- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 31, 2003

GENEVA — Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, dismissing U.S. charges that Cuba is developing weapons of mass destruction as the words of a “liar,” says Bush administration policies have made the risk of U.S. invasion “a real, present danger for us.”

Mr. Alarcon, a former foreign minister and one of the founders of the Cuban Revolution, took strong exception to remarks by Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton.

Mr. Bolton on Dec. 2 named Cuba along with Iran, North Korea, Syria and Libya as rogue states “whose pursuit of weapons of mass destruction makes them hostile to U.S. interests [and who] will learn that their covert programs will not escape either detection or consequences.”

“He’s a liar,” Mr. Alarcon said of Mr. Bolton during a recent interview in Geneva.

Noting that the United States had cited Saddam Hussein’s suspected weapons programs as justification for the invasion of Iraq, he said: “The risk of [Cuba] being attacked at this time — when preventive attacks have become a new American doctrine — is a real, present danger for us.”

Successive U.S. administrations have pressured the communist regime in Cuba to abandon its one-party state model and allow the nation of 11 million to embrace democracy, private enterprise and human rights.

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, have repeatedly said when asked about the possibility of using military force against Cuba that they were not considering it “at this moment.”

But Mr. Alarcon noted that Mr. Powell “did not say Cuba is excluded.”

“That is a very aggressive statement,” he said.

Mr. Alarcon, 66, also said there have been other tough statements from the U.S. administration, including an Oct. 10 declaration from President Bush that “clearly the Castro regime will not change by its own choice, but Cuba must change.”

Perhaps, Mr. Alarcon said, “Some people within this administration are interested in building up, creating an atmosphere that may be conducive to use military force against us.”

The Cuban parliamentary leader said Mr. Bush’s statement amounted to a call for “regime change imposed from outside.”

“That is exactly what they have done in Iraq. It is finally recognized that those are the real motivations, and not this joke about WMDs and the various excuses they use sometimes. We have to prepare ourselves. We do not play games with that. It’s very crucial for us.”

However, Mr. Alarcon said, it does not appear for the time being “that the U.S. would be prepared to get involved in another military mess.”

The national-assembly chief also accused Washington of refusing to cooperate with Havana in the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking.

He said that after the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington, the United States had responded to Cuban proposals for talks with a flat “no.”

“They do not want to cooperate with us in the struggle against terrorists,” he said, adding, “They do not act against the chief American terrorists that operate freely from Miami.”

The latter was an apparent reference to Cuban exiles in the United States who have on occasion flown or sailed into Cuban airspace and territorial waters on rescue missions and to drop anti-Castro leaflets.

Mr. Alarcon said he was sure the Cuban Revolution would survive beyond the death of its chief architect, President Fidel Castro.

The average age of members of the National Assembly is just 43, he said, and the country has hundreds of thousands of technicians, scientists and university graduates.

“This is not Yugoslavia. Cuba will not break away. We are a unified country in cultural terms, in technical terms, in every sense.”

Asked whether the Castro regime had any plans to ease the plight of nearly 80 dissidents who were arrested and jailed in 2003, Mr. Alarcon charged that their efforts had been “organized by the U.S. government, paid by the U.S. government” and that the dissidents would therefore be tried as agents of a foreign government.

On a rare positive note, Mr. Alarcon praised a migration agreement with the United States that guarantees U.S. visas to 20,000 Cubans every year.

“We see [it] as a positive thing … because you have people who want to join their families or who want to have an opportunity in another country,” he said.

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