Cuban Television interview of former President James Carter

• March 30, 2011, Year 53 of the Revolution  (Translated from the typescript version of the Council of State)

• Arleen Rodríguez.—Hello and greetings to everyone currently tuned into Cuban Television. I welcome you, together with the former President of the United States, James Carter who, minutes before returning to his country, has graciously agreed to give us an interview, an exclusive statement for our network.

Welcome. Thank you for accepting our invitation.

James Carter.—It is a great pleasure to return to Cuba, to Havana.

Arleen Rodríguez.—It is a great pleasure to have to you as well.

You were commenting to me that that you wanted to say something to the Cuban people before our interview.

James Carter.—Yes.

Arleen Rodríguez.—The camera is yours.

James Carter.—I would like to thank the people of Cuba for the opportunity to be in this country once again, to be able to meet with Cuban leaders, to meet with some Cuban citizens who are in disagreement with the government. We have been very encouraged in terms of the possibilities of the meeting that is going to take place in the Congress next month.

We also had the opportunity to meet with the family members of the five Cuban patriots, with their mothers, with their wives.

I hope that in the future there will be normal diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. I should also like the time to come when the restraints on travel from the United States to Cuba and Cuba to the United States can be suspended, and also that the freedom, association, travel can be enjoyed. I believe that it is very important for everyone and for the people of Cuba.

We have had meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the President of the National Assembly, with President Raúl Castro, with former president, Fidel Castro, who is my personal friend, and we will do everything possible to enable economic changes to take place in Cuba.

This morning I also met with Mr. Gross, who has spent a long time in prison in Cuba, and we think that he is innocent of any crime. I hope that in the future he can be released, as well as the so-called Cuban Five, who have spent 13 years in prison in the United States.

In the future I hope that commerce and travel between both countries can be developed and that the economic embargo can be totally suspended. It is an oppression for the Cuban people and it doesn’t only affect the Cuban government, it is the Cuban people who are most affected. I believe that relations between the United States and Cuba must change.

When I became President, I suspended the restraints on travel between the two countries and I have worked very closely with President Castro to establish diplomatic exchanges. Now the United States and Cuba have 300 people employed in the Interests Offices, both in the United States and in Cuba, and Cubans working in the Interests Office and vice versa, and I believe that this can contribute to normal diplomatic relations between the two countries.

This has been an opportunity that Cuban Television has given me to be able to speak to you and tell you how marvelous your country is.

Arleen Rodríguez.—Thank you.

I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to ask you some questions.

First of all, I would like to greet you with the respect and warmth generated by the only President of the United States in 50 years to have done something toward normalizing relations. You were recalling some of those important steps. Also the fact of having come to Cuba twice now and doing so with your hands outstretched and with respect. The Cuban people, who are very proud and honorable, receive visitors here with solidarity.

I believe that, beginning the interview, you have relieved me of making an introduction by once again expressing your will and desire for the blockade of Cuba to be lifted. It is known that there is a majority consensus in U.S. society, which includes the Cuban community in the United States and that, moreover, the international community as a whole has been demanding that for the last 20 years, and that its efforts are also accompanied by large majorities in Cuba and in the United States.

As you yourself acknowledge, the blockade is being maintained, and we Cuban men and women know that it is being maintained, moreover, with the same rigor as before and, at times, squeezes a little more.

And I ask: what prospects do you see for Cuba-United States relations and that blockade, which the whole world is against?

James Carter.—As you know, the majority of Cubans wish for normal relations with the United States, and the great majority of Americans also wish that normal relations existed with Cuba. Undoubtedly, there are some radical leaders in my country, some in prominent positions in Congress, in many cases Cuban-Americans, who insist on maintaining this breach in relations between the two countries, these representatives of the previous Cuban-American community, whose fundamental objective was to topple the Castro regime; among Cuban Americans in my country there is even a small minority at this time, small but very powerful from a political point of view, in political circles. I think that there has been some progress in the last few years, even in terms of public opinion within circles in Miami and Cuban Americans; also younger people within that community want this economic embargo to be lifted and to have normal opportunities to be able to travel in both directions: from the United States to Cuba and from Cuba to the United States, this is a change. In my opinion, it is a change that is going to advance in the future and I hope that my small voice, as well as the opinion of many Americans, can make this materialize.

Arleen Rodríguez.—Mr. Carter, I listened to you with much emotion in the press conference and here in the introduction, I heard you ask for, also demand the release of the five Cuban heroes, whom Cuban considers heroes, because they confronted terrorist groups and managed to avoid the lengthening of the list of 2,099 disabled and 3,478 dead that terrorism has inflicted on our country.

I don’t know to what point you are aware of the Cuba’s people’s great sensitivity to the demand to free the Five. However, or in other words, I did not hear you make any statement about a pardon for them.

You said that, according to U.S. legislation that you expected them to be released. They have appealed to the Supreme Court, which denied them a review of the case, despite the fact that it was a demand made by more than 10 Nobel Prize laureates and hundreds of political and intellectual figures from all over the world. In other words, they have exhausted all the legal steps.

