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What did Jimmy Carter accomplish in Cuba?

What did Jimmy Carter accomplish in Cuba?

The continuing momentous events in North Africa and the Middle East understandably overshadowed former President Jimmy Carter’s trip last week to Cuba. That is unfortunate, because rather than compel any rethinking of U.S. policy towards Cuba — as was the trip’s purpose — it only provided another salient lesson on the futility of attempting to appease tyranny.

For the record, here is a short accounting of what President Carter did in Cuba:

  • He denounced the U.S. embargo of Cuba and called for unilateral changes in U.S. policy, including immediate repeal of the Helms-Burton law.
  • Called for the unconditional removal of Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  • Called for the unconditional release of five Cuban spies jailed in U.S. and criticized the U.S. judicial system under which they were convicted.
  • Denounced Cuban American members of Congress, such as the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), as "radicals" determined to keep Cuba and the United States "apart."
  • Blamed the U.S. government for the infamous 1996 incident in which Cuban MiGs shot down two small civilian aircraft in international airspace.
  • Referred to dictator Fidel Castro as his "personal friend."
  • Criticized the U.S. for not doing enough to combat "the problem of Global Warming" and praised Fidel Castro’s "activism and wisdom" on the issue.

Apparently to balance out these activities, lest no one suspect where his sympathies may actually lie, President Carter also met with Cuban dissidents and religious leaders and did otherwise recognize Cuban human rights by saying that he hoped that "in the future" all Cubans have the freedom to speak, assemble, and travel.

But this was all merely backdrop to what was widely considered the objective of Carter’s trip: securing the release of the unjustly imprisoned American aid worker Alan Gross, with whom Carter also met. In this light, Carter’s obsequious behavior toward the Castro regime could otherwise be dismissed as the "price" that had to be paid for Gross’s freedom. 

(Even as Carter tried to dampen prospects for Gross’s release — "I am not here to take him out of the country" — given the nature of Cuban totalitarianism, such Orwellian doublespeak is meant to pave the way for such a release, since it would allow the Castro regime to "surprise" and reward their pliant guest with a magnanimous gesture before leaving the country.) 

But President Carter left Cuba empty-handed and Alan Gross remains imprisoned for the "crime" of bringing internet equipment to Cuban Jewish groups.

So a trip that began ostensibly to improve U.S.-Cuban relations, instead only wound up focusing the spotlight on the regime’s continued intransigence. Not only did President Carter not return with Gross, but, for all his supplicating efforts, he returned with no concessions, no overtures, no indication the Castro regime was prepared to do anything to warrant a change in U.S. policy; only the standard Castro line that what are needed are changes in U.S. policy.

It is not surprising then that President Carter’s trip placed in bold relief why U.S.-Cuban relations will continue to remain as they are. Absent any true commitment on the Castro’s behalf to allay any U.S. concerns about their treatment of the Cuban people, the fact remains that no U.S. president is going to compromise their standing on some wooly process that may (but more likely not) lead to some "future" improvements in respect for the Cuban people’s fundamental rights.