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CNN Crossfire

Will Jimmy Carter Become First President to Visit Castro in Cuba?

Aired March 22, 2002 - 19:30   ET



JIMMY CARTER, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If I have always felt that the best way to bring an end to Castro's totalitarian regime and democracy and freedom in Cuba was to open up trade an visitation to Cuba.


TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Tonight, could Jimmy Carter be the first U.S. president to meet Fidel Castro on Cuban soil? And was NBC too quick to pull the plug on hard liquor ads?

ANNOUNCER: From Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Tucker Carlson. In the crossfire, Republican Congressman Jeff Flake of Arizona, member of the International Relations Committee and fellow committee member Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. And later, Peter Cressy of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and George Hacker of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

CARLSON: Good evening, welcome to CROSSFIRE.

No American president has done it in more than four decades. Jimmy Carter is about to. This afternoon, Carter told CNN he plans to visit Cuba, where he's expected to meet with that country's dictator, Fidel Castro. Cuban exile groups in the U.S. are furious. Carter's visit, they say, will lend legitimacy to Castro's despicable despotism.

Carter, of course, disagrees. Ending the decades-long American embargo, he says, is the surest way to bring freedom to Cuba. Is it time to end the embargo? Or is it time for Jimmy Carter end his public career? The debate rages in Havana, Miami, and also here on CROSSFIRE.

Bill Press.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen, welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-FL), INT'L RELATIONS CMTE.: How are you doing, Bill? PRESS: I know this is a happy moment for you. I want to congratulate you. This is the president who made human rights the centerpiece of his foreign policy when he was in the White House. A president who has traveled around the world for the last 20 years, talking to people and preaching human rights. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on human rights.

And now, he now wants to go to Cuba and take the message of human rights right to the face of Fidel Castro. This is your moment, Congresswoman Ilena Ros-Lehtinen, to say here on national television, thank you, Jimmy Carter.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I wish that were so, but unfortunately, I don't have high hopes for President Carter. His presidency was a disaster. He's a far better ex-president than he was a president.

But certainly, human rights has been the centerpiece of his campaign since he's left the White House. And what a shame that he goes there and probably will end up just saying let's lift the embargo.

A lot of people who visit Cuba go with these wonderful intentions of saying, let's talk about the lack of freedom. Let's talk about that there's only one political party in Cuba. Let's talk about the multiple violations of human rights. Let's talk about the fact that Castro's president in his mind only. He's never had a real election.

And they come out just saying let's lift the sanctions against Cuba. If we would only have traveled to Cuba, we would have freedom. We would have democracy. It's a lot of hogwash. He was the leader in having -- making sure that we would have international sanctions against South Africa. Yet what he wants to do with Cuba is lift all of those sanctions.

PRESS: Well, the question, I think the question that President Carter might ask you, were he here tonight, is you say it's hogwash. Why is it not hogwash in relation to China, for example, where the same philosophy of allowing exchanges in order to speed up the move to democracy? And yet it's hogwash when it comes to Cuba? President Carter was on our air this afternoon.

I'd like you to listen to something he said. He was on "INSIDE POLITICS" with Judy Woodruff. And he explained what he thinks the advantages of lifting the embargo. Here's President Carter. And I'd like you to respond.


CARTER: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PRESS: Makes sense, doesn't it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, absolutely not. He is what part of Jean Kirkpatrick calls "the blame America first" crowd. He says that we have been imposing misery on the Cuban people. It is Castro who has imposed misery upon the Cuban people. And to think that you can love bomb a dictator into freedom is ludicrous.

We wish that the world were so. And I am not in favor of lifting sanctions against China, but an argument can be made that China has made reforms. What reforms has Fidel Castro made in all of the years that every country, except the United States has been trading with Castro? None! The Cuban people are no closer to democratic elections. They are no more respect for human rights and...

PRESS: Hold on just a second.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And every country can trade with Cuba.

CARLSON: I must say, congresswoman, you have made my case for me. That was nicely put, brilliant, in fact, thank you. Let me pose a question that you raised to Congressman Flake. So this idea that ending the embargo will somehow make Cuba more free. Why is it I wonder, congressman, that Fidel Castro strongly agrees? He's very much for lifting the embargo. All of Castro's enemies are for keeping it. Most of them, anyway. Why is that? I mean what -- I mean, if it's ultimately going to topple Castro, lifting the embargo, why is he for it, I wonder?

