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Interview with MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO for Take AIM – April 8, 2010
ROGER ARONOFF: So we are going to, right away, get in with our next guest. We have Maria Conchita Alonso on the line. Are you there, Maria?
MARIA CONCHITA ALONSO: Yes, I am. Good morning!
ARONOFF: Good morning. Great to have you on with us.
ALONSO: Likewise! Thank you!
ARONOFF: Maria Conchita Alonso was born in Cuba, but raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She was crowned Miss Teenager of the World in 1971 and Miss Venezuela in 1975. She became a popular actress in Latin America, and a popular singer, with three Grammy nominations. In 1982, she came to the U.S., and made her Hollywood film debut in 1984, in Paul Mazursky’s Moscow on the Hudson, opposite Robin Williams—a movie that many of us fondly remember! And in 1995, she was playing Aurora/Spider Woman in a Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman, making her the first South American woman to star on Broadway. So tell us a little about your family’s journey. What were the circumstances under which they left Cuba, and why did they go to Venezuela?
ALONSO: Yes, well, we left—my parents always knew who Fidel Castro was. He came in and he lied to everybody, saying that he was not a Communist, but my parents knew about him, because he went to school at the same school where my uncles went. So he was a revolutionary since school. So we left Cuba because my parents didn’t want us to be brainwashed, which is what they do in Communist countries, and it’s what they’re now doing in public schools in Venezuela. So we moved to Venezuela because I had an aunt and a grandmother there, and said ‘This is an amazing country the freedom is very similar to the Cubans’,’ and that’s why we moved there. So you can imagine what—for me it’s hard, but it’s even harder for the generation of my parents and grandparents because they’re going through this a second time.
ARONOFF: Well, the reason we invited you on today was because we saw your open letter to Sean Penn. I’m going to play a little clip of Sean Penn, who was recently on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he made some comments that obviously got you a little upset. So I’m going to first play his clip, and then we’ll come right back to you.
ALONSO: Okay. Perfect.
ARONOFF: All right . . .
SEAN PENN: I think that if you’re more happy with twenty percent of a population having the access to dreams, access to feeling that they have an identity and a voice, if it’s okay, twenty percent versus the eighty percent he gave it to, then you can criticize Hugo Chavez. Who do you know here that’s gone through fourteen of the most transparent elections in the globe, and been elected democratically, as Hugo Chavez? Every day this elected leader is called a dictator here, and just we accept it. And accept it—and this is mainstream media, who should—truly there should be a bar by which they—one goes to prison for these kinds of lies.
ARONOFF: So where to start?
ALONSO: Well—there’s so much that I don’t think we’ll have time to do this!
ARONOFF: “Fourteen transparent elections.” In your letter you refer to a U.S. State Department report, written in 2009, entitled “The Fraudulent Elections in Venezuela.”
ARONOFF: Tell us a little about that, about—
ALONSO: You know, I have to agree that the first time he was elected democratically. People needed a change, and they believed in him—he lied, like most people do, like him, and like Fidel Castro did, and then he started showing his true colors. He changed the constitution so he could be reelected as many times as he wants, and then—the common elections, it was all fraud, you They say the second time that there were elections, it seems like he won, he won, but then, after that, for sure he did not, you know? And there is proof—and then he changed the constitution to do whatever he wants, so when I heard Sean say that he’s only talking about what, what he’s been told by Chavez. When he goes to Venezuela, he’s always surrounded by Chavez and his people. They only show him what they want him to see. He doesn’t have the freedom to go about and find out for himself—because he could be also killed. So he’s very well protected and what I say also in the letter, Chavez controls the whole country. He controls the supreme court, the Congress, the executive government so—how would we like this country, whoever is the president, like, now Obama, control absolutely everything? I mean, everything is done by what Hugo wants. Sean has no right to do this, because although he is helping Haiti, and he did help in New Orleans or whatever, he is hurting us by saying all these things that he doesn’t know that they’re true, you know?
