From: "Pedro Martori"
Subject: THE WASHINGTON TIMES..Dissident demands Castro tell of petitions
Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2002 19:20:50 -0400
NNTP-Posting-Date: Sun, 20 Oct 2002 19:20:42 EDT
Organization: Bell Sympatico
October 15, 2002
Dissident demands Castro tell of petitions
By Fran Coombs
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
HAVANA - The chief architect of a petition seeking basic
individual freedoms in communist Cuba yesterday demanded that
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"Our leaders prefer to speak to the international
community," Oswaldo Paya said in the aftermath of Mr. Castro's
first public acknowledgement of "the Varela Project," which he
made in an ABC-TV News interview broadcast Friday.
"We are demanding that [he] make the same statement to the
Cuban people," Mr. Paya told a visiting delegation of American
newspaper editors yesterday.
The remarks by Mr. Paya, one of Cuba's leading anti-Castro
dissidents, highlighted an extraordinary appearance at the home
of James C. Cason, the United States' unofficial representative
Mr. Cason introduced Mr. Paya and two other prominent
dissidents - Vladimiro Roca and Martha Rocque - to a surprised
group of editors, visiting Cuba under the auspices of the
American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Mr. Cason made no secret of U.S. willingness to help the
dissidents bring peaceful democratic change to Cuba, but he said
he does not believe Mr. Castro will allow it. "Castro is a
dinosaur," he said.
But the U.S. envoy stopped short of saying publicly that the
Bush administration is pushing "regime change" for the island
nation. U.S. support for the dissident movement comes not in the
form of money, but of fax machines, paper, pens, copies of the
Cuban Constitution and Cuban history books, he said.
Ultimately, Mr. Cason said, any change in government is "up
to the Cuban people."
Organizers of the Varela Project collected more than 11,000
signatures on a petition calling for a referendum asking Cubans
whether they favored the expansion of basic liberties such as
freedom of speech and the right to own a business. The
constitution allows citizens to initiate new legislation with a
petition containing 10,000 signatures.
But few Cubans were aware of the project until Jimmy Carter,
the former president, cited it in a speech here in May that was
televised throughout the island.
Mr. Castro responded by organizing a signature campaign to
permanently enshrine socialism in the Cuban Constitution.
Other than that, he has had no comment about the Varela
Project until the Friday night interview with Barbara Walters.
When she asked him about it, he said the petition will be
considered "in due time" by the National Assembly.
Cuban television aired the interview Sunday night and
scheduled a discussion of its contents by Cuban officials to be
shown last night.
In the interview, Mr. Castro said Mr. Paya's group - Todos
Unidos or "All United" - was within its rights to petition, but
said it will not be allowed to change the 1940 Cuban
"The Varela Project does not request changes in the
constitution," Mr. Paya said yesterday. "It asks that the law be
changed to respect the constitution."
Contrasting the Varela effort with Mr. Castro's famous mass
rallies in Havana's Plaza de la Revolucion, Mr. Paya said,
"Change is not in the plaza raising the hand but in the voting
booth." Mr. Castro "is not the only Cuban. There are 11 million
others [who want] a normal life. That has been our fight from the
Mr. Paya said the members of Todos Unidos are continuing to
collect signatures despite continued harassment by the
government, including beatings, mob violence outside their homes
and even the killing of family pets.
"This is not a period of perestroika," he said. "This is a
period of Stalinism."
Asked whether his appearance with the two other dissidents
at the U.S. residence will fuel Mr. Castro's criticism of them,
Mr. Paya said, "Even when we didn't come here, the Cuban
government accused us of being paid agents of the U.S.
government. We assume the risk because we know what we are
Although they criticized Mr. Castro for addressing an
international audience that the financially crippled country
needs to impress, the three dissidents agreed that their own
efforts are better known outside the country than among their
"But change is happening," Mr. Paya said.
Referring to international press accounts of the dissident
movement, Mr. Roca said in a separate interview yesterday, "Your
articles will come to Cuba with tourists and on Radio Marti, the
BBC, VOA and Radio Netherlands."
Tourism, primarily from Europe and Canada, is Cuba's primary
source of desperately needed hard currency. The dollar is the
overwhelming currency of choice for Cubans and tourists alike.
Mr. Paya congratulated Mr. Carter for winning the Nobel
Peace Prize and said that members of Todos Unidos believe the
award was due to his mentioning of Project Varela in Cuba.
Backers of the project "feel the peace prize is as much
theirs as President Carter's," he said.
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