Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter spoke to the Cuban people Tuesday in an unprecedented live radio and television broadcast from the University of Havana. Mr. Carter called for changes in both Cuba and the United States in order to restore friendly relations.
In his speech, delivered in Spanish, Mr. Carter said the U.S. Congress should end the embargo against Cuba and allow U.S. citizens to travel freely to the communist-ruled island. However, he also criticized Cuba's socialist system, where he said one party dominates and basic human rights guaranteed by the Cuban constitution are, in fact, denied to the people.
Mr. Carter called special attention to the so-called Varela Project, whereby Cuban dissidents have collected more than 11,000 signatures on a petition asking for a referendum on opening the country to democracy. Mr. Carter said that if such a referendum were held, the world would see that Cubans, and not foreigners, will decide the future of the country.
Mr. Carter also challenged two of the most-often repeated Cuban government statements. One is that the U.S. embargo is a blockade that has prevented the country from obtaining food and medicine. President Carter said that while he is against the embargo, it is not the reason for Cuba's economic problems. He noted that Cuba has trade relations with more than 100 countries and that it can buy medicine from Mexico for less than what it costs in the United States.
Mr. Carter also attacked another common Cuban position, that the United States wants to impose its form of government on Cuba. Mr. Carter noted that the human rights he would like to see honored here in Cuba are defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Cuba signed in 1948.
Later, in a question-and-answer session with university students and faculty, Mr. Carter listened patiently to a few questions that were, in effect, attempts to refute his criticisms of the Cuban communist system.
One man derided the Varela project as an insult to the Cuban nation supported by a very small group of people backed by the U.S. government. Mr. Carter answered that he had seen no evidence of U.S. involvement in the movement and that the people behind the project are, in fact, following a procedure outlined in the Cuban constitution.