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By Ricardo Alarcon

Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the National Assembly in Cuba, is Cuba's most powerful political figure after Fidel Castro.(END ITALIC)

-- Jimmy Carter was received by the Cuban people with respect and sympathy. Everybody appreciated his call to lift the embargo and his ideas about a future of peace and mutual
cooperation with the United States. He also expressed, in an unrestricted manner, his political views, including his differences with the Cuban system.

By contrast, President Bush's speech on Monday was the same old Cold War rhetoric. He reiterated his refusal to allow Americans to travel and trade with Cuba, ignoring the wishes expressed by both Houses of the U.S. Congress. He promised to continue ignoring the fact that Cuba is an independent country, not a U.S. colony.

Having said that, I have to acknowledge his sense of humor. I really like his call for fair and legitimate elections being launched from Miami. That joke is better than any on offer from
David Letterman or Jay Leno.

Although in his speech at Havana University, Mr. Carter endorsed the so-called Varela Project (a referendum proposed by dissidents on free speech and elections --ed.), during the press conference at the end of his visit, he apparently realized the issue was not so simple.

Perhaps he took appropriate note of comments made on that occasion by students and the dean of the law school. The entire proceedings were published verbatim in all Cuban media, even though the international media, by and large, chose to ignore what was said by those Cubans present.


The so-called Varela Project is a U.S. government project, as illustrated by the very active and open promotion it has been getting from U.S. diplomats who, surprisingly, have provided details in the Miami press of the material and organizational support they have given.

As president of the National Assembly, I must guarantee respect for our Constitution, which was approved by 98 percent of the people in a referendum, after having discussed and modified the original draft through a long process involving millions of Cubans.

The notion that 0.01 percent of the electorate -- assuming that signatures allegedly endorsing that petition are valid -- may oblige the National Assembly to promote fundamental changes to our institutional system and its foundation is simply laughable. I don't know of any constitution on the planet that would sanction such a process.

The other issue raised in Washington on the eve of Jimmy Carter's visit involved the preposterous charge that Cuba in researching ''biotech for terrorism.'' This charge demonstrates a very simple and terrifying reality: The Bush administration has no limits
to its lack of ethics and sense of responsibility.

We challenged U.S. officials to present one single piece of evidence to support this charge, and they have not done so. And they cannot because there is none and there cannot be. We have developed an important pharmaceutical and biotech industry to which we have devoted substantial resources, especially to training thousands of young scientists and technicians.

The sole purpose of these efforts has many witnesses: In Cuba we have practically eliminated or prevented a number of diseases that, like meningitis, still take the lives of people in the United States. We have a health-care system that covers the entire population, something that is still a dream for 40 million in the U.S. Our health indicators are well above any other Latin American or developing country and are comparable with many in the industrialized world. We have a program of cooperation to improve health standards with many poor countries and are researching production of vaccines and medications for diseases that afflict the Third World but are not a priority for the labs of big companies in the rich countries.

We talked extensively about all this with President Carter, a man really concerned with the plight of the poor and the sick. We explored possible cooperation with the Carter Center in providing assistance and working together in Africa and other places.

Thankfully, Jimmy Carter helped to destroy the spurious and unsubstantiated charge of the link between our biotech programs and terrorism. In preparation for his visit, he met with high officials in the U.S. State Department and the CIA, and spoke personally with National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.

He asked them directly if there was any Cuban involvement with bioterrorism and got a negative answer from all of them. None of these officials has dared to contradict Carter on this. On the contrary, they have started to backpedal.

Carter himself suggested that such an irresponsible lie was intended to damage his historic

Rather, the charge against Cuba seemed intended to prepare for another visit: President Bush's triumphal parade in Miami's Little Havana on Monday. This trip also has a very special significance, but for reasons of a completely different nature than Mr. Carter's.

It is very telling that the commander-in-chief in the ''war on terrorism'' chose to celebrate Cuba's independence along with some of those we consider the more notorious anti-Cuban terrorists in the U.S. -- and their financial and material supporters.

Bomb attacks against Havana hotels in recent years killed a young Italian tourist and maimed other innocents. Terrorists were also involved in other actions, as acknowledged by the terrorist chieftain, Luis Posada Carriles, in his autobiography. Mr. Posada no doubt had to excuse himself from attending the celebration in Miami this week because he is still in jail in Panama, waiting trial for having entered the country illegally with a large cargo of C-4 explosives with the aim of killing Fidel Castro at a university conference attended by hundreds of students. But what about Orlando Bosch? Or Virgilio Paz or Dionisio Suarez?

While these people we consider terrorists are apparently welcomed by the United States, five young Cubans have been jailed (for spying) precisely for having fought against their criminal plans. At the sentencing of one of them, Rene Gonzalez, who got 15 years, a peculiar and revealing condition was placed upon him after he finishes his term: ''As a further special condition of supervised release, the defendant is prohibited from associating with or visiting specific places where individuals or groups such as terrorists, members of organizations advocating violence and organized crime figures are known to be or frequent.''

From our perspective, it makes no sense that young Americans are risking their lives trying to find terrorists in remote caves in faraway places, while other terrorists are allowed to
stay at their own homes in Miami and celebrate.

(c) 2002, Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate International, a division of Tribune Media Services.
For immediate release (Distributed 5/20/02)