from Cuban
    government officials.

    Even when asked why Cuba has more journalists in prison than any other
    country in the hemisphere, Alarcón managed to blame the United States.
    He went on to assert that civil rights are not abused in Cuba, Cuba’s
    socialist system trumps U.S. capitalism, and Cuba’s black population is
    well represented in the upper echelons of Cuba’s government.

    Alarcón gave his most passionate response when asked what role Cuban
    exiles will play in a post-Castro Cuba. He first said he looks forward
    to hostility ending between Washington and the Cuban government, so that
    Cubans can reunite. But he delivered a warning to exiles seeking to
    influence the Cuban government.

    ”There are some people who are still thinking in coming back to Cuba to
    recover their island, to recover their land, to recover their houses, to
    recover their properties, to govern us as representative of the U.S.
    government,” Alarcón said. “For that kind of people, I assure you, I
    swear to you, they will never have absolutely any role in this country
    again.”

    Alarcón spoke to the National Association of Hispanic Journalists via
    satellite from CNN’s Havana bureau. Wearing a dark suit, he sat with
    Havana’s skyline and shore as a backdrop. He spoke in accented English,
    but with enough eloquence to get his point across without resorting to
    Spanish.

    Ojito delivered tough questions from the moment she finished her brief
    greeting to the moment the satellite connection was cut an hour later.
    She began by asking Alarcón about the lack of press freedom in Cuba.

    ”Why do you continue to suppress freedom of the press in Cuba?” she said.

    Alarcón called the reports Ojito was citing ”inaccurate” and went on
    to blame the U.S. government for trying to promote anti-revolutionary
    ”propaganda” in Cuba.

    `HOSTILE CAMPAIGN’

    ”I think it is important to separate fact from fiction,” he said.
    “Cuba has been for a long time, for 47 years, subject to a hostile
    campaign by the U.S. government that has always included propaganda.”

    He then flashed a document, which he claimed was a declassified CIA
    report that he said proved the agency had spent money every year since
    the 1959 revolution to pay journalists in Cuba. ”The point is very
    simple,” he said. “Cuba has a right to protect its independence.”

    Ojito listed several imprisoned journalists in Cuba, and asked “What
    was their crime?”

    ”They were working for the U.S. government,” Alarcón said.

    At one point, Alarcón seemed taken aback after Ojito asked who would be
    Cuba’s enemy if the U.S. embargo suddenly were lifted, and whether he
    would allow debate and dissent.

    ”Cuba, of course, would make its own decisions,” he said.

    When speaking of black representation in Cuba’s government, which has
    been labeled by some human-rights groups as an apartheid-style regime
    that gives Cuba’s black population no real positions of power, Alarcón
    said, ”you have people that are blacker than my suit” in positions of
    power in Cuban institutions.

    ”Cuba is a civilized nation, it has a constitution, it has laws, please
    do not believe those propaganda ideas that we are backward,” Alarcón
    told the hundreds of journalists gathered at the Broward Center for the
    Performing Arts. Ojito, a former Miami Herald reporter who went on to
    write for The New York Times, now teaches a journalism class at Columbia
    University in New York. Last year, she published a book, Finding Mañana,
    a critically acclaimed nonfiction account of the Mariel Boatlift in
    1980. Ojito, who was born in Cuba, came to the United States on the
    boatlift.

    EXILES GATHER

    Representatives of several anti-Castro exile groups gathered outside the
    performing arts center in a show of solidarity with jailed journalists
    on the island. They held poster boards that highlighted the lack of
    press freedom in Cuba, with phrases such as ”second largest number of
    jailed journalists in the world” and with photographs of Cuban
    independent journalist Guillermo Fariñas, who is in critical condition
    after being on a hunger strike for several months to demand free access
    to the Internet.

    Manuel Vasquez Portal, an independent journalist who went into exile
    after being released from prison in 2004, was outside the venue wearing
    a Fariñas T-shirt.

    ”I’m free for one reason: because the groups outside didn’t forget
    about me and fought for the government to free me,” Vasquez Portal
    said. “Now it’s my turn to plead for my colleagues on the island.”

    http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/news/local/states/florida/counties/broward_county/14820712.htm

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