HAVANA TIMES, March 31 — I could barely direct my question to former president Jimmy Carter to ask him if he would accept mediating between the governments of the United States and Cuba. Smiling, he responded that he would be happy to do so if they requested him to, but he assured me that he saw that as something improbable.
Few people enjoy as much respect around the world as this peanut farmer who entered and left politics preserving his image as an honest person, something that Cuban President Raul Castro himself recognized.
Even in the press conference I had the sensation that he was a sincere man. To understand him, it was only necessary to listen attentively to each one of his words, but to also interpret his silences; he never told us why he came to Cuba, for example.
Will report back to President Obama
He told us that he had met with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton prior to leaving the US, and that upon his return he would give a detailed report on the trip and his impressions of the situation in Cuba.
He said that once back in Washington, he would repeat the same thing that he was telling us, but he added that he would also deal with other more confidential matters – ones that he could only disclose to the White House and the State Department.
He left us the task of speculating on the reason for his trip and those “confidential matters.” In any case, putting that puzzle together isn’t difficult if we link the beginning and the end. Though not Jewish, on the first day he went to a synagogue, and on the last day he visited Alain Gross in prison.
Carter requested freedom for the contractor who was sentenced to 15 years in prison for smuggling satellite communication equipment into the country, supposedly for the Jewish community, though this is something they deny. Nonetheless, Cuba is accusing him of being part of a cybernetic assault by the US.
Jimmy Carter, who was the first American politician who didn’t completely excuse Gross, only affirmed that he doesn’t represent “a serious threat to the Cuban people,” which in the negotiation is a stance that represents postures being brought closer together.
Favors the release of Gross & the Cuban Five
He also demanded freedom for the five Cuban agents imprisoned in the US, but he dismissed a prisoner exchange like the one that occurred recently between Moscow and Washington. According to Carter, it’s necessary to release them because there are too many doubts as to the serving of justice in their cases.
These were two dramas that the former president was able to observe from different angles, humanizing the political confrontation when touched by the personal suffering of Alan Gross’s family and also that of the wives, mothers and children of the “Cuban 5.”
I felt respect for the pragmatism and the courage of this man. He breathed a breath of fresh air in the rarified atmosphere of bilateral relations marked by politics so outside the epoch that even this 80 year-old man considers them old.
He met with the opposition
With the greatest naturalness in the world he met with opposition groups and said openly that Cuba should improve its human rights record, expand opportunities for freedom of speech and assembly as well as ease travel restrictions on Cuban citizens.
But he also turned the cannons on his own government and asserted that the embargo by the US was “imposed against the people of Cuba” – a concept very different from the one pushed in Washington when they hold that it only affects the “regime.”
His analysis was convincing to me, but what convinced me most was his work. He reminded us that he and Fidel Castro worked to improve bilateral relations, but he only mentioned the opening of diplomatic offices in Washington and Havana.
Yet perhaps his most important achievements were not political, but human. Cuban families were able to rediscover themselves after many years of separation, and members continue visiting one another today. Another outcome was the release of thousands of political prisoners.
Things didn’t end well though. Some people accuse Fidel Castro of tripping up the process while others say Jimmy Carter was consumed by the pressures of Washington. The truth probably lays lost halfway between the two.
In any case, and whatever it was that happened, neither of the two could have committed anything too serious if today they can sit around and chew the fat like old friends, as the former US president himself admitted in the press conference.
It’s worth remembering that the Commandant welcomed him in 2002 with full honors and allowed Jimmy Carter what Fidel had never granted any other national or a foreign visitor: the chance to speak out on TV in support of a dissident project promoting political change.
I believed him when he told me they didn’t ask him to mediate between the two countries, and I’m truly saddened that they aren’t requesting him to participate in the search for common ground. I’m sure he would be useful for “rejuvenating” postures and policies.
An authorized Havana Times translation of the orignal published by BBC Mundo