Carter in Cuba: Gimmick or breakthrough?

Carter in Cuba: Gimmick or breakthrough?

Carter in Cuba: Gimmick or breakthrough?

What the foreign papers are saying.
May 16 2002 6:20 PM

Our Man in Havana

Britain's Independent offered two possible interpretations of former President Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba: "Either it is a gimmick devised by Cuba's ageing dictator to con the world into helping him to survive even longer. Or it is proof that, more than 10 years after the collapse of its Soviet patron, Cuba is on the brink of historic change." The paper hedged—"It is probably a bit of both"—but declared that "Washington does not conceal its hopes for a time after Castro, but it is not above exploiting the here and now, too."

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Toronto's Globe and Mail agreed with Carter that the United States' 40-year trade embargo against Cuba should come to an end: "A rule of thumb about economic embargoes is that the longer they remain in place, the less effective they become." Explaining the Bush administration's intention to tighten sanctions as a strategy to win votes in Florida (an opinion shared by Spain's El País), the editorial said: "As with Iraq, the embargo against Cuba chiefly serves to punish the country's impoverished ordinary citizens rather than its (non-elected) rulers. As well, it provides those rulers with a handy scapegoat for every social ill that confronts the country, real or perceived. It is not isolation and opprobrium that dictators fear, but trade, travel, cultural ties, foreign publications and the Internet."

The Age of Melbourne praised Carter's "plain speaking," which provided Cubans with "an eloquent demonstration of the freedom of expression enjoyed in the US and other democracies," and hoped it would persuade the Bush administration to be "less hostile" in its relations with Havana. It concluded, "The administration's inconsistency on human rights—it pursues engagement with China while isolating Cuba—leaves it open to charges of hypocrisy. Mr Carter, who also acknowledged that the US embargo is not solely responsible for Cuba's economic woes, is to be congratulated for his courage and good faith."

According to Britain's Daily Telegraph, "Cuba's Communist propaganda machine moved swiftly after Jimmy Carter … used a televised address to tell the island's people about a grassroots campaign for greater freedom." It said Granma, Cuba's official daily, published a censored account of the speech that "emphasised passages in which he criticised human rights in the United States, and ignored his calls for free speech and independent political parties in Cuba." La Nacion of Argentina pointed out that Granma made no mention of Carter's references to Project Varela, a nationwide petition campaign that has gathered more than 11,000 signatures to trigger a national referendum on free speech, even though the former president described it as "the first step toward democracy" in Cuba.

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.