Former President Jimmy Carter is going back in time. In Cuba he will see more than vintage American cars, circa 1950s, smoking up the streets with their patchwork "remodeled" diesel engines. He'll do more than choke on the fumes from the oil refinery near Havana's harbor, the sulfuric acid stinging his eyes whenever the wind turns toward the city.
He will be shown all of the Cuban revolution's socialist "triumphs" amid the ruins of communism. He will surely be pained by the contradictions. He'll visit an agricultural cooperative and tour a medical school and the Los Cocos AIDS sanitarium, where Cubans with AIDS are "quarantined" for life. Talk about progressive health care.
Carter even plans a tour of Cuba's Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, a high-tech facility that produces vaccines for other countries. The Bush administration created a stir last week by accusing Cuba of sharing its dual-use biotech capability with "rogue" states that are looking to create plagues for biological warfare.
That charge should put into perspective Castro's own warning to the United States during his swing through the Middle East last May. "Iran and Cuba, in cooperation with each other, can bring America to its knees," Castro said at the University of Tehran. "The U.S. regime is very weak and we are witnessing this weakness from close-up."
Predictable inflammatory rhetoric from Fidel and nothing more?
Consider the information that Jose de la Fuente, the former head of Cuba's biotech center who oversaw 350 scientists there during the 1990s, made public last fall. De la Fuente, a defector who now teaches in the United States, says Cuba sold Iran dual-use recombinant technology for hepatitis and other vaccines, technology that could be used to make biological weapons.
De la Fuente's statements, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, came on the heels of the U.S. government's public admission that it had a Cuba spy in its midst. Ana Belen Montes, who pled guilty to espionage earlier this month, played a leading role in the 1999 Defense Department study that concluded Cuba no longer posed a threat to U.S. security. It took the U.S. government 16 years to figure out that Montes, the Pentagon's top Cuba analyst, spied for Castro's government all of that time.
Her arrest was triggered by the Sept. 11 attacks on America. Federal investigators, who had been trailing her activities for months, feared she would leak sensitive information about the attacks to Cuba. And Cuba, in turn, would share the intelligence with its allies in the terrorist camp Iraq, Iran and Libya, all nations on the State Department's terrorism hit list.
Enter Carter, passionate about human rights and hostile against the embargo. All eyes are on Carter to pry open U.S. policy toward Cuba. But what we should be asking is: What are Castro's intentions?
Carter, whose speech at the University of Havana on Tuesday will be televised for all Cubans to see, should put that question to the island nation. He should ask Cubans what they think Castro meant in Tehran about bringing America to its knees. He should ask why the Cuban people still lack medicines when their government has poured billions of dollars into a first-rate biotechnology center. What are the Cuba regime's true intentions to help the Cuban people or bring America to its knees?
Myriam Marquez is an editorial page columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.