Cuba: What Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge Have in Common

By Llana, Sara Miller | The Christian Science Monitor, March 3, 2011 | Go to article overview

Cuba: What Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge Have in Common


Llana, Sara Miller, The Christian Science Monitor


Jimmy Carter is the only US president, current or former, to visit Cuba since Calvin Coolidge in 1928. His second visit to the island came this week after an official invitation from Raul Castro.

Jimmy Carter and Calvin Coolidge have at least one thing in common: they are the only two US presidents to have visited Cuba since 1928.

But Mr. Carter is the sole president - sitting or past - to have visited the island nation since Fidel Castro took power in 1959, putting the restive peacemaker in a unique position to help thaw the 52-year-old freeze between the US and Cuba, which he attempted this week on a three-day trip to Havana.

Unlike Carter's first visit in 2002 - when there was little hope that relations would improve while President George W. Bush was in office - this visit takes place in the context of President Obama's efforts to engage with Cuba by easing restrictions on travel and remittances. That provides a unique opportunity for Carter to leverage his relationship with the Castro brothers to solve one of Washington's most intractable foreign policy issues.

IN PHOTOS: Cuba's underground economy

Carter's trip was cast in a negative light because he failed to secure the release of jailed US contractor Alan Gross, who was recently charged with espionage for providing Internet access to Cubans. While he won't bring back Mr. Gross, merely bringing back a direct message from Mr. Castro to Washington could be valuable, say Cuba specialists.

"Perhaps the most important outcome is if President Carter comes back and talks to President Obama," says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the Virginia-based Lexington Institute.

Carter's aims in Cuba

At the same time that Obama has reached out, Cuba has taken steps to liberalize.

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