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Exiles See Nothing Significant Coming From Carter's Trip to Cuba - 2002-05-14


Miami's large Cuban exile community is closely monitoring former U.S. president Jimmy Carter's trip to Cuba, which began Sunday. But many exiles say they doubt Mr. Carter's visit will succeed in bringing about significant change on the communist-run island.

Cuban-American Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lethinen represents a Miami district on Capitol Hill and is a staunch defender of long-standing U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba. She says Cuban leader Fidel Castro remains staunchly committed to a Communist path, and that president Carter's trip will do little, if anything, to bring democracy to the island.

The congresswoman says Mr. Carter's trip will do no harm, but will accomplish nothing positive, either. She says Cuban President Fidel Castro only respects power.

Ms. Ros-Lethinen's words are echoed by another Cuban-American, Ninoska Perez, who accuses Mr. Carter of acting on behalf of American business interests - not the cause of freedom and human rights.

Ms. Perez says the trip will have no impact except for the big multinational corporations what want to invest in Cuba and on whose behalf president Carter is speaking. She says Mr. Carter is advocating an end to U.S. sanctions against Cuba, while exiles want to achieve freedom on the island.

University of Miami Cuba researcher Max Castro says the reaction of the Cuban exile community is not unexpected. "People [exiles] are impatient," he said.

Professor Castro said exiles tend to view their goal of ending Fidel Castro's rule as an all-or-nothing affair, and to reject any initiatives that start with the premise of fostering gradual change. In the weeks leading up to the trip, Jimmy Carter made no sweeping statements about the need to unseat Fidel Castro from power in Cuba.

Thus, Max Castro said, many exiles view the former president's visit with suspicion. "There are a number of things that lead in the direction of skepticism. Mainly," he said, "it is a very understandable impatience on the part of many exiles. We are talking in some cases about people in their 60's, 70's and 80's who would like to witness major and dramatic changes in Cuba quickly."

But even pro-democracy dissidents in Cuba embrace the idea of reform rather than revolution. Noted dissident Vladimiro Roca, who was released from prison days before Mr. Carter's arrival, says patience is required.

Mr. Roca says any changes arising from Mr. Carter's visit will not be apparent in the immediate term. Rather, he says changes will be seen gradually in the future, as they were after Pope John Paul II's visit to Cuba in 1998.

President Carter's trip comes at a time when a growing number of U.S. lawmakers are advocating an end to economic sanctions against Cuba. Mr. Carter, himself, has argued that the embargo has failed and is counterproductive. But many exiles defend the embargo as a necessary tool to force democratic change on the island.

Professor Max Castro said embargo-backers view Mr. Carter's trip as a threat. "The rejection in some exile quarters comes because they feel Jimmy Carter will be more effective in undermining the embargo than he will be in immediately undermining Fidel Castro and his [Communist] system," he said.

Former president Carter is scheduled to return from Cuba on Friday.

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