ARONOFF: Right. You said to him, in the letter, “Why do you defend a government whose stronghold upon its people is so oppressive that a big price is paid for exercising freedom of speech: persecutions, closing of radio and television stations, jail . . . and even death?” What’s Hugo Chavez doing to the media? What is he doing—
ALONSO: Chavez owns 92% of media communications, and that little bit percentage that is left, they’re threatened every day. That little percentage still talks, but they speak because they have guts, you know? Because they are threatened. And a couple of days ago, a week ago, ten days ago, this very big guy, politician in Venezuela, Oswaldo Paz, he went to jail because one of these—the only network that speaks the truth, he spoke about facts of the connections of Venezuela with terrorism; with Iran; with ETA, which is in Spain; with FARC, who is in Colombia. And the DEA, which is the Drug Enforcement—people that, internationally, they’re not allowed to go to Venezuela. So what this man was saying, is, if nothing of this is true, why don’t you allow the DEA—I don’t know how you say it in English—to go into Venezuela and prove to them that all these are lies, you know?
ALONSO: So people go to jail in Venezuela for speaking the truth. Our freedom of speech has been hurt. Our human rights have been hurt every single day. And for someone, then, as respected as an actor, as is Sean Penn, and as loved by many, to say these things, it really, really hurts us, because it is not true.
ARONOFF: One more quote from your letter. You ask him, you say, “You are the product of a Jewish father.”
ARONOFF: “Then why is your fascination with a government that has overtly stated its hatred against the Jewish community worldwide, to the extent that the State of Israel condemned anti-Semitic attacks in Venezuela? Do you think it’s fair that many Jewish-Venezuelan families have emigrated because the Chavez government robbed their personal files when their temples and offices were under attack in 2008?”
ARONOFF: Tell us a little bit more about that. What are they doing to the Jewish community there?
ALONSO: We saw it on the news, how they went into their temples, and they wrote horrible things, and they stole their sacred books, and in there—it was all the main Jewish community of the country were there. So of course people got scared, and they left the country. Lately I haven’t seen that he’s done anything against them, but that did happen, and also, you know, I’m very concerned because this doesn’t only hurt Venezuela, but all of Latin America, and not only Latin America, but United States, also. He’s doing business with Putin.
ARONOFF: Vladimir Putin.
ALONSO: Yes, Putin. And with Ahmadinejad. You know, he’s buying guns and planes and everything. And, you know, his main objective is also to—he hates this country. And slowly he is coming into this country and is quietly indoctrinating people here. How does he do that? With money. Because, you know, like, he helped the African-Americans in New York with buying heaters so in the winter they’re not cold. If someone does that, but that person is helping also his country, then that’s an amazing, wonderful thing to do—to help others. I’m the first one who’s there, always, to help. But you first have to help your own blood, your family. And after your family is well, then you can go out and help others. So—but people don’t know this. They just see, oh, he’s helping us. He has built houses in Cuba, and in Venezuela poverty has increased amazingly. He’s built electronic—I don’t know how to say it, how do you say it?—in Cuba he’s helped with—
ARONOFF: Surveillance? Or—
ALONSO: He’s helping Cuba also with electricity, and in Venezuela we’ve never had that before. Every single day the light goes off, the electricity goes off—
ARONOFF: Oh, okay.
ALONSO: —there’s no water, there’s a shortage of everything. So my point here is that he is not helping other countries because he’s a good man, but to buy them.
ALONSO: This is a very soft way of indoctrinating people, of brainwashing people.
ARONOFF: So let me ask you: Has Sean Penn responded to your letter? Have you heard anything either directly or indirectly?
