Carter's Trip in Cuba Sabotaged by Bioweapons
From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines
the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
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for release May 20, 2002
Carter Trip to Cuba Sabotaged by Bush Administration Charges Against Castro over "Bioweapons Program"
(in RealAudio format, Needs RealPlayer)
Interview by Denise Manzari
Not since the Cuban Revolution in 1959 has a sitting or former U.S. president visited the island of Cuba.
However, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, with a personal invitation from Cuban President Fidel Castro, has made a five-day visit to the island nation. As part of his stay, Carter held several meetings with Castro, dissidents and addressed the Cuban people across the island in Spanish on a live television and radio broadcast. The former American president focused on the history of U.S.-Cuba relations, human rights and the efforts to normalize relations between the two governments
On May 6, just days before Carter's visit, the Bush administration launched an anti-Cuba campaign, when Under Secretary of State John Bolton made a number of unsubstantiated allegations accusing Cuba of developing and maintaining a sophisticated offensive biological weapons industry and of providing related technical information to "enemy governments."
Wayne Smith is the former chief of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana under the Carter administration and is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He spoke with Denise Manzari about Carter's historic visit to Cuba and the Bush administration's hard-line policy toward Castro.
Wayne Smith: Carter (went to Cuba) as a private citizen. He has no diplomatic tools with which to negotiate, so we can't expect miracles to come from this visit. Nonetheless the fact is, more was accomplished during the Carter opening to Cuba than any time before or after. Thousands of political prisoners were released, the Cubans began to allow Cuban-Americans to return to visit their families, now about 125,000 a year -- that started under Carter's administration. He opened communications.
Carter believes in dialogue, he's also intensely interested in human rights, democracy, freedom of expression and he will raise all those issues. He has already talked to dissidents and human rights activists in Cuba which is very good, because it gives them new legitimacy and their causes new legitimacy.
Between The Lines: Three days prior to (Carter's leaving on his trip to Cuba) on May 6, the Bush administration's Under Secretary of State John Bolton charged Cuba with producing weapons of mass destruction and supplying that information to rogue states. There has subsequently been a comment by former President Carter and a back off response by Secretary of State Collin Powell saying that "we never really accused them, but said that the technology was there." However the media picked up on that and ran with it -- and that's basically all you heard for three days. Do you want to comment?
Wayne Smith: Yeah, that statement by Under Secretary of State Bolton was most unfortunate. Cuba has a highly developed biotechnology industry, it produces medicines and vaccines -- some vaccines that we don't even produce such as for meningitis B -- and it sells those on a world-wide basis. Any biotech industry that sophisticated could possibly have the capability of producing bacteriological or biological weapons. But there is no evidence whatever that Cuba has done so, or that Cuba has any intention of doing so. Mr. Bolton's statement suggested that Cuba has the technology and is selling it to other rogue states, which is simply not true.
He also says that President Castro continues to put forward terrorism as a political weapon, which he does not. Castro has denounced terrorism in no uncertain terms. So it was a most unfortunate and inaccurate statement, one without a shred of evidence. One suspects that perhaps it was made just before the Carter visit in order to muddy the waters. In other words, to put the visit in an unhappy context. Also, it was made, without any question, because the elections are coming up in Florida in November. The hard-line Cuban exiles have been complaining that the administration has not taken seriously enough their allegations concerning this biological warfare capability in Cuba. So now the administration has "caved" to them and is going to put forward this as a threat.
Between The Lines: What about the fact that the United States maintains Cuba on its list of terrorist states?
Wayne Smith: It's absolutely absurd, they put forward three reasons for doing so: Number one they say because there are Basque terrorists being harbored in Cuba. There are some Basques living there. They came first under an agreement with the Felipe Gonzalez government of Spain some years ago. Felipe Gonzalez's government had asked the Cubans to take them.
The State Department also says that Cuba is harboring American fugitives. Yes, there are some American fugitives there -- no evidence that any of them were involved in terrorist activities. But, by the same token there are Cuban fugitives in the United States, and some who have been involved in terrorist activities according to FBI files. And yet there they are being harbored in Miami.
Between The Lines: President Bush will be making an address on his policy towards Cuba on May 20. What do you think he is going to say?
Wayne Smith: Well, he will announce a new hard line. The hardening of travel controls and so forth.
Between The Lines: Do you want to talk about what you think it's going to take to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. It's been 43 years basically, this is the first former or sitting president that has ever visited Cuba.
Wayne Smith: I think it is going to take Bush being out of office, or at least in the second term. Look, the momentum is in that direction. Polls all indicate that the American people understand the embargo is obsolete, counterproductive, the farmers want to sell their products, businesses want to do business. Congress is already moving in the direction of removing some of the sanctions. It will come. The Bush administration at this point stands in the way. But who knows, maybe after 2004 even it will decide to move aside.
Contact the Center for International Policy at (202) 232-3317 or visit their Web site at http://click.topica.com/maaamZmaaSdChb1BioWb/ (www.ciponline.org)
See related links and listen to an excerpt of this interview in a RealAudio segment or in MP3 on our Web site at: http://click.topica.com/maaamZmaaSdCfb1BioWb/ (www.btlonline.org) for the week ending 5/24/02
********** Denise Manzari is a producer with Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines, for the week ending May 24, 2002.