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Mariela Castro on Ending the Embargo & Swapping Cuban Five for Jailed U.S. Contractor Alan Gross

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Mariela Castro, daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro, calls on the U.S. to release five Cubans jailed for spying on anti-Cuban militants in Florida in exchange for Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen jailed in Cuba. The Cuban Five were convicted in 2001 for committing espionage in southern Florida. They say they weren’t spying on the U.S., but trying to monitor right-wing violent Cuban groups that have organized attacks on Cuba. “I want the Cuban Five to go back to Cuba and for Alan Gross to go home,” Castro says. “I want an end to the financial, commercial and economic blockade that violates the human rights of the Cuban people, and the normalization of relations between both countries.” [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We return to my conversation with Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro. I asked her about the Cuban Five, the five men convicted in 2001 for spying on violent anti-Castro militants in the United States.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] As part of the Cuban population, I am committed to fighting for the liberation of the five Cubans, in this case, four Cubans who are imprisoned and one who is out on probation in Miami. And, really, they are serving very severe sentences that do not correspond with the evidence. There is no evidence for such severe sentences. If they had been tried justly, they would have already completed their sentences. And yet, they are still prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: I dare say most Americans don’t even know who they are, why they’re in jail. Can you explain?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] It has been silenced because it is a kind of political vendetta. You know that Cuba, since the beginning of the revolution, has been the victim of terrorist attempts, organized and perpetrated by terrorist groups based in Miami of Cubans who have even confessed to be killers. They have confessed their crimes, even in books that have been published and in interviews on television. But they have not been brought to justice. However, Cuba has more than 5,000 victims of state terrorism between the dead and the wounded. Thus, as a society, as a sovereign nation, we have the right to defend ourselves, and we do it peacefully.

How? Infiltrating Cuban people who identify with the revolution, infiltrating them into these terrorist groups to alert the Cuban government as to when these terrorist attacks were going to take place, in order to be able to thwart the attempts and defend our population. These terrorist groups enjoy great economic and political power in Florida, and thus, judgments were made that violate the laws of the United States, and they were made in Miami by totally partial judges who oppose the process of the Cuban Revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: Would the Cuban government be open to a prisoner swap, the Cuban Five for Alan Gross, who has been imprisoned by the Cuban government?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] The Cuban government has expressed interest in finding a negotiated solution on humanitarian terms, and of course it is fully disposed to negotiate with the government of the United States. But it has not received any response.

AMY GOODMAN: Cuban-American Congress members in the United States have condemned the Obama administration for giving you a visa into the United States. Díaz-Balart, Congressman Díaz-Balart, said, “It is appalling that the Obama administration is welcoming high-level agents of the Castro dictatorship onto U.S. soil. While the Cuban people are struggling for basic freedoms in the face of increasingly brutal repression…”

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen says, “Mariela Castro is part of a ruthless dictatorship that has oppressed the Cuban people for more than half a century. She wants to spew [out] the lies and propaganda of her family’s failed regime and doesn’t want to answer questions from a free and independent media.”

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I am not going to respond to the mediocre yellow press that she tries to impose on me, which for 50 years has spread lies about the Cuban Revolution. I also want to say about these Cuban congresspeople that you mentioned, everyone in the United States and Cuba knows that they promote laws that violate the rights of Americans to travel to Cuba, that violate the rights of the Cuban community and Cuban descendants in the United States, who are 1.8 million people, to travel freely to Cuba to reunite with their families. These people are constantly promoting legislation that worsens the economic blockade. And with the revolutionary government of these more than 50 years, the Cuban people have found freedom and full justice.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve been allowed into the United States under the Bush administration.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I entered in 2002 for another congress in Los Angeles.

AMY GOODMAN: What would a lifting of the U.S. embargo against Cuba mean for your country, Mariela Castro?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In the first place, it would mean that the government of the United States would begin to respect international law. It would mean the beginning of the end of one of the worst human rights violations: that suffered by the Cuban people because of the blockade. For Cuba, it would mean access to development that has been limited by the blockade. And Americans and Cubans could meet in friendship, without the mediation of these unscrupulous congresspeople who manipulate the policy of the United States towards Cuba in service of their personal power and economic interests, and not in function of the necessities of the Cuban people both within Cuba and beyond.

