with former U.S. President James Carter
• March 30, 2011, "Year
53 of the Revolution"
(Translated from the typescript version of the
Council of State)
• James Carter.—First of all,
allow me to express my gratitude for the opportunity
to return to Cuba.
I was President I did all I could to improve
diplomatic relations between my country and Cuba. I
eliminated all travel restrictions so that the
Americans could travel here and Fidel Castro and I
worked together to establish interest sections in
Washington and Havana, which continue to allow for
some kind of communication between our two countries.
I believe we should immediately
eliminate the trade embargo that the United States
has imposed on the people of Cuba and also allow
travel without any kind of restriction from the U.S.
to Cuba and vice-versa, so I think it’s important
that I’ve come. On this occasion, I wanted to learn
from the Cuban government’s principal officials
about the coming Party Congress, which will take
place mid-April and I have received information from
the President of the National Assembly, President
Raúl Castro and former President Comandante Fidel
Castro and other leaders of the Cuban government
about plans for the future.
Cuban officials are very proud of
the fact that they have received good comments from
the people of Cuba and many suggestions have been
incorporated, as I understand, into the text which
will be discussed during their Congress.
I hope that in the future this will
be added to those documents and that there will be
complete freedom so all Cubans can express
themselves, gather and travel, according to the
international human rights norms which are applied
In addition to meeting with
President Raúl Castro for a very extensive
conversation and this morning with Fidel Castro, who
appears to be in good health and we welcomed each
other like old friends, I met this morning with some
of the groups which criticize the Cuban government
and, I hope that in the future some of their
complaints will be addressed by the government.
I met with about 12 prisoners who
were freed on orders from
President Raúl Castro and sponsored
by the Cardinal. Evidently they want to meet with
others who have returned from Spain or other places.
I met and talked with President Raúl Castro and I
will do so again after this conference.
It is also important to me that the
relations between our two countries improve.
I believe that the detention of the
Cuban Five makes no sense, there have been doubts
expressed in U.S. courts and by human rights
organizations around the world. They have now been
in prison 12 years and I hope that in the near
future they will be freed to return to their homes.
I meet with two of the prisoners’
mothers and three prisoners’ wives and expressed my
feelings to them, that I hope that in the future
they will be freed, according to U.S. law.
Also this morning, I was able to
meet with Alan Gross, a man who I think is not
guilty of being a serious threat to the people or
government of Cuba. He has been given a long prison
sentence and I hope he will be freed soon as well.
So, there are many things that can
be done between our two countries to improve
relations and come to have normal relations in as
many ways as possible.
I will repeat my thanks to President
Raúl Castro and other Cuban officials for having
allowed me to come and converse with them and I hope,
for the future of Cuba, that all Cubans will be
completely free and all Americans free to travel
where they choose, you know that many of us cannot
travel freely to Cuba and these restrictions in our
country must be eliminated.
These are my initial comments and
now I would be happy to answer two or here questions
from the media. If there are no questions, we’re
Andrea Rodríguez (AP).—Sir, you
mentioned that you had visited Mr. Gross. I would
like to know if you have any idea when he might be
released, if you, even, might be taking him home,
one way or another. What possibility is there that
an exchange of this person for the five agents
detained in the United States. Have you received any
indication from President Raúl Castro leading in
this direction? Thank you.
James Carter.—I didn’t come here
with the idea of arranging any swap. I think the two
cases, that of Gross and that of the Five, are
separate, different and shouldn’t be interrelated. I
think Alan Gross should be free because he is not
guilty of a serious crime and I think the five
Cubans should be freed because they have already
been in prison for 12 years and the original
circumstances around their original trial are
considered questionable, even by the judges and the
U.S. judicial system. Therefore, I didn’t come with
I had a very good meeting this
morning with Alan Gross, obviously he professes his
innocence as he did during his trial. There will be
an appeal by his lawyers to higher level courts in
Cuba. I hope these higher level courts will declare
him innocent of the crimes for which he is being
punished , and if that isn’t the case, that then,
possibly in the future, an executive order will be
released conceding him a pardon or releasing him for
humanitarian reasons. His daughter is very sick, he
has lost other members of his family; he had lost 40
kilos of his own weight, but he appears to be in
good spirits and asserts his innocence. I didn’t
come with the expectation of taking him home. In
fact, Cuban officials made it very clear, before I
left my home, that the freedom of Alan Gross would
not be granted.
Fernando González (Associated
Press Television).—I understand that you did not
come on an official or governmental visit but I
would like to know if you plan on meeting with the
Obama administration and, if you do, what will you
say to him.
