I’ll have a fuller report on Rudy Giuliani’s appearance at the Latino Coalition in Washington in a little bit, but I’ll first report that he was greatly overshadowed by the preceding speaker.
Maria Conchita Alonso is probably best known as an actress and a singer, but the Cuban-born entertainer grew up in Venezuela, and is a vociferous opponent of that country’s strongman ruler, Hugo Chavez.
She began by pointing out she deliberately wore red, and that the color and May Day were meant to be a celebration for workers, not for the Communist party. “We cannot let terrorists dictate our lives, so why acknowledge their claims and allow them to own a color red for a day? I wear red not in solidarity, but in protest of them!”
Then Alonso ripped into Castro and Chavez with a rare combination of ferocity and wit. She told of leaving Cuba as a child with her family to start a new life in Venzuela, with her mother hiding money, jewelry, and even the family dog on the way out of the country. As Latino Coalition President Robert de Posada noted, “She lost her first home country to communism, and she refuses to let it happen again.”
I saw her on the way in, mentioning to one of the event organizers that she was nervous. We’ve all seen celebrities get involved with political causes and suspected that it was a p.r. exercise; with Alonso, her passion – and anger – over these dictators was deep, genuine and obvious.
Maybe she had a terrific speechwriter, but she managed to cover a lot of ground in describing Chavez’s crimes – his closure and strong-arming of independent media and news agencies, his purchase and use of Russian spy equipment against his own people. The portrait of the dictator was that of a man both brazen — his regime took pictures of an anti-Chavez march, changed the slogans on banners (using Photoshop or some similar technique) and used it as a propaganda illustration of popular support – and brutal, as Alonso noted that Chavez’ “blonde ex-wife was constantly black and blue.”
“Even as a teenager, I wondered why John Lennon wore Mao jacket,” she said, lamenting that Che is a popular t-shirt icon today. She suggested it was a triumph of appearance over substance: “If this man looked like Al Bundy [from the old Fox sitcom Married With Children], would teenage girls still be wearing his t-shirt?”
“When celebrities visit Castro and do not speak out, he gains a great propaganda advantage,” she said. “I wonder if anyone told Robert Reford, “your films are all heavily edited on Cuban television.’ And we know all directors like to have the last cut.”
When a heckler stood up to contend that Chavez had been good for the poor of Venezuela, Alonso noted that the heckler enjoys rights to interrupt and speak freely here in America that she would not under Chavez’s rule.
Referring to the former President’s thumbs-up regarding the last “election,” she declared, “Jimmy Carter, who I respect, should stick to counting peanuts, not votes.”
If the Republicans are wise, they’ll invite Alonso to speak in the 2008 convention on this topic in prime-time. She’s that good. (Oh, did I mention she’s still strikingly, pick-your-jaw-off-the-floor beautiful?)