Jimmy Carter in Havana / Miriam Celaya

Former President Jimmy Carter has just completed a new visit to Havana and an air of expectation lingers among some alternative sectors of society. Carter is tied, without a doubt to several processes of movement of the official strategic policies that have had repercussions on the Island. In the late 70’s, during his presidency, Carter promoted an intelligent approach towards the Cuban regime; he was successful in establishing a dialogue between official Cuban authorities and emigration representatives –- an event that opened the gates to their travel to the Island and allowed family reunions between Cubans from both shores after 20 years of separation — and the corresponding Interest Sections in Havana and Washington were also established. Under the Carter administration, the migration accords were established to regulate the legal exit of thousands of Cubans to the US, and a climate of relative truce took place in the antagonism that had dominated politics between the two governments for two decades.

In 2002, Carter’s first visit to Cuba would mark an unprecedented milestone when, in a venue as official as the Great Hall of the University of Havana, he gave special credit to the Varela Project, whose creator, Oswaldo Payá , was a member of the opposition. It was the first time that a proposal from the much demonized opposition sector was made public on the national stage in Cuba.

Now, for the second time, Jimmy Carter visited Havana prompted by an invitation of the new ruler in the same decrepit dictatorship, but the scenery and the circumstances are currently markedly different from his previous visit. The guilty verdict against Alan Gross, a U.S. contractor accused by the Cuban authorities of collaborating with an alleged internal network to overthrow the government; the recent release of the 75 Black Spring and other prisoners of conscience; the upcoming conclusion of the VI Congress of the Communist Party, primarily addressing the legitimization of the economic transformation of the country to “renew” a proven failure and the deepest structural crisis that the revolutionary process has experienced since its inception are some of the factors that make the difference. On the other hand, positive steps are being taken by the current United States Administration designed to ease the restrictions set by previous administrations, thus undermining the old Cuban government’s pretext to keep a besieged position on the Island.

At a lesser level, Carter’s visit also coincided with the process of “media lynching”, a term coined by journalist Reinaldo Escobar to describe what the Cuban authorities have unleashed against independent civil society sectors. So, shortly after four chapters of the deplorable series having aired on TV, portraying the Ladies in White as mercenaries of the Empire and Dagoberto Valdés and a group of independent bloggers as other demons of the dissidence, the government allowed a meeting of these “paid employees” with Jimmy Carter, a delegate of the very Empire that “subverts” them. And, since the people are so spontaneous, there were neither repudiators’ gatherings nor temporary arrests against the evil traitors; no henchmen prevented the dangerous enemies from taking part in the meeting and exchange of views with the former President of the hostile power. It seemed that, in order to offer a friendly image to the visitor, the miracle of “the dignified peoples” who appreciate and respect differences had taken place.

In summary, the expectations awakened by Carter’s visit are based on the hope of the end of official inaction, because every instance when he has come close to the Cuban government has weakened the Cuba-US discrepancies, an essential Cuban foreign policy stance for over half a century. Regardless of the specific concerns that have prompted this visit, we must recognize that Carter’s conciliatory attitude, his capacity for respectful dialogue and interaction with representatives from both the official line and sectors of the opposition and independent civil society mark a particular style that crashes against the belligerence on which the Cuban regime feeds.

Translated by Norma Whiting

1 April 2011