Carter in Cuba: Diffusing a New Crisis
Or Opening Door for Policy Change?
The former US President, Jimmy Carter, arrived in Havana on Sunday, in a six-day visit to Cuba. Carter arrived with a seven-member delegation from the Carter Center of Atlanta. He was careful to emphasize that he is on a private trip and is carrying no official message from Washington. At the airport, he was greeted by the Cuban President, Fidel Castro, who assured him that he would have free access to institutions and people everywhere in the island.(1) So, why did Carter go to Cuba? Why did he go during this time? And what could the trip lead to?
The US-Cuban relations were severed in 1959, when Fidel Castro led the Cuban peasants in a revolution against the Cuban upper class of land owners, professionals, financiers, and entertainers. About half a million of these fled the Caribbean island to Florida, in the US, which is only about 90 miles away. From that time until today, the Cuban-American community, in Florida, has been hostile to the Cuban government. They have been influential on American foreign policy toward Cuba. The United States broke relations with the Cuban government, and Cuba has been under a regime of US punishment that has included a trade embargo and prohibition of travel between the two countries.
Democrats have always favored easing restrictions and improving relations with Cuba. However, the Cuban-American lobby has been able to rally Republicans for the cause of throwing out the Castro regime. Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has been threatening to attack many countries around the world. All these countries were Arab and Muslim countries, with the exception of North Korea. Last week, Cuba was added to the list as a potential threat because it is suspected of having the capability of making biological weapons. It is in this context, Carter's visit should be understood.
President Carter has always wanted to improve relations with Cuba. Therefore, he wants to report to the administration and the American people that Cuba is not a threat. Actually, he announced that the CIA could not provide him with any evidence about Cuba's possession of any biological weapons. Fidel Castro was also very cooperative. He announced that Carter can go anywhere in the island. Further, the Speaker of the Cuban Parliament announced that Cuba welcomes any international inspection of its facilities. The Cuban government, at all levels, denied the existence of any Cuban programs that aim at manufacturing biological weapons. (2)
Thus, it is more likely that President Carter will come back next week announcing that Cuba does not pose any threat to the security of the United States. In doing so, he will please majority of Americans, who want to have peaceful relations with other nations. However, Carter is also more likely to be criticized by war hawks, who thrive on tensions and wars.(3) He will be perceived by them as intermeddling with President Bush's foreign policy, just like he did with President Bush Sr. During the Gulf Crisis of 1990, he sent letters to members of the UN Security Council urging them not to vote for the authorization of the use of force against Iraq. In essence, he was rallying the world against the Bush administration's policy of using force to resolve the conflict.(4)
President Carter's efforts did not succeed in the UN Security Council but he made his point then, just like he is trying to make it now. International conflicts do not have to be resolved by force. The Gulf War has led to the American military presence in the Arabian Peninsula, which has angered many Arabs and increased anti-American sentiments in the Middle East. The War also resulted in the destruction of Iraq and the death of about one and a half million Iraqis, as a result of the embargo imposed on that country, since 1990. Wars breed hate and start feuds. Let's pray that Jimmy Carter's mission succeed and he can diffuse a new US-Cuban crisis, which may open the door for a US policy changee toward Cuba.
1. Atlanta Journal/Constitution, 5/13/02
2. CNN, 5/13/02
3. Eagleburger has already done that (CNN, 5/13/02).
4. El-Najjar, Hassan. 2001. "The Gulf War: Overreaction & Excessiveness."