REP. JEFF FLAKE (R-AZ), INT'L RELATIONS CMTE.: Well, all of us, including myself, I'm the first to say that Castro is a tyrant, and a thug, and a liar. Why in the world do we concede that, yet we believe him when he says he wants to lift the embargo? The embargo is the best thing that man ever had, because he blames everything on us.

He gets the sniffles, he blames it on us. You know, he gets a rash, somehow it's our fault. We've given him a lifeline for 42 years. And it's time that we stop that.

CARLSON: Then why does he want to hand it back, I wonder? I mean, if it's going to be...

FLAKE: No. You just have to believe him. Do you believe him? I don't believe him.

CARLSON: But you're making two different arguments here. I mean, you're saying the embargo has been wonderful for Castro. He's been the prime beneficiary of it. I think that's what you're saying. And yet we ought to lift it. And Castro thinks we ought to lift it. So if it's going to be so bad for him lifting it, why is he for it?

FLAKE: The truth is I don't think Castro is for it. It does him well to actually say that he's for it, but I don't think he's for it at all. It's been his life line. He's able to blame everything on us. And the truth is I just fail to see how it's a conservative principle to promote freedom in one country and deny it in your own. And we're denying Americans the right to go to Cuba and see what a mess that man has made of that island. I mean, every American ought to have that right. And Jimmy Carter ought to have the right as well.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But you know, Jeff, the Cuban people do not have the right to freely travel from Cuba to the United States. What about the reciprocity argument? Do you know that Castro controls the movement of every Cuban person on the island?

FLAKE: You bet you does.

ROS-LEHTINEN: And do you know how many people have U.S.- sanctioned visas to come to the United States, but it is Fidel Castro who does not allow them to come here. And if we are in this global war against terrorism, lifting sanctions will Castrol the power and the economy he needs to stay in power.

PRESS: Congresswoman, I want to jump in here, because we don't have that much time. But look, I want to point out, right, you've got a Republican congressman, Jeff Flake from Arizona, on my side on this issue. You've got 34...

FLAKE: That makes me very uncomfortable, Bill, by the way.

PRESS: By the way, me, too, congressman.

ROS-LEHTINEN: We're still working on him.

PRESS: But in Congress now, you've got 34 members, including other Republicans like George Nevicutt (ph), 17 Republicans.

ROS-LEHTINEN: But we've got George W. Bush. We've got the president.

PRESS: Hold on, let me make my point. 17 Democrats, 17 Republicans. They're there, not for Castro. They're there for American farmers, American businessmen that want to trade with Cuba, sell our products to Cuba, make money for American farmers. You are losing this argument when you have members of your own party against you. Let's face it.

ROS-LEHTINEN: No, I understand -- I'm not going to compare dictatorships. And I'm not going to compare tyrannies. Every dictator and every torturer is a bad person in his own right.

But there were American businesses who were willing to wheel and deal with Hitler when he was in power, who were willing to wheel and deal and give money to Mussolini when he was in power, who were willing to lift the sanctions against South Africa when we had that dictatorship, who were willing to give money to Haiti. If you want to rule foreign policy on money, then we have no limits.

CARLSON: Exactly. ROS-LEHTINEN: Where is freedom? Where's democracy? Where are the principles upon which this great country gave me a second home? I believe that freedom wins over money.

PRESS: Hold on.

CARLSON: Now congressman, very quickly, we just have a couple of seconds left. This is, of course, the congresswoman is right about the freedom to sell washing machines. That's, of course, the bottom line. But let me ask you this, isn't it time, really, for Jimmy Carter to stop the sanctimony and retire in silence? I mean, he's been traveling the globe for 20 years, trying to make the rest of us forget what a total disaster his presidency was. Somehow we keep listening to him. Isn't it time for him to be quiet?

FLAKE: Hey, I don't think that Carter will get anywhere with Castro down there. You know, an old dog doesn't learn new tricks. And Castro's a pretty old dog. But Carter has been a good champion of human rights. And if he went down there and met with dissidents and pleaded their case, then that's good. More power to him. And every American ought to have that right as well. Average Americans are our best diplomats. And we ought to send as many as want to go there.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Average Americans can only use the hotels that Castro builds.

PRESS: Congresswoman, that's the last word. Congressman Jeff Flake, thanks for being with us.

ROS-LEHTINEN: All right, we're right in there.

PRESS: When you go to Cuba next, congressman, let me know. I'll go back with you. Congressman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, good time in Miami. Thanks for joining us.


