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Carter, Castro Exchange Welcoming Remarks

Aired May 12, 2002 - 10:54   ET


FIDEL CASTRO, CUBAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Your excellency, Mr. James Carter, ex-president of the United States, distinguished Mrs. Rosalyn Carter and other members of the selective group of friends in your entourage, more than once during our brief encounters abroad, I had expressed my wishes for you to visit Cuba. Today, those sincere wishes have become a reality.

For a period of time, we coincided in holding responsibilities as leaders of our respective countries. You as the leader of a huge and powerful nation; I in a small island just 90 miles away from your country.

It is no secret that for almost a century there have not been optimal relations between the two states, and they still are not. However, I wish to state that in the four years of your tenure as president, you had the courage to make efforts to change the course of those relations. That is why those of us who were witnesses to that attitude see you with respect.

Tangible (ph) evidence that it was not a useless undertaking is that, despite seemingly insurmountable difficulties, misunderstandings and disagreements, during your term in office, three major events took place: Among others, the opening of the Interest Sections in Washington and Havana; the demarcation of the maritime borders between Cuba, Mexico and the United States; and the recognition of the right of Americans to travel to Cuba, something that would unfortunately be later suspended by others.

There might be those who think that out (AUDIO GAP) our country is a shrewd maneuver with a mean political purpose. I very sincerely say that it is a deserved recognition of your attitude as president of the United States of America toward Cuba and of your subsequent history as a personality who enjoys international recognition, someone devoted to the struggle for reducing or alleviating some of the tragedies afflicting humanity today or to building an awareness about them, but always seeking for any possibility to bring peace and understanding to all peoples.

Even that in the middle of the Cold War, and from the depth of an ocean of prejudice, misinformation and distrust on both sides of the strait, dare to try to improve relations between both countries deserve respect.

The Cuban people, one of whose most remarkable qualities is selflessness, admires and respects courage and espouses any just cause.

Our country will welcome you and your delegation with its most sincere hospitality, and with humility it will show you its human and social work. Your communication with our people will be facilitated so that you can express yourself freely, whether or not we agree with part of what you say or with everything you say.

You will have free access to every place you want to go, and we shall not take offense for any contact you may wish to make, even with those who do not share our endeavors.

Although in the agreed itinerary, a contact has been scheduled with our scientists from the Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Institute, if you're interested and if you wish, you may have free and complete access, together with any specialists of your choosing, to that or to any other of our most prestigious scientific research centers, some of which have been recently accused, just a few days before your visit, of producing biological weapons.

We are a patriotic and honorable people that will never accept impositions or threats from anyone. But we are also sincere friends of the American people, particularly of all the good Americans, who are many, and we keep discovering many more.

We welcome you with warm and sincere friendship, and we honestly hope that your visit to Cuba is not used by anyone to question your patriotism, to diminish your merits, or to affect the assistance that your foundation provides to so many poor, neglected, and forsaken people as there are in the world today.

Thank you very much.

JONATHAN KARL: All right, some very warm words for Jimmy Carter, high praise from Fidel Castro. Lucia Newman, who is there on the ground at that event, Lucia, seems like he's offering Carter complete and total access and the right to speak his mind.

LUCIA NEWMAN, CNN HAVANA BUREAU CHIEF (on phone): Absolutely, carte blanche. First of all, I'd like to -- this speech that was just made by President Castro is being broadcast live on Cuban television to the Cuban people, and what -- the words of President Carter will also be heard, what we're going to hear him speak at any moment now.

He is to give a major speech at the University of Havana on Tuesday, where it is certain that he will address issues such as human rights. I'll come back to that.


CARTER: ... are delighted to be in Cuba. I believe it was 14 years ago when President Castro and I met in Caracas, that he first invited me to come to this country. And then a couple of years ago at the funeral of Pierre Trudeau, a mutual friend of ours, he extended his invitation again.

Still in English, I would like to express my personal thanks for the words of welcome that were extended to me by President Castro.

And now to demonstrate the courage that President Castro mentioned, I'm going to continue my remarks in Spanish.

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Rosalyn and I are delighted to be in Cuba (inaudible) after 47 years, and we are grateful for the invitation to visit this proud country.

We come here as friends of the Cuban people, and we hope to meet many Cubans from different walks of life.

We are eager to see firsthand your accomplishments in health, in education and culture.

