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During a historic trip in May 2002 as the first former or sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since the 1959 Cuban revolution, President Carter called on the U.S. and Cuban governments to mend relations.

Waging Peace

Former President Carter urged the United States to end its economic embargo against Cuba, in place since 1960, and President Fidel Castro to hold free elections, improve human rights, and allow greater civil liberties. President Carter's main goals in visiting the island nation were to meet Cuban people from all walks of life, to establish a dialogue with President Fidel Castro and other government officials, and to explore ways to ease the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

+May 2002 trip

During a historic trip in May 2002 as the first former or sitting U.S. president to visit Cuba since the 1959 Cuban revolution, President Carter called on the U.S. and Cuban governments to mend relations.

He urged the United States to end its economic embargo against Cuba, in place since 1960, and President Fidel Castro to hold free elections, improve human rights, and allow greater civil liberties. President Carter's main goals were to meet Cuban people from all walks of life, to establish a dialogue with President Castro and other government officials, and to explore ways to ease the relationship between the United States and Cuba.

The delegation also included former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, Carter Center Executive Director Dr. John Hardman, Latin America and Caribbean Program (formerly known as the Americas Program) Director Dr. Jennifer McCoy, and Associate Director Dr. Shelley McConnell.

The highlight of the trip was President Carter's speech at the University of Havana, where he made an unprecedented call in communist country for personal and political freedoms — made not only to students and faculty but also to the senior members of the Cuban government attending the speech.

President Carter also called for the Varela Project petition to be published in the official newspaper so that people could learn about it. The Varela Project sought a national referendum on legislative changes to guarantee rights such as freedom of speech and assembly, free elections, and free enterprise. More than 11,000 signatures were obtained and submitted to the National Assembly just days before President Carter arrived in Cuba. Under Cuban law, the National Assembly must at least consider petitions for legislative proposals, though it does not have to hold a referendum. Before the speech, few Cubans had heard about the project since it received no coverage by the state-owned media.

After the trip, President Carter briefed members of the U.S. House and Senate as well as President George W. Bush on his discussions with Cuban officials.

+March 2011 trip

At the invitation of Cuban President Raúl Castro, President Carter, former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, and a small Carter Center delegation visited Havana on behalf of Carterin March 2011. During the three-day visit, President Carter called for more human rights in the country and urged U.S. officials to end the prohibition on trade.

While in the country, President Carter saw Alan Gross, a U.S. aid contractor who was arrested in December 2010 and was serving a 15-year sentence in a Cuban prison. President Carter urged that the American be granted a humanitarian release. Gross was released in December 2014.

As he did during his groundbreaking trip to the country in May 2002, President Carter met with several political dissidents. He also met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and with former Cuban President Fidel Castro.

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