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Jimmy Carter's Havana Press Conference

James Carter

Before concluding his three-day visit to Cuba, Jimmy Carter gave a press conference about his agenda on the island, this is a synopsis:

In his introductory statement he said that when he was in office he did all possible efforts to improve diplomatic links between the United States and Cuba. He said he lifted all Cuba-travel restrictions for US citizens and along with Fidel Castro he worked on the setting up of interest sections both in Washington and Havana.

Carter said the US commercial “embargo” on Cuba should be lifted immediately as well as the limitations on US citizens to travel to Cuba and vice versa. He said he wanted to learn about the upcoming Communist Party Congress, to be held in April and that he has been given information on the future plans for Cuba.

He told the reporters that he had met with President Raul Castro and with Fidel Castro, whom he saw enjoying good health; he also met with some groups that criticize the Cuban governme’snt and he added he hoped that some of their complaints will receive a response from the Cuban authorities in the future.

As to the case of the five Cubans incarcerated in the United States since 1998, the former US president said that their imprisonment make no sense since American courts have shared doubts about it, as have human rights organizations around the world. They have been in jail for 12 years now, he said and added he hoped that they can be released in the near future. Carter also met with two of the mothers and three of the wives of those Cubans imprisoned in the U.S.

He explained that on Wednesday morning he was able to meet with Alan Gross, a man he thinks is innocent of posing a serious threat to the Cuban people and government and that Gross was sentenced to a long prison term. He said he hoped he will soon be released too.

Carter stressed that there are many things both countries can do to improve relations and have normal links in all possible ways. And he reiterated his gratitude to Raul Castro and other government officials for having allowed him to visit and talk with them.

During the Q/A Session Carter replied to an AP question about the possibility that he could take Alan Gross back to the U.S. with him and if he considered that an exchange of Gross for the five Cuban was possible. In this regard, Carter said he had not traveled to Cuba to coordinate any kind of exchange and that the cases of Gross and the Five are different and must not be related. He considered that Gross should be released because he is innocent of a serious crime—Carter explained—and that the five Cubans should also be freed because they have already been 12 years in prison and there were many doubts about the whole legal process. In the case of Gross, Carter said an appeal would follow or a possible executive order could be given in the future to release him on humanitarian grounds. His daughter is very sick, while he has lost other family members, said Carter. But he did not expect to take Gross back home with him he said and recalled that Cuban officials had made it clear before he left the United States that Gross would not be released.

Responding to a question by Associated Press Television about a meeting with Obama after this trip to Cuba, Jimmy Carter explained that he will do so to express the opinions he gave to the press and about other confidential issues.

Referring to what each country could do to improve relations, Carter said he wished that US travel restrictions to Cuba be lifted as well as limitations on the transfer of humanitarian funds to Cuba. He recalled some meetings with members of the diplomatic community in Havana who said they have found it quite difficult, over the past two years, to bring humanitarian aid to the Cuban people through normal channels because the United States limits the transfers. This was also corroborated by European Union leaders, and this lifting of restrictions could be done immediately by the President of the United States, Carter noted.

He also said he personally wished to see the complete abolishment of the Helms-Burton Law because in his opinion the approval and signing of it by former President Bill Clinton was a serious mistake.

As to other actions, Carter hopes that Mr. Gross be released and that the five Cubans return home.

Any effort on the part of the United States aimed at improving the life of the Cuban people based on financial assistance or other means is a suspicious act, according to the Helms-Burton law, because the legislation is aimed at putting an end to the “Castro regime”. In his opinion that law is counterproductive because when he was president he could do anything he wanted with respect to the travel restrictions and the reestablishment of relations.

As to the congress people of Cuban descent he said they are acting in a very counterproductive manner by trying to blame or punish the Cuban government, when in fact they are punishing the people of Cuba by backing these restrictions.

To the question that if he would agree to be a mediator between the two countries, Carter replied that there is little chance that he would be asked to take part in that kind of service, though he would be happy to help.

Carter also told reporters that he believed Cuba should be taken off of the US list of countries sponsoring terrorism. He said he has learned about a close cooperation between Cuban and US intelligence services to fight threats by Al Qaida and other organizations in the gulf region. The only allegations made by the United States against the Cuban government are related to some groups in Colombia like the FARC, and ETA from Spain. But such allegations about Cuba sponsoring terrorism have no grounds so the US President should take Cuba out of the list.

And responding to BBC if he tackled issues like the freedom of expression, the freedom to travel, the economic changes to be analyzed by the upcoming Communist Party Congress, during his meetings with Raul Castro and leader Fidel Castro, Jimmy Carter recalled that when he visited Cuba nine years ago he addressed the people on TV and on the radio and that the Granma newspaper published his statements just as he made them, which expressed his wish about those topics and carried his recommendations.

He said that although he was not very familiar with the details or aspects of the text to be analyzed by the Communist Party Congress, he was informed that some 8 million Cubans gave their opinions on the document. Carter added that the Cuban foreign minister told him that thousands of amendments were proposed to the text and that over 65 percent of the paragraphs had been modified on the basis of such proposals.

Finally, Carter said that the members of “dissident groups” he met in the morning told him that many of them had abstained from expressing any requests on personal liberties, because they did not want to be linked to the procedure, since they are in disagreement with its integrity.

While others did express their requests, though he said he was not familiarized with the document or with what is trying to be achieved.

(Agency information)