Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Carter in Cuba: Day One

It's been interesting to read the optimistic speculation about Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba. On the first day, many reports indicated the possibility of Carter's intervention in the case of Alan P. Gross, the jailed USAID contractor, and others saw Carter as a promising interlocutor between Washington and Havana. Meanwhile in Miami, the hard-liners went on the offensive to attack Carter and paint a negative image of the visit.


On Monday, Jimmy Carter again arrived in Havana at the invitation of the Cuban government. Back in May 2002 Carter first arrived at the invitation of Fidel Castro, this year by his brother Raul. Carter landed at Jose Marti International Airport with his wife Rosalynn, his former National Security Advisor for Latin American Affairs, Robert Pastor, and directors of the Carter Center. They were greeted by Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, including Jonathan Farrar, chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana, among others.

Jimmy Carter and his guests soon made their way to the Patronato Jewish center and Temple Beth Shalom where they were greeted by Adela Dworin, president of the temple, and other members of the Jewish community (video of tour). (Dworin later told reporters that they did not discuss the Gross case or any politics at all.) Later, Carter and his guests met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega of the Catholic Archdiocese in Havana. (Reports say they met behind closed doors for about an hour where Carter expressed his satisfaction with Ortega's role in the release of Cuban political prisoners.)

Several early reports seemed to indicate that Carter arrived with the intent to return to the U.S. with Alan P. Gross, but later in the day reports (such as Jeff Franks') revealed that Cuban officials would not allow it. Nevertheless, CBS News (Portia Siegelbaum) speculated that Carter was working in the background to gain access to Gross, and CNN (Shasta Darlington) confirmed that Carter met with Secretary Hillary Clinton before his trip perhaps sharing her concerns over the case.


There were many articles that expressed optimism about the Carter visit to Cuba. The Miami Herald published an article by Matthew Brady from Freedom House suggesting that "Carter’s visit could kick-start U.S.-Cuba relations through a relatively moderate interlocutor." Brady argues well that the time is right.

Other commentators, like Cuban professor Esteban Morales and Lilia Lopez from the Havana Note blog, see Jimmy Carter as a someone influential enough to provide a "realistic" (Morales) assessment of Cuba with "fresh eyes" (Lopez) directly to President Barack Obama.

It should be noted too that Jimmy Carter is traveling with Robert Pastor, another optimist who is confident that the Obama administration could improve U.S.-Cuba relations with an envoy between Washington and Havana.


Meanwhile in Miami, some hard-liners have taken an ambivalent stand, and others are just being offensive. It seems most militants/hard-liners oppose the trip because it "legitimizes" the Cuban government they see as totally immoral or dangerous. But, seeing that the media is mostly optimistic about the visit, the strategy seems to be to attack Carter's character, or to misrepresent the intent of the visit.

On Monday, Radio Mambi's Ninoska Perez-Castellon tried her tired tactic of presenting the subject (Carter) as a fool. She began reading from Jimmy Carter's 2002 Cuba Trip Report, but it soon became apparent that she wasn't prepared to thoroughly challenged the well-detailed and highly-informative report. Perez-Castellon had obviously not read the report before and ended up skipping several paragraphs of important information (including the paragraph that mentioned the Varela Project) and telling listeners that Carter was just repeating Cuban propaganda and lies.

(The attacks continued today too. Armando Perez-Roura's daily radio editorial described Carter today as an "ultra-leftist-pacifist" and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart called in to Perez-Castellon's radio show and called Carter an "extremist" and "anti-semite.")

In the evening, the Spanish-language political talk show Maria Elvira Live (on MegaTV) invited CANF President Jose "Pepe" Hernandez and ICCAS analyst Jose Azel to talk about the Carter visit (video). Both didn't say if they supported or opposed the visit, but instead focused on speculating about Jimmy Carter's possible intentions in Cuba. Of course, they ignored Carter's stated reasons for going to Cuba because both believe that improving relations is virtually impossible with the current Cuban government. Hernandez argued that Cuba was using Carter to improve its international image, and Azel agreed adding that the Cuban government had nothing to offer the U.S. in a negotiation anyway (and therefore there's no reason to improve relations).

(It should be noted that CANF took a stronger position against Carter's 2002 Cuba visit. CANF, through Joe Garcia, first opposed the Carter visit saying that Carter should only go to demand the removal of Fidel Castro: "However, if his purpose is to better U.S.-Cuban relations with the 43-year-old dictatorship, his time would be better spent elsewhere.")

In the evening news, Telemund051 also attempted to misrepresent Carter's visit (video). Telemundo put their best reporter on the job: Fausto Malave. In typical fashion, Malave mocks the importance and the reason for Carter's visit, barely mentioning Carter's stated purpose. And, instead, attempts to portray the visit as showing little concern for internal political repression and the case of Alan P. Gross. Of course, Malave interviews one person, Janisset Rivero, of the hard-line Directorio Democratico Cubano who erroneously equates the voice of Cuban dissidents with the voice of the entire Cuban people.

Univision23 also does a poor job reporting on the visit. In this report (video), Carter's stated purpose is never mentioned. Instead, the report focuses on the Gross case, and includes Alfredo Duran and James Cason making comments about the Gross case. Fortunately, the report includes comments from Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya saying: "Jimmy Carter is a person that inspires us with confidence... and someone you can expect good from."

It's interesting to see how hard-line commentators in Miami have ignored Carter's personal views about U.S.-Cuba relations. (His views actually coincide with the larger intellectual community and the majority of Americans.) He made them very clear before he first visited Cuba in 2002. Instead, most Spanish-language pundits have tried to portray Carter as possibly having mysterious goals, or being a naive fool while in Cuba. Only in Miami.

[Below, Jimmy Carter in March 2002]

"I think 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, and to let the Cuban people know the advantages of freedom. That's the best way to bring about change. And not to punish the Cuban people themselves by imposing an embargo on them, which makes Castro seem to be a hero, because he's defending his own people against the abusive Americans."

[Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen tried to block Carter's 2002 Cuba visit by writing to the President: "We write to request that you deny permission for Mr. Carter to visit the Cuban dictator. While U.S. law authorizes the granting of licenses by the Treasury Department to U.S. officials and members of Congress to visit Cuba on official business for the U.S. government, it does not do so for former presidents seeking to appease anti-American dictators.'']

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