President Carter had a very full 48 hours in Cuba – walking tours, interviews, press conferences, meetings with Raul Castro, Fidel Castro, dissidents, bloggers, Alan Gross, diplomats and international organization representatives in Havana, Cardinal Ortega, the Jewish community, and more. He says he hopes to return soon with all 36 members of his extended family.
As in his 2002 visit, he demonstrated that it’s possible to engage directly with top Cuban officials and at the same time to advocate for human rights. He gave a press conference and an interview on Cuban television, the transcripts of which are printed on pages 3-5 of today’s Granma (see here).
He began the press conference by referring to conversations he had about the upcoming Communist Party Congress and the many changes that are now being made to the policy document that will be under discussion. He said (my translation):
“I hope that in the future this can be added to those documents, that there be complete freedom for all Cubans to express themselves, to meet, and to travel, according to international human rights standards that apply in Cuba.”
He also called for an end to the embargo, removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, the release of Alan Gross (“a man I believe to be innocent of being a serious threat to the Cuban people and government”), and the release and return of the Cuban Five (“according to American law”).
Senator Menendez sent a letter expressing “grave concern” about President Carter’s visit, and Congressman David Rivera all but accused Carter of acting as an agent of the Cuban government. So the school of thought that holds that if you’re not 100 percent with me, you’re with my foreign enemy, is alive and well.
Alan Gross remains in Cuban jail, and President Carter said he was told before the trip that Gross would not be released to him. We don’t know whether Carter attempted to get him released, whether he had any cards to play, and if so, what reaction he got.
In this interview on CNN Spanish, Elizardo Sanchez recounts that Carter met 23 opponents of the Cuban government in two sessions; the second session was with ten just-released political prisoners. BBC notes that the 23 did not include some leaders of the disidencia tradicional, such as Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, René Gomez, Héctor Palacios, Manuel Cuesta, and Jose Luis García (Antúnez).
“We are ready, but, as we have always said, without subordination to anyone, simply in equality of terms, ready to discuss everything they want – and what we want. That’s our position. We have waited years and years; we’re willing to wait just as many years. I’m sure it will be thus. There can be no subordination like before. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have made a revolution.”