Carpe diem

Posted: May 17, 2002 12:00 AM
"Your strength can compensate for my weakness, and your wisdom can help to minimize my mistakes." -- Jimmy Carter, Inaugural Address, Jan. 20, 1977 Washington, D.C. -- Twenty-five years later, America is still trying to compensate for, and minimize, Jimmy Carter's mistakes and weaknesses. This week, our 39th president took time off from building houses for the homeless, a noble calling, to erect a pedestal on which to place the tropical tyrant, Fidel Castro of Cuba. The so-called mainstream media loved it -- and gushed over Carter's "courage," his "pointed call for reform" and his "praise" for Cuba's education and health-care systems. Carter's visit to Fidel's island paradise, where 11 million souls await the dictator's demise, is the first by any U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge's 1928 visit. Even William the World Traveler, who granted recognition to communist Vietnam and cavorted on the blood-soaked cobblestones of Tiananmen Square, hasn't deigned to dignify the brutal, bearded butcher of Havana with a visit. Carter did take a page from the Clinton, "Blame America First" playbook. Just as Bill Clinton never missed an opportunity to apologize for America while in a foreign land, Carter used the unique occasion of a televised speech to the Cuban people to attack America, saying the United States "is hardly perfect in human rights" and denounced the "very large number of our citizens" in prisons. These are astounding statements from a former chief executive -- even one as enamored by leftist leaders as Carter. But to question America's commitment to human rights while standing on an island where human rights don't exist defies reason. To denounce the U.S. judicial system in a country that imprisons people without trial is unconscionable. And while I am no supporter of our death penalty, it is outrageous that Carter could use this issue to create a moral equivalency between the United States and a terrorist state like Cuba. According to Human Rights Watch, an organization that is anything but "right-wing," Cuba continues a policy of repression, including "short-term detentions, house arrest, travel restrictions, threats, surveillance, politically motivated dismissals from employment and other forms of harassment" against its enemies. Freedom of speech is nonexistent in this "worker's paradise." Dissent against the leaders, "insult" to symbols or unauthorized use of the state-owned print and broadcast media is considered treasonous and harmful to state security, and is punishable by stiff sentences in poorly maintained facilities where a dissident might find himself confined with a mentally or sexually deranged cellmate. The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation claims nearly 250 cases of political imprisonment. Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department and the Cuban American National Foundation maintain long lists of Cubans unjustly imprisoned, beatings, intimidation, forced family separations and other repression. Freedom House lists Cuba in its top 10 worst nations with respect to basic freedoms. According to the Freedom House survey, Cuba rates a dubious "7" in both political rights and civil liberties -- the lowest score possible. And what does Carter say about this horrific record? His new friend Fidel should permit the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit prisons -- to refute "unwarranted criticisms." And the American media reported all this with a straight face. The potentates of the press also showered accolades on Carter for castigating the United States' unwillingness to provide universal medical care while praising Cuba's "superb system of health care." But according to the Cuban American National Foundation, Castro's vaunted health care system is akin to "medical apartheid" -- providing first-rate services to Communist Party officials while average citizens suffer from "lack of chlorinated water, poor nutrition, deteriorating housing and generally unsanitary conditions" that "have increased the number of cases of infectious diseases." Carter claims he was "thoroughly briefed" by government officials on all pertinent matters before his visit. Whoever briefed him forgot to cover the aforementioned issues. According to Carter, they also neglected to mention Castro's connection to terrorism -- even though Cuba is on the State Department's short list of State Sponsors of Terror. If that's true, it's a shame. But the bigger shame is Carter's. His address to the Cuban people over Havana's state-run television gave him an unparalleled opportunity to admonish the dwindling despot -- and encourage his oppressed people. That's what Ronald Reagan did on June 12, 1987, at the Brandenburg Gate when he said, "Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Carter could have quoted the "self evident" truths of the Declaration of Independence "that all men are created equal," instead of the hollow words of the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He could have denounced Castro's human rights abuses, called for American and international inspectors to certify that Cuba's laboratories aren't producing biological weapons, praised the organizers of the Valera Project and demanded immunity for all citizens who signed the petition. But sadly, Carter did not. Like so much in his public life -- except for his support for Habitat for Humanity -- Carter's trip to Cuba was another missed opportunity. The lesson? Carpe diem, Carter.