AMY GOODMAN: Your father, President Castro, has been making a transition in Cuba. Can you talk about the changes that you think are most important for people in the United States to understand?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] One of the most important changes is that the new economic and social strategy has been designed with the full participation of all the Cuban population, who have participated in the debates, both to question the current reality as well as to propose what changes should be made.

AMY GOODMAN: There is a lot of discussion of a post-Castro Cuba. What do you think that would look like?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] The same—with the same strategy of socialist development, which is always looking for more efficient mechanisms to support social justice and national sovereignty, and also with new public figures, because there are many people participating in Cuba in all the decisions. So that would mean new faces for the media. But for Cubans, those faces would not be new.

AMY GOODMAN: Would you consider the presidency of Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] No. That job doesn’t interest me.


MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I like my job.

AMY GOODMAN: There are other socialist governments in Latin America—Bolivia, Venezuela—where there are elections. Would Cuba go in that direction?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think Cuba has publicly expressed what the mechanisms of popular election will be, and what is being proposed is to perfect them, not repeat what others do.

AMY GOODMAN: What would it look like?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] Well, how we do it now is through mechanisms of popular election. It is the people who nominate their leaders. Term limits have been established, and the president, my father, is included in these term limits. This has been the result of a collective discussion, to give opportunities to others, so that they assume their responsibilities. And the mechanisms of control are being perfected so that the people have access to the control of the mechanisms of power.

AMY GOODMAN: How is the health of your uncle, Fidel Castro?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I just want to add, in Cuba, we don’t have electoral campaigns, and the Communist Party doesn’t field candidates. And the leaders don’t receive an additional salary. And the legislators don’t receive an additional salary, because they are still doing their jobs. So positions of power in Cuba do not generate economic interests in people.

Fidel looks like he’s doing really well. He is an octogenarian, so he doesn’t have the same vitality that characterized him his whole life—that where there was a problem, Fidel was there with the people looking for solutions; that where there was a threat or danger, Fidel was right there in front of his people. Fidel is now giving us the privilege of his writing, of the writing of history. There are things that only he knows. And he is giving us a marvelous historical legacy that gives the Cuban people a spiritual strength that is priceless.

AMY GOODMAN: How did he manage to survive? I believe it’s more than 600 assassination attempts by the United States, at least hundreds. The CIA documents many of them.

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I think it was three things. First, his charisma and his sense of justice convinced even his executioners. Above all, he was the leader of the Cuban people, he is the maximum leader of the Cuban people, and the people have always protected him. But he is also a third world leader. And in the countries that he visited where they organized the attempts, mostly organized by the CIA, these same populations protected him.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your assessment of President Obama?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] President Obama represents an imperialist government and policy. So if you were to say to me, “Do you prefer him? Would you like him as a president?” I would say I would prefer a president who responds to the interests of the American people, who protects the poor from the arbitrary actions of the rich, and that respects international law. I have a very personal impression that Obama is a person who tries to be just. But while occupying the position of the presidency of the United States, it is very difficult to be just. However, I am a person who always likes to think positively, and I would like to believe that Obama in a second term will be a better human being and a better president.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned issues of poverty and equality. What is your assessment of the Occupy movement in the United States?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] It’s very interesting to me how the American population has found new languages and forms of struggle, a new language of struggle to fight for their social demands. And they do it peacefully and with deep reasoning. I don’t think they are against the government. They are against the policies that violate their rights. And I feel admiration for the courage of these people.

AMY GOODMAN: What would you like to see most change about the United States?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] I want the Cuban Five to go back to Cuba and for Alan Gross to go home. I want an end to the financial, commercial and economic blockade that violates the human rights of the Cuban people, and the normalization of relations between both countries.

AMY GOODMAN: And what would you like to see most change about Cuba?

MARIELA CASTRO: [translated] In Cuba, I want to see the socialist system strengthened with mechanisms that are always more participatory and democratic, and that the sovereignty of Cuba always be respected.

AMY GOODMAN: Mariela Castro, daughter of the Cuban president, Raúl Castro. She is the most prominent champion of gay, lesbian and transgender rights in Cuba. She called on the United States to release the five Cubans imprisoned here in the U.S. They were spying on anti-Cuban militants in the U.S. In exchange, she says, Cuba should release Alan Gross, a U.S. citizen jailed in Cuba.

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