Carter pleased with trip to Cuba

May 17, 2002 at 12:20 PM
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HAVANA, May 17 (UPI) -- Former President Jimmy Carter said Friday he was pleased with his six-day trip to Cuba, particularly his ability to talk with dissidents and others, and the lack of restriction on his movements.

Carter, wrapping up his visit, said he has not changed the opinions he expressed in a nationally televised speech Tuesday.

In the speech, the highlight of the visit, Carter urged Cuba to adopt a democratic system and allow international agencies to look for human rights violations. He also said the United States should drop its 42-year-old trade embargo against Cuba.

President Bush plans to make a speech on Cuban policy during a trip Monday to Miami for Cuban Independence Day. He is expected to call for tightening the embargo.

Carter, 77, said he will send a complete report to officials from the State Department and White House Saturday.

He said the report will express his feelings, and "the opinions of the dissident groups on U.S. policy toward Cuba. And it may be President Bush may consider those opinions, but I don't have any authority in coming here."

He said he will not change the message contained in the Tuesday speech.

"I still believe every word in that speech was accurate and it was certainly a true expression of my own feeling, and I will maintain that basic message when I return," he said.

He said there were no restrictions on his visits with Cuban citizens and on his movements.

"I believe we have been able to have adequate discussions with no restraints at all with religious leaders -- protestant, Jewish and Catholic -- and with dissidents who have been open with expressions of concern and desire to see changes in the government here," Carter told a news conference in Havana.

He said the dissidents told him travel to Cuba should be opened up but they believed any financial help from the United States could damage their cause.

He also said he was able to visit some locations without notice, and received no opposition.

"There have been no restrictions placed on my movements. We've traveled to several places quite distant from Havana," he said.

Based on those conditions, he said he has been "quite pleased" with the trip.

"I recognize that after 43 years of misunderstanding and animosity, one brief trip can't change the basic relationships between our people," Carter said. "But our hope is that in some small way, at least our visit might improve the situation in the future."

Carter reiterated he had no official authority during the trip, but his visit to the communist nation is viewed as the highest-level U.S. visit to Cuba since Castro took control in 1959.

Carter planned to return to the United States Friday.

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