Interview with President Jimmy Carter: Cuba

Former US president Jimmy Carter (L) and Cuban President Fidel Castro listen to US National Anthems after Carter's arrival at the Jose Marti airport in Havana 12 May 2002. Carter is the first US president in or out of office to visit Cuba under Castro'

In the final episode of a five-part series, former President Jimmy Carter examines human rights and the United States, using Cuba as an example. Learn more about the United States and Cuba in this podcast from

Former US president Jimmy Carter (L) and Cuban President Fidel Castro listen to US National Anthems after Carter's arrival at the Jose Marti airport in Havana 12 May 2002. Carter is the first US president in or out of office to visit Cuba under Castro's communist rule. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)


Announcer: Welcome to Stuff You Missed in History Class from

Female Speaker 1: In celebration of the reopening of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum and the former president's 85th birthday, we sat down with Nobel laureate Jimmy Carter to talk about the highlights of his presidency and his hopes for the Carter Center. Human rights!

President Carter: Yes.

Female Speaker 1: How do you think we can honor human rights in tough economic and tough social times?

President Carter: Well, human rights has to be understood in its full meaning. The problem is that different nations have different definitions of human rights. If you walk through a college campus or walk down the street and you ask Americans, "Name the human rights that are important to you," they would say freedom of speech and freedom of religion and the freedom of assembly and the right to choose our own leaders. That would be natural for them to do because that's the basically the rights that are spelled out in the Constitution of the United States. That's what we think about human rights. If you go into a poverty stricken country like Ethiopia or Ghana or Mali or Burkina Faso and you say, "What are the most important human rights?" they would a right to a decent place in which to live, a right for my children to have enough to eat, a right for me to have a job, a right for my family to have healthcare, for my children to be educated, because those are the most important things to them that they don't have. So human rights have to encompass both sides: freedom, an absence of torture by one's government. And at the same time the right of people to have a decent life, so all of those are human rights, and that's the umbrella under which the Carter Center operates. We try to provide peace, which is a human right, by negotiating to prevent wars or to end wars. We try to provide freedom and democracy, an absence of torture in prison and at the same time to alleviate the suffering of people and to give them an ability to raise more food for themselves. Through programs like Habitat for Humanity, my wife and I build homes in partnership with poor families that have never had a decent place to live. We try to concentrate on the right of people to have freedom from unnecessary diseases, so that's what we consider to be the importance and the definition of human rights.

Female Speaker 1: In terms of working with difficult leaders and looking toward the future and your hope in the current administration, what do you think will happen with our relations with Cuba?

President Carter: When I became president, I immediately lifted all travel restraints so Americans could go to Cuba without any impediment because I have always felt then and now that we should lift the embargo against the Cuban people that turns 13 million people against us as the ogres, as the villains, and lets the dictators in Cuba blame the United States for all their problems, which they bring upon themselves. I believe that the future will bring about diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, preceded by an end to the embargo that hurts the Cuban people. It doesn't hurt the dictators and leadership capability and will provide a harmony between us and the nearest next door neighbor to us, just 90 miles from Florida, and that is the Cubans. My hope that we'll see reason prevail, and if we ever do treat the Cuban people as equals, I think that's the best step to bring about Cuban people demanding democracy and freedom and an end to military dictatorship in Cuba. That's the best way to bring freedom and democracy to Cuba is to quit punishing the Cuban people.

Female Speaker 1: I'm glad to end on an optimistic note.

Male Speaker: [Inaudible].

President Carter: Thank you all very much.

Female Speaker 1: Okay, thank you so much for your time, President Carter.

President Carter: I've enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

Female Speaker 2: Thank you, thank you.

Announcer: To learn more about the Carter center and its mission of waging peace, fighting disease and building hope, visit And as always, for more on this and thousands of other topics, visit

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Topics in this Podcast: U.S. history, interviews, President Jimmy Carter, human rights, U.S. presidents, Latin American history