Carter hopes to spur change with visit to Cuba
Trip, at Castro's invitation, concerns regime's foes in U.S.
By TRACEY EATON / The Dallas Morning News
HAVANA – Former President Jimmy Carter says he would like to journey to
what would be the first visit by a former or sitting American president in more than
Mr. Carter on Friday wouldn't confirm that he will take the trip, but he
Judy Woodruff that "the best way to bring about democratic changes in Cuba is
obviously to have maximum commerce and trade and visitation by Americans and
others who know freedom."
"That's the best way to bring about change and not to punish the Cuban
themselves by imposing an embargo on them, which makes Castro seem to be a
hero because he is defending his own people against the abuse of Americans."
If Mr. Carter does venture into Cuba, it would be one of the most watched
the island since Pope John Paul II traveled there four years ago.
"It would be momentous for a former American president to go to Cuba,"
Wilhelm, director of Puentes Cubanos, a Miami exile group. "I'm sure the Bush
administration will pay very close attention to what he says."
Cuban President Fidel Castro invited Mr. Carter to the island in October
the two met during the state funeral for Pierre Trudeau, a Cuban official said. Both
were friends of the former Canadian prime minister.
Mr. Castro repeated the invitation in January as part of what some analysts
concerted effort by the Cubans to court high-profile Americans who oppose the
longtime ban on trade with Cuba.
If the trip comes through, it would likely happen this year, according
to the Carter
Center in Atlanta.
But Mr. Castro's foes are concerned.
Mr. Carter "is a man of good intentions," said Joe Garcia, director of
American National Foundation, a powerful anti-Castro lobbying group in Miami. "But
I worry about him ... dealing with a dictatorship as ferocious as the Castro regime.
We shouldn't be legitimizing this regime."
Mr. Garcia contends that Mr. Carter, as president, was naïve. He points
when Mr. Carter said that Cubans who didn't want to stay on the island would be
welcome in the United States, unleashing a wave of 125,000 rafters – including
prisoners and mental patients – who swarmed South Florida.
Still, Mr. Garcia said, he doesn't oppose a Carter trip and said he'd even
airfare if Mr. Carter genuinely tries to bring about change. That is, a government
without Mr. Castro.
Sally Grooms Cowal, president of the Cuba Policy Foundation, whose goal
the U.S. ban on trade with the island, said the former president "is certainly not a
fool. He won't go to be taken advantage of."
"He's very carefully considering how he can be most helpful to the United
to Cuba. He's been listening to a lot of people. He's trying to get all sides."
The former Georgia governor was inaugurated as president on Jan. 20, 1977.
than two months later – on March 19, 1977 – he lifted the ban on American travel to
Cuba. And within the next three months, the two countries opened "Interests
Sections," offices that aren't formal embassies, but deal mostly with trade and
It was the beginning of the normalization of diplomatic relations. But
it didn't get
much further, in part because Cuba maintained troops in Angola and because Mr.
Carter lost the 1980 election to Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Carter said later that if he had won, he would have pushed for better
Mr. Reagan re-established the travel ban in April 1982. And in the years
followed, U.S. policy toward Cuba has only gotten tougher.
In 1995, Mr. Carter and others from his center in Atlanta met with Cuban
try to push for some kind of dialogue between the exiles and Castro loyalists. But it
didn't lead to any significant changes.
Undeterred, the former president kept up his interest in Cuba. And over
he's been very critical of U.S. policy toward the socialist regime.
In January 1997, for instance, he lashed out against the Helms-Burton act,
attempts to penalize foreign companies that do business with Cuba. "One of the
worst mistakes my country has ever made," Mr. Carter called it.
In any case, a Carter visit to Cuba probably would be controversial and
unpopular in some quarters.
In a January Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll, only 28 percent of 4,053
surveyed thought that Mr. Carter should accept Mr. Castro's invitation.
Cuban author and scholar Marta Rojas said the last American president to
was Calvin Coolidge. On Jan. 16, 1928, he spoke to the Sixth International
Conference of American States in Havana.
Among the other politicians to visit was William Rufus King, who was elected
president in 1852 and then traveled to Cuba to recover from tuberculosis. He was so
sick that Congress allowed him to take the oath of office from Cuba on March 4,
1853. But he died shortly after his return to the United States.
As vice president, Richard Nixon traveled to Cuba and met with Mr. Castro in 1959.
What Mr. Carter wants to accomplish is to bring "trade, investments" and
American travel to Cuba, Ms. Grooms Cowal said. That, she said, "will pave the way"
for a democratic system.
An official with Cuba's Foreign Ministry had no comment. Nor did the State
Department. In Monterrey, Mexico, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said
Friday that he was aware of news reports that Mr. Carter was considering a trip to
Cuba. But he had no comment on the matter.
Still, ordinary Cubans said they're intrigued.
"Carter's visit will be a beautiful happening that will undoubtedly create
speculation in both Cuba and the United States," said Aramis Perdomos Nodarse,
30, a Havana security guard.
"The worms in Miami [as Castro loyalists describe their foes] will create