By WILL WEISSERT | Associated Press
Ricardo Alarcon told The Associated Press in an interview late Wednesday night that no date has been set for immigration talks with the U.S., but he said that Raul Castro’s government hopes to expand the agenda to include environmental issues and efforts against terrorism, drug smuggling and natural disasters.
Yet Alarcon also called the U.S. “an ignorant lion,” criticizing the Supreme Court’s refusal this week to hear an appeal by the so-called “Cuban Five,” men convicted of being unregistered foreign agents by a Miami court in 2001. Their lawyers claim that anti-Castro sentiment kept them from receiving a fair trial in South Florida.
Cuban officials say the men were heroes trying to avert terrorist attacks on the island and they have held massive rallies for their freedom, plastered their faces on billboards and commissioned songs, poems and paintings in their honor. Alarcon said the government will continue campaigning on their behalf, but he suggested that their legal status won’t impede U.S.-Cuban talks.
“We share the sentiments of many who feel insulted by that decision, but I don’t see why one necessarily has to affect the other,” Alarcon said when asked if the high court’s move could spoil negotiations.
The five were sentenced to terms that ranged from 10 years to life in prison. Three were also found guilty of conspiracy to obtain military secrets from the U.S. Southern Command.
A three-judge federal appeals court panel reversed their convictions in 2005, but the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later reinstated them, ordering new sentences for two of the men in coming months.
Alarcon said the men’s freedom will be “at the top” of any list of priorities in talks with U.S. leaders, adding that President Barack Obama “has a moral obligation” to pardon the five if he really wants improved relations with Cuba and Latin America.
Still, he acknowledged that Obama has a clear desire for improved U.S.-Cuban ties, and noted that “there is an obvious change in language” in Washington, even if some people are “working to try and sabotage that.”
Cuba’s parliament meets just two weekends a year, when its members do little more than unanimously back measures proposed by Castro’s government. Still, Alarcon is one of the island’s most-public faces. He lived in the U.S. for years as Cuba’s ambassador to the United Nations, and answered questions on Wednesday partly in English.
Alarcon also suggested that the June 4 arrest of two new accused Cuban spies, retired State Department official Walter Kendall Myers and his wife, was intended to undermine improved relations between the neighboring nations.
“The administration makes traveling to Cuba easier for Cuban Americans and Congress is discussing the elimination of travel restrictions for everyone, and suddenly this strange case pops up,” he said, calling it something “out of a police novel.”
The pair is not believed to have been paid, but rather to have been ideological supporters of the communist-run island.
“Cuba does not buy spies,” he said. “They don’t do it for money.”