Monday, March 28, 2011

Amid tension, Carter heads to Cuba

Carter threw some balls in his first visit to Cuba, in 2002.

Former President Jimmy Carter arrives in Cuba on Monday for a three-day trip aimed at thawing U.S.-Cuban relations, and may push for the release of an American just sentenced to 15 years in jail there.

Carter accepted an invitation from the Cuban government to meet with President Raul Castro and other officials to learn about changes there since his last visit in 2002. Called a “private, nongovernmental mission” by the Carter Center, the visit nonetheless signals an effort to improve the relationship between the United States and its neighbor 90 miles to the south.

Carter is also expected to meet with Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Havana, and members of the Jewish community. Wife Rosalynn Carter will accompany him.

Carter is the only current or former president to visit the island nation since Fidel Castro took control of the Cuban government in 1959.

The Carter Center’s announcement made no mention of Alan Gross, a State Department contractor sentenced this month to 15 years in Cuban prison for providing illegal Internet access to political dissidents. He was found guilty of “acts against the independence or territorial integrity” of Cuba.

But Carter – who traveled to North Korea last year to negotiate for the release of an American imprisoned there – is expected to bring up Gross’s case.

“We’re hoping that he will talk with the Cuban government to ask for a humanitarian release and if the Cuban government could please consider it, hopefully immediately,” Molly Koscina, a spokeswoman for the U.S. mission in Havana, told AFP.

Cuban officials have told Carter not to expect to be able to bring Gross home with him, Reuters reported, though Carter’s visit could put Gross’s case on a path toward his ultimate release.

The State Department confirmed last week that Carter is planning to visit North Korea again this year, perhaps as soon as April, with a group of former world leaders, including ex-United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Jennifer Epstein 

From: Politico 

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