PRESS: And now we go from Cuban cigars to good old American booze, but you won't be seeing commercials for either one on American television. Why not? Why did NBC cancel those new liquor ads? Find out next.


PRESS: CROSSFIRE continues, but liquor ads don't. Four months ago, you may remember, NBC stirred up controversy by become being the only network to run commercials for hard liquor, for which Jay Leno dubbed them, NBC, the nothing but cocktails network.

But yesterday, fearing Congress might retaliate by taking away beer and wine ads, too, NBC suddenly canceled those liquor spots. The network was praised by Mothers Against Drunk Driving for being courageous, but condemned by the distilled spirits industry for chickening out.

Clearly, NBC made one correct decision. But which one was it? Running the ads or dropping them?

Joining us to debate it tonight, Mr. Peter Cressy, who's with the Distilled Spirits Council and George Hacker, for the Alcohol Polices Project.


CARLSON: Now Mr. Hacker, the anti-booze lobby is making the same argument other lobbies have made about other products, cigarettes. It's a named one. Pornography to name another. That the ads promoting liquor will convince kids to drink.

Now leaving aside whether or not that's true, I wonder why you couldn't apply that same argument to lots of other products? More kids are killed in cars, of course, than have died from alcohol poisoning. Kids have suffered serious health effects from high fat food. Kids lured in creepy sexual scenarios on the Internet. So why not pull car, I don't know, car, riding mower ads, computer ads off television? They're dangerous for kids.

GEORGE HACKER, ALCOHOL POLICIES PROJECT: You know, frankly, Tucker, I have very limited time. And you know, this battle was about liquor advertising. This battle was about NBC and the liquor industry going back on more than 50 years of trust with the American people. They violated their own rules. We asked them to go back and abide by them.

So that I don't think that's terribly unfair. And I think it's absolutely appropriate, when you consider that alcohol is America's number one drug. It's America's number one destruction for young people in this country.

CARLSON: You have enough time. You didn't answer the question. You didn't.

HACKER: It's different from automobiles that people have to use to get from place to place. Automobiles are not addictive substances.

CARLSON: Now as you know, I know you're upset about the drug, alcohol. But as you know, I mean, alcohol spirit ads are being run on local broadcast stations all over the country on 30 different cable networks. Are you going after them, too? I mean...

HACKER: Well, you know, that's that's the next fight. You know, "Operation Anaconda" killed a lot of people, but there were stragglers, there were escapees. And the escapees today in this issue are those stations that are still running liquor ads. And communities around the country should demand that their local broadcasters meet the same standard that NBC was treated to just now.

CARLSON: Well, wait a second. You're comparing local broadcasters to terrorists? Isn't that a little bit over the top?

HACKER: No, I'm just saying that there's this unfinished business here. And the unfinished business is to get to local broadcasters who have begun to air liquor ads even before NBC did. NBC finally found the appropriate standard. They made the right choice to retreat, to go back to 50 years of responsibility.

PRESS: OK. Peter Cressy, welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I agree that NBC made the right choice, but before we praise them too much, I'd just like -- I think you and I can agree on this point that NBC did not act out of principle here. I mean, they put the ads on the air to make money. They realized, uh-oh, Congress is going to come after us. When they come after us, they could also -- they might also take away the beer and wine ads. So NBC put them on the air to make money. And they pulled them off the air, to make sure they continued to make money. It was profit not principle, right?

PETER CRESSY, DISTILLED SPIRITS COUNCIL: Well, you know, Bill, I'm not so sure, because there's not a lot of evidence that Congress was really putting that much heat on them. We've heard from both Congressman Tauzin and Congressman Dingell, who are the key folks in this argument. They said that's not the case.

I think the real tragedy here is that we've missed an opportunity to raise standards on national television. We've said that we'll hold ourselves to the highest possible standards. We just want the same access as beer and wine.

HACKER: You know, I think that Peter, you should get an Oscar for that statement. You know, you should really get an Oscar for that statement. Because right now, your industry is going to be flooding the airwaves with liquor branded malt beverages, Bacardi Silver, Stolichnaya, Citrona, Sky Blue, Smirnoff Ice. They're going to be flooding the airwaves. And so, you're going to get a free ride at the standard that now is held for beer. You're not going to even meet the standards that NBC set for your liquor advertising products.

CRESSY: George, look, I've got great respect for you, but you continue to avoid the fundamental truth. The Cassis study that just three weeks ago you were touting as so important.

HACKER: I never did.