There has been much arbitrariness throughout the proceedings, as you said, recognized by judges, and they have received an additional punishment in that two of them have been deprived of regular visits from their wives, and difficulties have also been placed in the way of family visits.

Having reached that point of the Supreme Court refusing them a review of such a complex case has led these same Nobel laureates and political figures to call on President Obama to pardon them.

You were president of the United States, you exercised the right of pardon; as a humanitarian gesture I am asking you if you would be prepared to join with other Nobel Prize winners who are asking Obama to pardon the Five?

James Carter.—As you know, I am not only a former president of the United States, but also a Nobel prize winner.

Arleen Rodríguez.—That’s why.

James Carter.—In other words, in my private conversations with President Bush and with President Obama, I have talked about the release of these persons.

I recognize the limitations within the judicial system of the United States and I hope that the President can grant this pardon; but that is a decision that only the President himself can make; in other words, I can’t tell the President what to do, but the President, both before and now, knows that my opinion is that the trial of the Five was highly questionable, that standards were violated, and that the restraints on their visitations are extreme.

Now, I know that those family members have now been able to visit them, and I hope that in the future a full pardon might be granted and that there might also be greater access for family members to these prisoners in the United States.

Certain officials have informed me, for example, that the downing of the light aircraft in Havana, which caused the death of two of the pilots, took place after the President of the United States informed the Cuban leaders that there would be no more flights. The Cuban officials communicated to me that they stated very clearly to the President of the United States that overflying the country’s capital and dropping leaflets would not be permitted, and that they had to protect Cuba’s sovereignty. So even though this is something more serious, it is a more serious allegation, in my opinion, I am very doubtful about the extensive sentences to which one of these people was subjected. When I go back I am thinking of talking with President Obama, here is my public statement, I have done so before with other American leaders, and we have talked in favor of the release of the Five; one of the reasons, whether they are guilty or not, is that they have served long prison sentences, more than 12 years; in other words they have been punished adequately, even if they were guilty.

Arleen Rodríguez.—A person very closely linked to the case, whom you knew well, Leonard Weinglass, died just recently; I know that you know that he was a man who loved justice and fought for it, and his last statements, his last work, even on his deathbed, was directed at proving that the Five had nothing to do with the downing of the light aircraft.

James Carter.—Yes, I know.

Arleen Rodríguez.—Going more deeply into the case would make this conversation longer, but what the people of Cuba do know, what can be proven, what even the U.S. authorities know, on account of the entire report that Cuba broadcast, is that the only thing that those young men were doing was seeking information in order to avert acts of terrorism.

I am confident that you could also convey the request for a pardon, as a humanitarian gesture. These men have suffered a lot and have lost family members without being able to be at their side; finally, I will not insist; on behalf of the people of Cuba I thank you very much for your interest and for your statements.

Mr. Carter, you also said this morning at the conference that you had a meeting between friends with Comandante Fidel Castro who, in his Reflections, has expressed much anguish over the danger to humanity presented by enormous and ever increasing nuclear arsenals, which have the capacity to destroy the world various times over, and also over the terrible consequences that climate change could have for humanity. These are issues on which I believe that you are widely in agreement.

As a nuclear physicist you know what the possession of nuclear weapons signifies for humanity, you were a President who worked very hard to educate your people against a consumerist society, you promoted rational policies, in defense of the environment, even though they made you unpopular in certain sectors.

Well, quickly, I would just like to know if you believe that there is still an opportunity to do something to save humanity.

James Carter.—When I was president I negotiated with the Soviet Union to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, via the SALT I and SALT II Treaties and I was very much in favor of nuclear arsenals being reduced on both sides. I also firmly believe that this global warming represents a threat to all human beings, and as you probably know, President Obama and his predecessor, President Bush, were interested in working with other nuclear powers to reduce arsenals, and the agreements signed by these governments have been and are being very strictly supervised.

I believe that the United States has not been as firm as it should have been in approaching the problems of global warming. Since I have been here, the Cuban officials have pointed out to me what has been done with the old city of Havana, and I have been in Bolivia to meet with Evo Morales, and Bolivia could be the first country to have major damage to its economy, because of the melting of its mountain glaciers, which signify a source of drinking water. For that reason, I hope that in the future, this issue, as it is also related to global warming, can be discussed by all nations, and I know that Fidel Castro is also a promoter of this issue. We were talking about the steps taken when I was president of the United States, and we have been talking now and he is talking and trying to use his voice as a senior statesman for the wellbeing of human beings. We were talking, we were in agreement on a lot of things and, above all, we also talked about this global warming, and I believe that there are possibilities between the two countries.

Arleen Rodríguez.—I thank you very much indeed.

Thank you, every time that you visit Cuba hopes open up, even though relations continue being so difficult with the blockade.

James Carter.—I hope that we can come back another time. I want to bring all my family, we are a very big family, 36 of us. I hope I don’t have to wait too long and can bring my family.

Thank you very much.

Arleen Rodríguez.—Thank you, Mr. Carter, thank you very much. •




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