Cuba paper prints Carter speech

With unusual openness, official communist paper runs the full, critical text

May 17, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

HAVANA - In a highly unusual gesture of openness, the official newspaper of the Communist Party published yesterday the uncensored text of former President Jimmy Carter's speech Tuesday in which he bluntly criticized Cuba's system for denying basic freedoms and endorsed a referendum to bring increased personal and political rights.

The referendum campaign, known as Project Varela, had been subjected to a news blackout in the state-run news media, even after its supporters garnered more than 10,000 signatures on petitions, as required by the Cuban Constitution.

The newspaper, Granma, devoted five of its eight pages yesterday to Carter's speech and to his detailed responses to audience members who had denounced the project as a foreign creation.

Granma usually carries only speeches by President Fidel Castro and other officials and news stories the party deems suitable for coverage, including reports about problems in unfriendly countries, especially the United States.

At the same time, Carter had a chance to view some of the divisions within Cuba's small dissident human rights movement. Not all of the island's rights advocates supported the referendum Carter endorsed, and he met yesterday with dissidents on both sides of the issue.

Granma did not act on Carter's suggestion that it also print the demands of the project: electoral law reform, amnesty for political prisoners, freedom of expression and the right to own small businesses. Nevertheless, the project's supporters were pleased that Cubans would be able to see Carter's reference to their effort in the government paper.

"We think it is positive," said Oswaldo Paya, who has led the petition effort. "Now we need for the demands of Project Varela to be published so people will know what is being talked about."

Paya was among 23 human rights advocates, dissidents, independent librarians and journalists who met with Carter yesterday at the residence of a United Nations official. They thanked him for his visit and offered a sobering counterpoint to four days of government showcases in health and education. One participant gave Carter a list with the names of about 40 political prisoners.

Splits within the dissident community forced Carter to meet separately with Project Varela's supporters and its opponents. Some have rejected the project as playing into Castro's hands because it is being done within the framework of the communist system, which they consider illegitimate.

Carter urged unity among the island's various groups, participants in the meetings said.

Marta Beatriz Roque, an economist who opposes the drive, left the meeting with a conciliatory tone about the referendum campaign.

"It could be manipulated," she said. "But I wish it well. It is something worthy."

Julio Ruiz Pitaluga, who was freed from prison in 1988 after serving 23 years for demanding some of the rights sought by Project Varela, said he hoped Carter's trip could help resolve differences among dissidents.

"Here, it is not about left, center or right," he said. "It is, are you with Castro or not?"

Carter took a brief break for bird-watching outside Havana yesterday morning after four days that included two dinners with Castro, a baseball outing with the Cuban president, and visits to schools, farms, hospitals, research laboratories, churches and historic sites. His visit was to end today.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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