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Cuban-Americans Have Mixed Reaction to Carter Speech


One day after former U.S. President Jimmy Carter addressed the Cuban people from the University of Havana, much of Miami's large Cuban exile population is talking about the possible short and long-term impact of the speech in communist-run nation. The exiles' reaction is decidedly mixed.

President Carter's 25-minute address was carried live by Cuba's state-controlled broadcast media and by Spanish-language television and radio stations in Miami. The speech, in which Mr. Carter called for democratic reform in Cuba as well as an end to U.S. economic sanctions against the island nation, continues to be a main topic of discussion for Cuban exiles in south Florida.

The head of the Cuban-American National Foundation, Jorge Mas Santos, says on the whole he was very pleased with Mr. Carter's address.

"This has been a very bold step by the [former] president, and I think the one thing that Fidel Castro will not be able to do is erase in the minds of the Cuban people - today, tomorrow and the days that follow - their conversations and their discussions about the need for change, democracy and freedom for the Cuban people, said Mr. Mas Santos"

Other exiles agreed. "It is the first time that somebody has the courage to stand in front of Castro and tell him the truth," said one woman. "The things he said were wonderful; we are very grateful to the president."

But not all exiles were as impressed. Marta Rodriguez says the speech, like Jimmy Carter's visit to Cuba as a whole, can only serve to boost the prestige of Cuban President Fidel Castro. She says she got the impression that Jimmy Carter wanted to get on friendly terms with Fidel Castro, whom she describes as "the devil," and that the speech did not impress her as a tool for liberating Cuba.

University of Miami Cuban studies professor Jamie Suchlicki says he was struck by the fact that Fidel Castro sat in the front row during the address and listened to Mr. Carter's criticisms and suggestions with a smile on his face. "The interesting thing here is that Castro sits back and feels so confident that he is in control that he allows Jimmy Carter to get up and speak in Spanish," noted Prof. Suchlicki. "He wouldn't allow the Cubans to do it. But he allows Jimmy Carter to do it.

Professor Suchlicki says Jimmy Carter succeeded in drawing attention to his contention that longstanding U.S. economic sanctions against Cuba should be lifted. But he says the call for democratic reform on the island fell on deaf ears as far as the government of Fidel Castro is concerned, and will soon be forgotten. "The bottom line is that the visit by Jimmy Carter will not have furthered the human rights situation in Cuba. He will leave Cuba, and Cuba will go back to the same totalitarian system it had before Jimmy Carter's visit," he said.

Mr. Suchlicki commends former President Carter for drawing attention to a dissident-launched petition drive for reform in Cuba called the Varela Project. But he adds that, even with Mr. Carter's help, the Varela ideas have virtually no chance of being adopted so long as Fidel Castro remains in power.

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