Former President Jimmy Carter arrived in Havana on Monday to discuss Raúl Castro’s economic reforms and how to improve U.S.-Cuba relations, stymied by the imprisonment of U.S. government subcontractor Alan P. Gross.
Carter is the most important U.S. figure to visit Cuba, both under Fidel Castro’s rule in 2002 and now under his younger brother Raúl. The older Castro has praised him as the president who tried hardest to normalize U.S. relations with Havana.
His first scheduled meeting, with leader of Cuba’s tiny Jewish community, strengthened speculation that he will push Havana to free Gross, a U.S. Agency for International Development subcontractor serving a 15-year sentence.
Gross, a 61-year-old from Potomac, Md., was arrested in late 2009 after he delivered sophisticated equipment to members of the Jewish community and other non-government groups so they could communicate better with each other and the outside world.
Havana officials have branded the Washington campaign to improve Cuban’s access to the Internet, part of its effort to support civil society on the island, as a thinly disguised effort to subvert the communist government.
The Obama administration has repeatedly said that any significant improvements in U.S. policies toward Cuba will not be possible until he is freed as a “humanitarian gesture.”
Dissidents in Havana reported that authorities arrested at least two government critics who staged a protest Monday near Havana’s Cuban Capitol to coincide with Carter’s arrival. They identified the two as Eriberto Liranza Romero and Boris Rodríguez Jiménez, both members of the Cuban Youths for Democracy Movement, and added that other dissidents had been detained Sunday night to block their participation in the protest.
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