In a speech on Cuban TV May 14, former President Jimmy Carter called for an end to the U.S. blockade against Cuba. His remarks came as Bush administration claims that Cuba is making biological weapons and sharing information about them continued to unravel.

Carter, a long-time opponent of the embargo, said, ‘Our two nations have been trapped in a destructive state of belligerence for 42 years, and it is time for us to change our relationship. Because the United States is the most powerful nation, we should take the first step.’

Speaking in Spanish, Carter said, ‘Public opinion surveys show that a majority of people in the United States would like to see the economic embargo ended, normal travel between our two countries, friendship between our people.’

Carter echoed criticisms voiced by opponents of Cuban socialism regarding Cuba?s human rights record. However, Carter was also critical of the U.S. record on human rights.

‘My nation is hardly perfect in human rights,’ Carter said. ‘A very large number of our citizens are incarcerated in prison, and there is little doubt that the death penalty is imposed most harshly on those who are poor, Black or mentally ill. For more than a quarter century, we have struggled unsuccessfully to guarantee the basic right of universal health care for our people.’ He also noted the problems in the 2000 presidential election in Florida.

As Carter refuted the bioterror charges, Cuban President Fidel Castro issued a detailed rejection and even Secretary of State Colin Powell edged away from the assertions made by his subordinate, Undersecretary of State John Bolton.

Carter, in Havana on Castro’s invitation and with the Bush administration’s approval, told of asking State Department personnel, intelligence agencies and top White House officials about bioterrorism during briefings in preparation for his trip.

‘There were absolutely no such allegations made or questions raised,’ Carter said during a visit with Castro to Havana’s Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center.

The former president said he also asked specifically and repeatedly if there were any evidence Cuba has shared information with another country that could be used for terrorist purposes. ‘And the answer from our experts on intelligence was, ‘No,” he said.

The bioterrorism charge was announced just on the eve of Carter’s trip to Cuba suggesting a Bush administration ploy to undermine the historic trip. Some speculate, too, that the Bush administration wants to add Cuba to the list of states targeted for the ‘war on terrorism.’

In a May 6 speech to the ultra-right Heritage Foundation, Bolton said U.S. officials believe Cuba has ‘at least a limited offensive biological warfare research and development effort,’ and fear Cuba might be passing information to so-called rogue states.

Fidel Castro responded, ‘I should thank Mr. Bolton for his praise of our pharmaceutical industry, one of the most advanced in Latin America … we only wish it were more advanced.’

The Cuban president pointed out that in the last four decades, over 34,000 Cuban doctors and health workers have worked with intense dedication in countries around the world. ‘It would be very difficult to persuade these men and women to produce viruses and bacteria to kill children, women, old people or the people of any country,’ he said.

Castro said that Cuba, from whose soil no terrorist attack has ever been launched since the revolution, enjoys great prestige because it has waged a ‘true fight against another kind of terrorism that many chose to ignore: the diseases that kill more than 11 million children every year, whose lives could be saved were it not for the selfish attitude of the industrialized world.’ He challenged the U.S. government to ‘do something similar’ or to cooperate with Cuban programs to benefit developing countries, and noted that the U.S. has not responded to three Cuban proposals for bilateral cooperation on immigration issues, drug trafficking and fighting terrorism.

On his way to Iceland for a NATO meeting, Secretary of State Powell told reporters that while the administration thinks Cuba has the capacity to produce biological weapons, it does not claim Cuba has actually done so.

During the historic week-long visit, Carter applauded the Cuban biomedical breakthroughs, saying ‘It may be that Cuba is unique in having emphasized health needs as a driving force and not just to make a profit.’ He praised Cuba’s ‘generosity’ in helping improve medical care to some of the world’s poorest nations.

Yet the Bush administration, ignoring public opinion and mounting Congressional demands to end the embargo, plans to tighten sanctions against Cuba. Bush will speak at a Miami fundraiser May 20, where he will announce plans to strengthen the economic pressure and political isolation of Cuba and its government.

Miami, a long-time haven for far-right extremists and anti-Castro terrorist organizations, is a critical base for the Republican Party. Bush’s brother, Jeb, is running for re-election as Governor, possibly against former Attorney General Janet Reno. Reno infuriated the ultra-right Cubans when she moved to return six-year old Elian Gonzalez to his father in Cuba several years ago.

Marilyn Bechtel can be reached at; Terrie Albano can be reached at


Rosita Johnson
Rosita Johnson

Retired Philadelphia public school teacher Rosita Johnson has devoted her time and energy in organizing material assistance to South African students and teachers before and after the defeat of apartheid.