CRESSY: Said that it was less than one percent of the problem. The real issue here, and you know, it, is parental and peer influence. That's more than 85 percent of the problem.

HACKER: The real issue is $700 million of beer advertising on radio and television that needs to be addressed.

CRESSY: Well, that's a different subject, is it? That's a different subject.

HACKER: And if your industry really wants equality here, if your industry is interested in a level playing field, you should demand that the beer industry is held to the standard that the liquor industry was just held to.

PRESS: : I want to get to beer ads in a second, but let me see what I think the real issue is as a parent. That the statistics I saw today, one-third of all deaths of kids between the ages of 15 to 20 are caused by automobile accidents. And one-third of those, there's alcohol involved. So why should you be on television, encouraging young people to drink hard liquor?

CRESSY: Bill, first of all, you know perfectly well, we're not doing anything to encourage young people to drink.

PRESS: You wouldn't be running the ads if you weren't trying to get them to buy it. Come on. Be honest.

CRESSY: We're looking about people 25 years and older. We were talking about models of only 30-years old and above.

HACKER: Oh give me a break. 75-year-olds can sell hamburgers, too.

CRESSY: Bill, we need to focus on the real problem. All the studies show less than one percent. When are we going to get people to understand that?

PRESS: Don't you think that anybody over 25, they know what they drink, they know their brand, they don't need to be convinced. You're going after the young people to get them in the door.

CRESSY: We never have. That's why we don't use cartoon characters. That's exactly why we don't use celebrities. That's exactly why we use models over the age of 30. That was a terrifically high standard. The public was going to see one of the best standards ever on television.

HACKER: That just says little about our standards today.

CARLSON: Now Mr. Hacker, OK. Let's talk about the standards today as compared to the 10 or 15 years ago. I realize that profession antes don't like to bring good news. But in fact on the drinking front, there is good news. And that is that teenagers today are less than half as likely to drink as they were in 1985.

HACKER: But do you know why? Do you know why, Tucker? It's because of laws like the 21 drinking age. It's laws like zero tolerance that have really made it much more difficult for kids to drink. It's not because of PSAs on television.

CARLSON: Oh well then, it -- I mean, it strikes me you're undermining your own argument then. I mean, because your argument appears to be that advertising is what gets people to drink. And yet, there's been, you know, $1 billion worth of beer and wine advertising. And the kids are drinking less. HACKER: Advertising has gone down by about 30 percent since 1987 if you look at it in inflation adjusted terms. So that as the advertising has been going down, there's been less pressure on kids to drink. You could make that argument just as making the contrary one.

PRESS: You know, Peter, so I want to ask you about this. So the beer and wine ads remain on television, especially now March madness. I mean, beer ads, it's all over the place this weekend. I really think drunk driving is a serious problem with young kids. Why don't we pull the beer and wine ads, too? Wouldn't that be the answer? Get them all off the air. CRESSY: Look, we think that drunk driving at any age is a tremendous problem. That's why, Bill, we've put $120 million against the problem over the last 10 years. Nobody else anywhere in the United States can say that. We've put more money against the problem than anybody else.

Of course it's a problem, we want to fight it. What we're saying loud and clear is set a high standard, and hold beer, wine, and spirits equally to that standard. That's the only thing that makes sense.

CARLSON: Mr. Cressy, thank you very much. Unfortunately, Mr. Hacker, we're out of time. We appreciate you coming on CROSSFIRE.

HACKER: Thank you very much.

CARLSON: Thank you both very much. And next, the tension builds and suspense mounts. When we come back, Bill and I will step onto the red carpet, claw our way past throngs of photographers, and bring you this year's CROSSFIRE Oscars. Must-see TV for you in a moment.


CARLSON: Welcome back. It's showtime here on CROSSFIRE. Time for the much anticipated first annual 2002 CROSSFIRE Oscar awards.

And the first envelope, this year year's Oscar for the most unseemly physical transformation goes to part-time college professor, Al Gore. Gore, you may remember, won the award last year when he grew a beard. He wins again this year for shaving it. As a two-time winner, Gore automatically receives a lifetime achievement award for most hard rending public display of mid-life crisis. He also becomes eligible for next year's least likely to be elected to anything contest. Good luck, Al.

PRESS: Oh, yeah, Tucker. Just watch. My first nomination, best dramatic performance. No contest. We're going to take a break right now, so bad for the Oscars, but here we go to President Bush and President Vincente Fox from Mexico with a live news conference starting right now.