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Kate Snow: Carter frank about Cuba, U.S.

CNN's Kate Snow
CNN's Kate Snow  

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Former President Jimmy Carter delivered a historic address in Cuba, carried live and uncensored on state-run television and radio. Carter spared neither the United States nor Cuba in his Tuesday night remarks, given in Spanish.

From Havana, CNN's Kate Snow discussed reaction to the speech Wednesday.

SNOW: It's going over very well for those who saw it and heard it here. At least that's the initial sense that we're getting. Former President Carter didn't mince any words; he didn't hold back in his criticism of Cuba, even though Fidel Castro was sitting right there in the front row listening.

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Thursday, May 16
• Carter Center human rights, religious meetings

Friday, May 17
• News conference before departure, 10 a.m.

He told about 150 Cuban students, as well as all the folks who were listening on the radio or watching on television here, that Cuba's socialist government, in his words, "does not allow people to organize any type of opposition movement." The constitution, he said here, recognizes the right of expression -- the freedom of expression and association. But he said there are other Cuban laws that then deny those freedoms.

Carter talked about improving relations between the United States and Cuba. He said it wouldn't be easy, but he suggested that Cuba needs to move toward democracy; saying that it should be part of a democratic hemisphere. That's a key word, democracy. But then he also said it's not just up to Cuba, it's also up to the United States.

Mr. Carter made it clear that he supports a lifting of the U.S. embargo on this country. He said Congress needs to take the first step and promote trade and tourism with this country.

President Carter noted that America isn't perfect when it comes to human rights. But he said at least in America, Americans can change their system; they can change their laws through the process. And he said here in Cuba there is a way to do that.

He noted that there's a small piece of the constitution -- the Cuban Constitution -- that allows people to try to force change by [filing] a petition with the government. Why did he bring that up? Because last week a group of dissidents did just that. They turned in a petition to the National Assembly, the parliament here, with 11,000 Cuban signatures on it that calls for a referendum on the government and on human rights.

Now here's the important part. Until [Tuesday] night, Cubans had no idea about that petition. It had never been mentioned on the media here. It had never gotten any publicity.

The leader of that movement says he's thrilled that Carter brought it up, but he was also a bit dismayed that it took a president from the United States to tell the Cuban people what's going on in their own country.

Now after [his] serious speech, the president took a break. He took a trip out to the ballpark, heading out with Fidel Castro. President Carter [was] wearing his trademark Braves cap. He's a big Atlanta Braves fan. President Castro, on the other hand, [was] wearing a cap with a "C" on it for Cuba.

And the two of them -- Mr. Castro [coached] the president a little bit, trying to show him how to throw a ball. President Carter then threw out the first pitch for the baseball game. And the pitch landed a little bit short; it bounced off the home plate.




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