Jimmy Carter Gets OK for Cuba Trip
HAVANA (AP) _ Former President Carter has received U.S. government approval to visit Cuba and is tentatively planning to travel to this Caribbean island with a small group in May, a Carter spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.
The U.S. Treasury Department on Friday announced it had granted permission for the trip, said Deanna Congileo of the Carter Center in Atlanta. She said no firm dates had been set.
Carter would be the first U.S. president _ in or out of office _ to visit the island since the 1959 revolution during which President Fidel Castro came to power.
Carter’s planned visit comes amid a toughening of the White House’s hard-line policies toward Cuba. The Bush administration and the Cuban exile community will likely pressure him to discuss democracy and human rights with his host.
Leaders with the powerful exile group the Cuban American National Foundation have said that they welcome the trip as long as Carter tells Castro he should leave power. During a 1994 visit to Haiti, Carter negotiated an agreement with military ruler Gen. Raoul Cedras to step down.
Castro extended the invitation in January and Carter publicly accepted it two months later.
The Cuban leader has said he wouldn’t mind hearing criticism from his guest, insisting that the most important thing is for Carter to see the country for himself.
There have been steady moves in the U.S. Congress to ease trade sanctions and restrictions on travel to the communist country. Carter has spoken out for increasing trade and Americans’ visits to Cuba, saying they would spread understanding of the advantages of freedom.