We also appreciate the opportunity to meet with President Castro, other members of government, and representatives of religious and other groups, and to discuss ideals that Rosalyn and I hold dear, principles on which we established the Carter Center 20 years ago. These are peace, human rights, democracy and the alleviation of suffering.

We realize that we have differences on some of these issues, but we welcome the opportunity to try to identify some points in common and some areas of cooperation.

During this week, we look forward to see your health research centers, farms, the Latin American Medical School, the New School of Workers -- Social Workers, the Solidaridad Companamas (ph) School for Disabled Children, and the University of Havana.

At the university, where I will make a speech to the Cuban nation on Tuesday evening at 18:00, by television and I hope also through the radio. On Thursday we will meet with representatives from the religious and human rights communities. On Friday, before our return to Georgia, we will have a final press conference to be held at 10:00 a.m.

At this time I would like to introduce the members of the Carter delegation from the Carter Center.

Dr. John Hardman (ph), executive director, Dr. Jennifer McCoy, director of the Americas Program, Dr. Shelley McConnell (ph), associate director of the Americas Program, and Dr. Robert Pastor (ph), Emory University professor and adviser to the Americas Program. Also joining us is my son, Chip Carter, president of the Friendship Force, who is here with us and exchange delegation from Georgia.

Thank you very much to all.

KARL: And there, brief welcoming remarks from both Fidel Castro and Jimmy Carter, Jimmy Carter making one very quick reference to human rights. But this clearly, Lucia Newman down there in Cuba, this clearly simply an opening salvo for the former president. Do you have any sense -- Fidel Castro's offering him the opportunity to, he says, visit anywhere, meet with dissidents, meet with people who don't agree with him, do we have any sense what's on Castro's itinerary as far as meeting with political dissidents down in Cuba, or even is he attempting to visit any of Cuba's jails?

NEWMAN: Well, I'm sure that President Castro has no intention of visiting with any of his opponents, but he's at least offering President Carter a carte blanche to do whatever he pleases. He's recognizing a priority, that that is one of the aims of Jimmy Carter, to hear from everyone, including the staunchest opponents of this government.

And I think it's a pretty interesting and calculated risk on the Cuban government's part to allow Jimmy Carter to address the Cuban people on Tuesday from the University of Havana. It's almost certain that that speech will make much stronger references to the issue of human rights and civil liberties in this country than what we've heard just now in his opening remarks.

He wants to have a chance, obviously, to take a look around. But President Carter -- Castro, rather, is going to be accompanying him over the next few days but has given him really the freedom, as he said, to do what he wants. He says that President Carter is a friend of the Cuban people, and President Carter has also said that he is -- rather that Cuba is a friend of the American people, and President Carter has said likewise.

So so far, very conciliatory words, nothing too controversial. But over the next few days we will be seeing something that's absolutely remarkable, a former U.S. president in this country walking all over, going where he wants, and saying what he wants, Jonathan.

KARL: And it was interesting also that Carter said that Castro first invited him 15 years ago, so this trip has in some sense been many, many years in the making. But why is this happening now? What does Castro hope to get out of this?

NEWMAN: I think President Castro is clearly trying to -- what he's trying to get out of this is some kind of boost to the efforts that have been growing in the United States to ease the U.S. economic embargo. Cuba desperately needs economic aid, it needs U.S. tourism, which is really its lifeline now. As you know, Americans are not legally allowed to come to Cuba to do tourism.

And so President Carter has been an advocate for a long time now of easing, and, in fact, of dropping the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba altogether. This is coming at a time when President Bush is actually increasing the anti-Castro rhetoric. We've seen that in the last few days, when the State Department, in fact, accused Cuba of actually exporting and producing technology that can be used for biological weapons.

You heard President Castro now offering or (UNINTELLIGIBLE) that President Carter is free to speak whatever -- with whomever he wants and even to go their biotechnology industry and check that out. So it is a time of increasing tensions between Washington and Cuba, and clearly the aim here is to see if President Carter can help ease those, to the benefit, of course, of the Cuban economy at the very least.

KARL: Well, there's going to be a lot to watch down here, and we've got a lot more to cover on this, especially, you just mentioned briefly that whole allegation made by the State Department that Castro's Cuba is developing and exporting biological weapon technology. A lot more to talk about on that.




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