Tags: Castro | Predicts | Dissident | Efforts | Fail

Castro Predicts Dissident Efforts to Fail

Monday, 04 November 2002 12:00 AM

Castro made the comments in the Cuban National Assembly's first regular gathering since Cuban dissidents engaged in a grassroots, pro-democracy effort called the "Varela Project." The dissidents presented petitions containing over 11-thousand signatures to lawmakers, calling for free speech and expanded private business ownership.

"There is no oxygen for the counterrevolution. They are like fish out of water," Castro was quoted as saying.

Dissidents have not received an official government response to their petition drive since they submitted the petitions last May. However, in a symbolic gesture, Castro in June launched a petition drive of his own for a constitutional amendment that declared Cuba's socialist system as "untouchable."

Dennis Hays, executive director of the Cuban-American National Foundation, believes the Cuban assembly is afraid to take action on the Varela project.

"This is a rubber-stamp parliament and they are trapped by their own law. If they were really doing their jobs, they would be moving the Varela project forward," Hays said in an interview with CNSNews.com.

Many Cubans first learned about the Varela Project when former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, during a trip to Cuba in May, was allowed to make an uncensored speech to the Cuban people on Cuban television. In that speech, he mentioned the Varela Project and called for more civil liberties for Cubans.

In another development, Canada's Secretary of State for Latin America Denis Paradis arrived in Havana late Saturday leading a delegation of Canadian lawmakers and business people to the Havana International Trade Fair. The Canadians will be in Cuba until Wednesday.

Many insiders are saying this visit is a "thaw" in Canada's diplomatic relations with Cuba. This is the first visit to Cuba by a Canadian cabinet minister since Prime Minister Jean Chretien's 1998 meeting in Havana with Castro.

Canadian and Cuban relations soured three years ago when - despite Canadian protests - the Castro government imprisoned four political dissidents for criticizing the Cuban Communist Party and calling for other reforms. Castro had promised Chretien that the four wouldn't face political persecution.

The last of those four dissidents was released from prison last summer.

Marvin Glass of the Canadian-Cuban Solidarity Alliance was surprised at the delegation's visit because he said Canada was among the countries that was most vocal about Cuba's human rights policy at a United Nations conference in Geneva earlier this year. Canada co-sponsored a resolution with the United States at that conference condemning Cuba's human rights record.

However, Glass told the Toronto Globe and Mail that Cuba is a good market for Canada. "There is big money there," he said.

More than 65 Canadian companies and the provinces of Quebec and Manitoba will have representatives at the trade fair. The Cuban organizers have designated Tuesday as Canada Day.

Paradis is scheduled to speak at the University of Havana, meet with senior Cuban officials, and cut the ribbon at a cultural exhibit commemorating Pierre Trudeau, the late Canadian prime minister.

Trudeau and Castro were friends and the Cuban dictator was an honorary pallbearer at Mr. Trudeau's funeral in Montreal two years ago.

Despite pressure from the United States, Canada has never joined the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba. Canadian companies have been active in the tourism and mining industries in the communist-run nation.

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Castro made the comments in the Cuban National Assembly's first regular gathering since Cuban dissidents engaged in a grassroots, pro-democracy effort called the Varela Project. The dissidents presented petitions containing over 11-thousand signatures to lawmakers,...
Castro,Predicts,Dissident,Efforts,Fail
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2002-00-04
Monday, 04 November 2002 12:00 AM
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