Carter set for Cuba visit amid U.S.-Cuba troubles

Mon Mar 28, 2011 5:09am GMT

By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, returning to Cuba for the first time since a groundbreaking 2002 trip, will start a three-day visit on Monday to discuss troubled U.S.-Cuba relations and the fate of imprisoned U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross.

Although just 90 miles (145 km) of water separate the two Cold War enemies, Carter, 86, is the only U.S. president, former or sitting, to visit the communist-ruled island since a 1959 revolution toppled a U.S.-backed dictator and put Fidel Castro in power.

He and his wife, Rosalynn, were scheduled to arrive at Havana's Jose Marti International Airport at 10:50 a.m. EDT (3:50 p.m. British time), then meet with Cuba's Jewish community and Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Havana.

Castro, 84, welcomed Carter at the airport on his 2002 visit, but he stepped down as president three years ago after surgery and was succeeded by brother Raul Castro, 79.

It was not known if the younger Castro would greet Carter this time, but they will meet for talks on Tuesday afternoon.

The Carter Centre in Atlanta said the trip was a "private, non-governmental mission" for Carter to learn about Cuba's new economic policies and talk about ways to improve U.S.-Cuba relations that have gone cold after a brief warming under U.S. President Barack Obama.

Cuba is preparing for a Communist Party congress in mid-April to approve reforms to the island's Soviet-style economy.

Carter is expected to discuss the release of Gross, 61, who was put on trial this month and sentenced to 15 years in prison for providing illegal Internet access to Cuban dissidents.   Continued...

<p>Referendum observer and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter speaks during an interview in Khartoum January 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah (SUDAN</p>
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