The Korea Herald


Carter’s visit encourages dissidents in Cuba

By 류근하

Published : April 5, 2011 - 18:44

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When former President Jimmy Carter last visited Cuba, in 2002, he delivered a remarkable speech via the state-run media that criticized the Castro dictatorship and exposed listeners to the truly revolutionary idea that it’s up to the Cuban people, not the one-party regime nor any foreign government, to determine Cuba’s future.

Naturally, his visit raised hopes that this might represent an ever-so-small but significant breakthrough for democracy. Within months, Fidel Castro dashed those hopes. The Cuban “black spring” of March 2003 saw the round-up and imprisonment of 75 dissidents on flimsy, capricious charges designed to stifle any hint of political freedom or accommodation. It was a vicious blow to the aspirations of millions of Cubans and a testament to the enduringly repressive and capricious nature of the hard-line Castro regime.

Carter’s trip made sense back then, and so does his latest journey. Neither visits by a former U.S. president nor even by the pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church can change Cuba, but the visits are worthwhile.

Although he was unable to secure the release of detained American Alan Gross, which was never in the cards, Carter was able to meet with this imprisoned victim of Cuban state security and raise the issue with Cuban officials.

His meetings with Cuba’s brave band of democracy advocates also deserve commendation.

Such meetings give the dissidents the imprimatur of recognition by an individual who won the Nobel Peace Prize. It means they are not alone, that their struggle has the support of all who fight for peaceful change on behalf of political and human rights around the world. It gives the dissidents hope, something always in short supply in Cuba. It means their sacrifices are honored. It puts the government on notice that the world is watching and will condemn any punishment that comes their way from the repressive security apparatus.

This is especially important at a time when the Cuban people show signs of growing impatience with the gerontocracy that rules the island and, in particular, with Fidel Castro’s long good-bye. Change in Cuba will come at its own pace and will be determined by the will and circumstances of its own people, but it will assuredly come. Until then, those who aspire for a better Cuba deserve encouragement and support. To that end, visits like Carter’s are helpful.

What is decidedly not helpful, though, are comments by Carter favoring the release of five Cuban spies held in American prisons. The implicit quid pro quo is their release in exchange for the freedom of Gross. This would be an unqualified mistake. There is no equivalency whatsoever in these two cases. None can be acknowledged nor implied.

The Cuban spies were convicted of charges related to spying in an open trial, with their case reviewed (twice) by a federal appellate court. They had the benefit of lawyers committed to giving them the best defense possible. Contrast this with Gross, who is no one’s idea of a spy. His “crime” was to bring unregistered communications equipment onto the island for the use of marginalized groups.

For this, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison by a judicial authority that works hand-in-gloved fist with the totalitarian government. That’s justice, Castro-style.

The Obama administration has made overtures to the Cuban government. But as long as Gross remains in prison, all moves toward better relations will be frozen. Only by Cuba’s actions can there be a thaw in relations.

(The Miami Herald, April 2)