ALONSO: Well not really, but I do have a friend that gave the letter to his manager, and to his publicist, and he told me that they were, that he was also going to put the letter on his desk at the office that he has in San Francisco. So of course he knows about it, but I don’t—
ALONSO: He’s either trying to find answers to all my questions—that are facts—which he won’t find anything differently than what I wrote. If he finds something differently, it’s maybe even more death than what I wrote, because what we wrote in my letter of how many people die in Venezuela daily, weekly, a year, it’s only because that’s what we found, you know, on paper, on the Internet, and—but remember, Venezuela controls everything, so those numbers also could have been changed. So we went on the low side of it, you know, not on what we’ve been told, which is more—but since we don’t have those proofs of what we wrote is more the percentage, we had to go for what we read, you know, we found.
ARONOFF: Right. Well, I would like to extend an invitation: If Sean Penn would like to come on this show and debate you about this, we would be happy to turn over our whole hour to such an event, and—
ALONSO: That would be fantastic! I even want to do this with Bill Maher’s show.
ALONSO: That would be a perfect place to go, both of us, you know?
ALONSO: But, ah I don’t think [that] will happen.
ARONOFF: Let me ask you about something else. What about this ad campaign in which Joseph Kennedy, son of former Senator Robert Kennedy, praises Citgo, which is owned by Venezuela, and he—the people of Venezuela, for providing cheap fuel to people in the U.S.?
ALONSO: Yes, that’s again going back to what I just said, you know? I mean, he’s doing that to control, and sadly, when you have so much money, you know, you can do whatever you want. Because this man has a lot, a lot of billions of dollars, and you know, it’s harder to, you know, prove things when you have the power of money. And that’s what we’re going through. But we keep fighting, and I think the best way to fight is not insulting others—although I used to do that when I was younger!—but I guess I grew out of it, and I understood that the best way is to prove it with facts, to speak, you know, very calmly, because if not, it becomes like a screaming match, and no one’s going to hear the other side, you know? So, again, I say, this is an egotistic man, this Chavez guy. Everything—all he wants is for him, he doesn’t care about anything, and he’s just buying all the countries, and its politicians, and people, with all the money that he has. Sadly, that’s what we’re going through.
ARONOFF: So many people in Hollywood are certainly on the left politically. We were talking about Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Michael Moore, Danny Glover offer high praise to Chavez, and to Castro and Raúl Castro, and in particular we see a lot of, sort of glorification of Che Guevara. Why do they think it’s okay to praise and defend people like that? And tell us what you think about Che Guevara.
ALONSO: Well, let’s start with Che Guevara. You know, he was a myth that was built very well. You know that is the problem, that Communist people know—have an amazing PR in their hands. They know how to do this much better than us. And we have to learn how to fight them with words, also, like they do. It’s hard for me to say why these people, these individuals that you mentioned do that. Some of them are naive; others could have been bought; others believe, maybe like him, in total control. And so I really don’t know what to say, because I do have many friends in Hollywood that although we think differently, politically speaking, they do know who Chavez is and they do believe how harmful he is not only for Latin America but also for United States. So hopefully it’s just a small group of people here that are on his side. But, sadly, they’re a big, strong, powerful group of small people that speak in favor of him!
ALONSO: But this is an everyday battle, and we’re not going to stop. You know sometimes the “Chavistas”—it’s what we call the people that fall with Chavez—insult me, saying, ‘It’s very easy, yeah, you don’t live here, you don’t know,’ and, yes, I don’t live in Venezuela anymore, but I have family that lives there. My best friends live there. I watch the only network that shows the truth every day. I read the news. I read the E-mails of all my friends that live there. I mean, I do know what’s happening, and people like Sean, they don’t. You know?
ALONSO: So we just have to keep going at it. We just have to be very intelligent doing this because these people are very intelligent in the way they brainwash. Che Guevara was an assassin. He didn’t care for the poor. He also was an egotistical man. And he would send people to be killed in firing squads. But he was portrayed as a savior of the poor, which is not true at all. And then what—capitalism, which is what they always are talking against—these people are more capitalist than me, than us! Because I believe there are good capitalists, and bad capitalists. The bad ones are the ones that speak against it, but they live like capitalists, you know? And they want only all the money for them. And they really don’t help, but they criticize those who have money and live well, although they do—they live like that. So it’s Che Guevara’s, everything that they—all the T-shirts and the hats and the posters and the pens, and everything that you sell with his image—that’s big capitalism!
