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Tuesday, 9 April, 2002, 21:17 GMT 22:17 UK
Carter set for historic Cuba trip
Former US President Jimmy Carter
Mr Carter hopes to visit Cuba in May
Former US President Jimmy Carter has been given permission to go ahead with a landmark visit to Cuba.

Washington granted Mr Carter a "standard licence to travel," Deanna Congileo of the former leader's Carter Center confirmed.

She said the centre was planning a trip for May, which if it goes ahead will make Mr Carter the highest-ranking US official to visit the communist country since the 1959 revolution.

Mr Carter needed special permission to visit Cuba, which is subject to long-standing US economic sanctions and travel restrictions on ordinary Americans wanting to visit.

Cuban President Fidel Castro
Pressure for trade is growing despite Castro's iron grip
The former president has long pushed for improving ties with the country condemned last month by President George W Bush as an "incredibly repressive regime".

President Fidel Castro recently re-issued an invitation extended two years ago to the former peanut farmer and governor of Georgia.

"We want him to see our country, not so that he supports us... indeed so that he may make all the criticisms he wants," Mr Castro said.

During his four-year presidency, Mr Carter set up diplomatic missions known as "Interests Sections" in Havana and Washington and briefly lifted the bar on US citizens travelling to Cuba.

Rights issues

Chip Barclay, a spokesman for the US State Department, said Mr Carter's expertise in human rights and social development "could be put to great use in Cuba".

"We're sure he will raise the issue of human rights particularly in these conversations in Cuba, and also sure that he'll probably come back much better informed about the sorry state of affairs in Cuba after his visit."

Dissidents in Cuba welcomed the visit, but said they expected it to have little effect on domestic politics or the US embargo policy.

Dissident Elizardo Sanchez, who diplomats expect to meet Mr Carter if he does visit, said the event might help speed the release of Cuba's best known political prisoner, Vladimiro Roca.

See also:

04 Apr 02 | Americas
Following Cuba's example
09 Sep 01 | Americas
Cuba learns to shop online
21 Mar 02 | Americas
Timeline: Cuba
06 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Cuba
19 Oct 00 | Americas
Castro: The great survivor
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