Cuban dissidents hold rare public meeting

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Saturday, May 21, 2005

A public meeting by Cuban dissidents was held in a rare celebration of Cuba's Independence Day on Friday. Although Cuban President Fidel Castro had expelled and refused entry to several European observers before the meeting started, police did not crack down on the peaceful protests by nearly 200 people. Called the "Assembly to Promote Civil Society", the meeting was to promote peaceful change and lay groundwork to introduce democracy in Cuba.

The meeting was planned by several leading Cuban dissidents and former prisoners including Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés. Controversy accompanied the event, and many dissidents did not attend because invitations to some Miami, Florida groups were thought to promote violent reform.

Castro expressed disapproval of the event, complaining of opposition groups that are bankrolled by the United States. Previous meetings, planned as long ago as Concilio Cubano in 1996, were cancelled due to government crackdowns, arrests, and the shooting down of two planes.

Fidel Castro, speaking to CNN about the rally said, "Those who attack us don't represent more than a fraction of 1 percent. ... You [the foreign news media] have helped create them."

This is the 103rd anniversary of Cuba's independence, a day that was observed with celebration until Castro took over in 1959 and introduced the rule of authoritarian Communism.

U.S. President George W. Bush sent his greetings to those celebrating Cuban Independence in an videotaped message. Bush said, "As we observe Cuba's independence today, we look forward to the day when Cuba is free, and my Administration supports efforts to hasten that day's coming. The tide of freedom is spreading across the globe, and it will reach Cuban shores."

The U.S. Senate also passed a resolution on Tuesday "extending its support and solidarity to the participants of the historic meeting", and calling for "the international community to support the assembly and its mission to bring democracy and human rights to Cuba."

The planned two-day meeting is being held openly in a garden belonging to one of the organizers on the outskirts of Havana. While ostensibly no Cuban government officers monitored the event, "government spies do regularly infiltrate dissident meetings," CNN claimed.