ALONSO: All that money—
ARONOFF: How do you react when you see someone walking down the street with one of those T-shirts on?
ALONSO: Oh, my God, I used to react a little bit harsh, but I understand now that many of them don’t know the truth. Because they’re young kids, mostly and they don’t read, and they just believe these lies. But what we have to do is educate. You know? And with Che Guevara, the majority believe that he’s a good person. Even in Venezuela—before Chavez came, they all thought that he was an amazing man. But now, because they’ve been living this hell for eleven years now—which, by the way, Chavez just said that he was planning to stay in eleven more, which he can very well do, because he controls everything in the country.
ARONOFF: Right. We’re starting to run out of time, but let me get in a few more things, and some quick answers. Have your political views affected the amount of work you get in Hollywood, and is there any sort of a blacklist in effect for people who share your views?
ALONSO: Well, I’m going to start a pilot of a sitcom next week, so that means they’ll take me there, thank God!
ALONSO: I could believe that, yes, that could harm me, but it would harm me only with those that are close-minded and are extreme leftists, and that do not want to believe. But at the same time, that should not stop me, because fear is one of the main enemies, natural enemies that a human being has. And if you stop doing things because of fear, that’s when you are destroyed. So I can’t think of that. I have to follow my heart. I have to follow my beliefs, which I grew up with. I lived it, it’s not something that I just read and that is happening now. No, since I was born, this has been part of my life, and I do believe that when you do good, even though at the moment that might hurt you, on the long run it will not, you know?
ARONOFF: Right. I know you openly campaigned for John McCain in 2008. Is the Hollywood love affair with President Obama as strong as it was a year ago, or do you see any diminishing of it?
ALONSO: Many of my friends in Hollywood voted for Obama, and a few of them that I’ve spoken to, because now that’s a subject that I don’t really want to get with them, you know?
ALONSO: But many—the few of them that I’ve spoken to, they’re not as in love now as they were before. But again, you have to experience. You have to go through things to then believe what’s true or not. Sadly, that’s the case. Until it happens to you, until they touch your family, your kids, your home, your present, and they want to take control of your future and your spirit and your mind, then you won’t wake up.
ARONOFF: What about the Latino community towards Obama? When they see how he is sort of trying to warm up to Castro and all that, are they strongly for him? And then with the issue of immigration, all that—we can’t really get into that now—but just, the general relationship, between the Latino community and Obama. How do you see that?
ALONSO: Well, the Latino community—in my case, the Cubans—the majority, you know, some of them, believe it or not, did—vote for him, but the majority of the Cuban Americans are not with him. And then the Venezuelans, again, some of the Venezuelans that live here now, that could vote, voted for him, but the majority also didn’t. So it’s a mixture. I was very much, sending E-mails and everything: ‘You guys, this is what happens! But until you experience it—I’m repeating myself—you really don’t understand what can happen.
ARONOFF: So, very quickly: Any final thoughts of yours? We’re just about out of time, I need to wrap it up here, but give me your final thoughts, and, briefly—do you have a website that people can come to?
ALONSO: Well, I do, yeah; my final thought is that we always have to fight with words, and not insulting others, with what we believe is true. We cannot allow anyone to control you—that’s the only thing that you own for real, it’s you. And so we have to keep fighting for us to be the owners of our lives, our present, and our future. The kids should be our decisions, what we do with our children, not a government decision.
ARONOFF: And your website?
ALONSO: And my website is mariaconchitaalonso.com
ARONOFF: Our guest has been Maria Conchita Alonso, a star of stage, screen, records, and a great spokesman for her cause. We thank you so much for being with us on Take AIM, and hopefully we’ll be in touch another time!
ALONSO: And I thank you, to you also. And have a wonderful day, until another time!
ARONOFF: Thank you, and that’s going to be it for today. So long!