The first time I heard Jimmy Carter was in 2002. My memories are hazy but one moment sticks in my mind from his speech at the University of Havana’s Great Hall. It still makes me laugh to remember Hassan Perez — who at the time hadn’t yet been ousted and was still heading up the Young Communist League — launching a supposed question at the president, fired off in a machine gun staccato and lasting about three minutes. Carter gently asked him to repeat it, apologizing for not having understood. It was an historic day for Cubans, because in the full light of Cuban television we learned about the Varela Project and that Osvaldo Paya had collected eleven thousand signatures to change the Cuban Constitution. The Varela Project was ignored and vilified by the government, the Constitution was changed for the worse, and the Black Spring arrived. I was twenty.
Yesterday at the Hotel Santa Isabel I had the honor of meeting Jimmy Carter, to listen to him and for him to listen to me. And I also had the tremendous satisfaction of sharing the table with many of those who have for many years — longer than myself — pushed for things on this tired island to change. Men and women who have spent their whole lives gathering the grains of sand to save civil society, for the respect of civil rights, who have suffered imprisonment and sacrificed their personal dreams in pursuit of the dreams of an entire nation.
I know Jimmy Carter does not hold in his hands the solutions for all of Cuba. I know that despite all those who have left their souls by the side of the road for this land, we are still suspended in a strange half-century “Revolution.” But meetings like today’s remind me that no matter how much we lack, there is a light at the end of the road.
Translator’s note: Here is a link to Jimmy Carter’s own trip report, released April 1, 2011.