Carter calls for changes in US policy, cooperation between US and Cuban scientists

By John Rice, The Associated Press
Saturday May 18, 2002

HAVANA — Jimmy Carter ended a historic visit to Cuba Friday sharply at odds with the Bush administration over how to deal with Fidel Castro. The former president said limits on tourism and trade often hurt Americans more than Cubans. 

“I think an American private citizen or an American company should have the right to visit any place on earth and the right to trade with any other purchaser or supplier on earth,” Carter told a news conference immediately before leaving Cuba. 

“I see the embargo and travel restraints as an imposition on the human rights of American citizens,” he added. 

Castro, wearing a military uniform for the first time since Carter’s arrival, personally came to bid farewell to the American president. 

Carter was the most prominent American political figure to visit Cuba since Castro’s 1959 revolution, and the Cuban leader gave him unprecedented freedom to speak to the Cuban people. He used it to bluntly describe the country as undemocratic and to repeatedly publicize a dissident campaign that most Cubans had never before heard of. 

But Carter also said the basic pillars of U.S. policy toward the island had been counterproductive failures. 

Carter said that cooperation rather than isolation would help prevent problems, such as the allegation of Cuban aid for biological warfare programs made this month by Bush administration officials. 

Aides have said that Bush will reassert and strengthen central parts of U.S. policy on Monday, the 100th anniversary of Cuba’s independence from Spain. 

Carter said he would report the results of his six-day trip to Bush, “expressing my opinion and the opinions of the dissident groups about U.S. policy toward Cuba. 

“It may be that President Bush would consider those opinions,” he said. 

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer this week said Bush believes the 40-year-old trade embargo is a “vital part of America’s foreign policy and human rights policy toward Cuba.” 

Outside activists who advise the White House also suggested this week that Bush would propose increased funding for Cuban dissidents. 

Carter, who met with about 30 prominent dissident leaders, said they told him such a policy would create an “undeserved stigma.” 

They would welcome nongovernment aid, Carter said, but “they expressed deep concern about any assistance that was identified as coming directly or indirectly from the U.S. government, or any declaration by the U.S. government that official funds were being channeled to them. 

The former president praised Cuba for helping other poor nations produce treatments for killer diseases, and he argued that “complete cooperation” between U.S. and contacts between U.S. and Cuban scientists would help ensure that transferred technology was not being misused. 

“I think the routine and constant exchange of scientific knowledge and experiments and research would almost totally preclude any possibility for illicit uses of discoveries or knowledge in this field,” Carter said. 

The Bush administration has expressed concern that Cuba was giving renegade nations technology that could be used to develop biological warfare. 

Carter said Castro had offered to open his laboratories to inspection and suggested the offer be accepted. 

If Cubans were encouraged by Carter’s call for closer relations with the United States — many have relatives there — many also were stunned to hear his blunt talk about democracy broadcast over state television and published in communist party newspapers. 

The first current or former U.S. president to visit the island, Carter made similar statements as he left. 

He said that Cuba “retains the system of having just one party where criticism of the party’s policy is a crime, and where citizens are punished for openly expressing their views that differ from those of the government, and (where there is) the inability for workers to form their own organizations. Things of this kind draw a line between Cuba on one side and all the other nations of the hemisphere on the other.” 

During his own term in office from 1977 to 1981, Carter said, “I felt the best way to make changes in Cuba peacefully was through maximum contacts between our two countries.” 

Yet in the CNN interview, Carter said he did not expect his visit to cause policy changes by Castro. 

“He wants to maintain complete control of the system and not take any chance that dissidents or disagreeing groups could gain enough support to endanger his power as undisputed leader of the Cuban government,” Carter said. 

“I don’t see any change in the future in his willingness to permit dissident expressions from Cubans,” Carter added, “but I think he has been amazingly gracious in letting my views, highly critical on occasion, be expressed.”