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Carter's Cuba Trip Has Some Nervous

Sunday, 12 May 2002 12:00 AM

Carter arrived in communist-run Cuba on Sunday, hoping to partially defuse the decades-long antagonism between the United States and the dictatorship.

On Monday, Carter will tour Cuba’s Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. The center was recently targeted by the Bush administration for allegedly conducting research threatening to U.S. national security. On Tuesday, Carter will make a speech at the University of Havana, which -- breaking with the norm -- will be broadcast to the public.

Pundits forecast that Carter’s calls for ending the embargo against the island nation will be ignored by the administration, which hopes only that the opinionated former statesman causes no embarrassment.

These same pundits look to a wealth of Carter history of inserting himself into world affairs.

Recent case in point: Carter’s criticism of Bush’s infamous "axis of evil” remark.

"I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement,” Carter said, calling the statement "overly simplistic and counterproductive.”

Perhaps the most infamous Carter anecdote occurred in the weeks and months preceding the Gulf War. Just as the administration was scrambling to assemble a coalition against Iraq, Carter fired off a missive to members of the U.N. Security Council, suggesting they block the administration’s move.

Adding what many saw as insult to injury, after the Gulf War Carter flew to Riyadh to restore Saudi funding to Yasser Arafat, who was on the outs for supporting Saddam Hussein.

There appears to be little that the former president considers out of bounds for fair comment. He has lambasted Bush for not muscling Israel out of the Gaza Strip, for nixing the anti-ballistic missile treaty, and for advocating the missile defense shield.

Carter described the latter as a "technologically ridiculous” notion that would "re-escalate the nuclear arms race.

"I have been disappointed in almost everything he [Bush] has done,” Carter once confided to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.

Carter’s 1997 op-ed piece entitled "It’s Wrong to Demonize China,” suggested that freedom of religion had come to China -- causing chagrin to activists around the world.

In hot-spot Haiti, Carter empathized with that country’s dictator confiding that he was "ashamed of what my country has done to your country.” Citizen Carter has also gone on record in praise of Syria’s late leader Assad, reputed murderer of at least 20,000 in Hama.

After leaving office, Carter also complimented N. Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, saying, "I find him to be vigorous, intelligent…and in charge of the decisions about this country.” He added, "I don’t see that they are an outlaw nation.”

In 1984, when the Reagan administration was pressuring Nicaragua’s dictator to give democracy a chance, Carter pushed for Habitat for Humanity to construct in that country, advising, "We want the folks down there to know that some American Christians love them and that we don’t all hate them.”

But it has been Carter’s recent meddling in the Middle East that has cause the worst rub. "The intifada exposed the injustice Palestinians suffered, just like Bull Connor’s mad dogs in Birmingham,” he announced.

Carter has pasted Israeli prime minister Arial Sharon, declaring him an international outlaw whose objective is to "establish Israeli settlements as widely as possible throughout occupied territories and to deny Palestinians a cohesive political existence."

Free Cuba activists are nervous of what mischief the volatile Carter will wreak in Havana as he stalwartly moves forward to "share ideas on how to improve the relationship between the United States and Cuba."

For example, Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, hopes that Carter pitches democracy to Fidel, presses for human rights and visits with jailed dissidents – and stays away from patching up relations with the U.S.

Garcia and other dissidents want Castro to continue to feel U.S. pressure and hopefully collapse under the weight.

Some Cuba watchers already detect a crack in the Castro foundation. Last Friday, Cuba’s growing dissident movement filed an unprecedented petition with 11,020 signatures, calling for a national referendum to reform the one-party system.

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Carter arrived in communist-run Cuba on Sunday, hoping to partially defuse the decades-long antagonism between the United States and the dictatorship. On Monday, Carter will tour Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology. The center was recently targeted by...
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Sunday, 12 May 2002 12:00 AM
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