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U.S. Lacks Credibility on Cuba, Should End Embargo: Carter

By Rachel Sadon
Latin America Advisor, September 7, 2012

WASHINGTON--The United States should end its embargo against Cuba and seek constructive dialogue with the Caribbean nation, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Thursday. "We should all continue to press the Cuban government to respect individual rights and more political openness, but the embargo undermines any credibility that [the United States] has in calling for improvements in Cuba."

Carter restored relations between the two nations after taking office in 1977, establishing special interest sections in Havana and Washington, and has long championed an improved relationship with Cuba. But a "small group of anti-Castro leaders in Florida, who have a major and exaggerated influence in the outcome of the elections" have dictated U.S. policy, he said at the conference, which was sponsored by the CAF Development Bank of Latin America, the Inter-American Dialogue and the Organization of American States.

Carter also took the administration to task for keeping Cuba on the list of "State Sponsors of Terrorism." The country was placed on the black list in 1982 for links to revolutionary "terrorist" groups and remains there for ostensible ties to the FARC and Basque separatist party ETA (as well as fugitives wanted in U.S. courts and "deficiencies" in fighting money laundering). But the Cuban offices of those groups created an opening to begin productive and valuable discussions, said Carter. "The Colombian and Spanish ambassadors told me that this offered them an opportunity to dialogue, as evidenced by Colombia's announcement of the new peace talks in Cuba." 

Referring to the recently revealed peace talks with the FARC, Carter praised the administration of Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. He expressed hope for the future of the talks, which are set to begin in Oslo on Oct. 8 and later relocate to Havana, and also commended Santos for restoring diplomatic with Ecuador and Venezuela. "They don't agree on everything, but they can now work together on threats to security."

The former president also stressed the continued importance of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua earlier this year threatened to pull out of the organization if it isn't reformed and the OAS has agreed to draft a reform plan. Rights advocates fear that the commission, which has long been considered a critical watchdog in the region, could be seriously weakened. "We must look for additional ways to strengthen the commission on human rights and ensure its independence from political pressures... [it] may need some reforms to be more efficient, but its autonomy must not be reduced," emphasized Carter.

He also warned against governments trampling on basic rights because of fears of insecurity or terrorism, alluding to steps that the Obama administration has taken. "We must safeguard the hard won gains we have made to prevent the abuse of power that inevitably results when the executive claims for itself unchecked power to detain and even kill persons it considers a threat." Americans' fear of terrorism has led to indefinite detention in Guantanamo and surveillance of American citizens without warrants, "which I hope we will correct," he said.