James Carter.—Well, before
leaving I had spoken at some length with the
National Security Advisor and Secretary of State
Clinton about the situation that exists between our
two countries. As I have always done, before any
trip abroad, before leaving, I go to the White House
and give a complete report about the trip to the
President of the United States and the Secretary of
State. This will be done within a day or two after
my return to the U.S. and I will express the same
opinions which I have shared with you in this
conference, along with other more confidential
issues which I must share in person with American
Journalist.—On the basis of your
talks in Washington before this trip and your talks
here with President Raúl Castro, what steps do you
think should be taken, what should each country do
to improve relations?
James Carter.—I should like to
see another step taken in current legislation to
eliminate the restraints on travel for U.S. citizens;
I should like all restrictions removed on the normal
transfer of humanitarian funds to Cuba.
I met with a large number of
ambassadors located here in Havana and United
Nations representatives and they said that in the
last two years it has been very difficult for them
to depend on normal channels for humanitarian aid to
the Cuban people, because the Americans are
restricting transfers. European Union leaders, the
ambassador of Brazil and others in the group have
said the same thing to me. This is something that
could be done immediately by the President of the
United States in relation to the existing
I understand from the Foreign
Minister of Cuba and also from all the ambassadors
that these restrictions on the normal transfer of
humanitarian funds into the banking system have been
very restricting in the past two years. Since
President Obama has been in his position I have
shared that information with him.
I hope, in relation to other
possibilities, as I have already stated, well, that
Mr. Gross is released and that the five Cubans
return to Cuba.
In addition to those aspects, I
personally would like the Helms-Burton Act to be
completely abolished. I believe it was a serious
mistake when it was approved and signed by President
Any efforts on the part of the
United States to improve the lives of the Cuban
people with financial aid or by other means is
suspicious or illegal according to the Helms-Burton
Act, because that Act, as you know, has the express
objective of doing away with the Castro regime, of
changing the regime. Therefore, this Act – in my
opinion – is counterproductive. It didn’t exist when
I was president, and I could basically do what I
liked with restrictions on travel and the
establishment of relations, et cetera.
These are some of the things that
are evident to everyone, and Congressional leaders
of Cuban origin are acting in a very
counterproductive way, trying to blame or punish the
Cuban regime, when in real terms they are punishing
the Cuban people with their restrictions.
Journalist.—Mr. Carter, you are
one of the few people, one of the few political
figures who has the respect of both sides, would you
accept a mediatory role between the two countries?
James Carter.—It is extremely
unlikely, or possible, that both countries should
solicit my services; I would be pleased to help, but
I believe that that is extremely unlikely.
Journalist.—Mr. President Carter,
when you were president you were not in agreement
with the activities of violent exiles against Cuba.
Do you have an opinion on taking Cuba off the list
of terrorist countries?
James Carter.—Yes I believe that
Cuba should be taken off the list of countries
sponsoring terrorism. As you possibly know – I don’t
know if you know – I understand that there has been
very close cooperation between Cuban and American
intelligence services in confronting the threats of
Al Qaeda and other organizations in the Gulf region.
The only American allegations in
terms of terrorism against the Cuban government are
related to some of the groups in Colombia, the FARC
and ETA in Spain.
When I met with the ambassadors of
Spain and Colombia yesterday morning, they told me
that they had absolutely no objection, that they
thought that the capacity of members of ETA and FARC
in Colombia to come to Cuba was something very
positive for them, because it gave them an
opportunity to communicate in a friendly way in Cuba
with people who were causing problems in their own
countries. And so the American allegations, the
affirmation of terrorism, is a premise which is
completely unfounded, and that is another aspect
that the President of the United States could
address; in other words, eliminate the statement
that Cuba is sponsoring terrorism, because it is
I can take one more question.
Michael Boston (BBC).—You have
met with President Raúl Castro and former President
Fidel Castro. You have talked about your desire to
see freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, the
right of Cubans to travel abroad; you have also
talked about the economic changes which are to be
discussed at the Congress. Have you had any
indications of any political change to be discussed?
James Carter.—Not at all.
Well, I would say that both the
leaders who you mentioned and the authorities are
familiar with my own opinions on the freedom of
travel, of assembly and of expression in Cuba – when
I was here nine years ago I addressed the Cuban
people on television, on radio, and my words were
presented in Granma exactly as I said them,
expressing these desires and these recommendations
to the Cubans – they know my beliefs that there
should be changes, and I repeated them in the press
I am not familiar with the details
or aspects of the text that is now being discussed
for the Party Congress. They have told me that
approximately eight million Cubans participated,
giving their opinions. The Minister of Foreign
Affairs told me that thousands of amendments to the
original text were proposed. It is also being said
that more than 65% of the paragraphs have been
modified on the basis of the proposals; but I am not
familiar with the details.
However, the dissident groups said
this morning that many of them have abstained from
expressing their concerns about personal freedoms,
because they do not want to be associated with the
proceedings, because they are not in agreement with
Other groups with whom I met this
morning have expressed their concern that standard
international freedom must be promoted. So I am not
familiar with what they are intending to do.
Thank you all very much indeed. •