ATLANTA – Former President Jimmy Carter will visit Cuba this year, provided the Bush administration doesn't stand in his way, a Carter spokeswoman confirmed Saturday.
The move would make Carter the first former American president to visit the island since Fidel Castro took power in 1959.
"He was issued a formal invitation by Fidel Castro, but he doesn't know yet when he's going," Kay Torrance, a spokesman for The Carter Center in Atlanta, said Saturday. "He doesn't have an agenda planned at this time. He's just looking forward to the visit."
Carter spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said Castro's invitation stemmed from the Carter Center's "Americas Program," an effort to bring together leaders of the Cuban-American exile community and the Castro government.
Joe Garcia, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation, told The Miami Herald his organization welcomes the trip — provided Carter tells Castro to leave power. During a 1994 visit to Haiti, Carter negotiated an agreement to remove military ruler Gen. Raoul Cedras from power.
"If he is going the way he went to Haiti, then we welcome his trip to Cuba if he is going to tell Fidel Castro to leave," Garcia said. "However, if he's going to give legitimacy to a 43-year-old dictatorship, then I think it would be unfortunate."
While not divulging his agenda, Carter said his intentions are to improve relations between Cuba and the United States, not to deliver an ultimatum.
Carter said increasing trade and Americans' visits to Cuba would spread understanding of the advantages of freedom.
"That's the best way to bring about change, and not to punish the Cuban people themselves by imposing an embargo on them, which makes Castro seem to be a hero because he is defending his own people against the abuse of Americans," he said.