Dissident meeting held in Cuba

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

Fidel Castro

It is reported that some 200 people gathered on Friday to open what has been touted as a rare opposition assembly against the government of Cuba. The meeting was held uninterrupted by Cuban authorities, though several European lawmakers and journalists, who had entered the country with tourist visas in order to attend the gathering, are said to have been expelled.

Dubbed the Assembly for the Promotion of Civil Society, the meeting's intention was to discuss the promotion of a Western-style democracy in Cuba. Martha Beatriz Roque, described as a former political prisoner, was the event's lead organizer.

As those in attendance sat in rows of plastic chairs, cheers were heard as organizers played a taped message from U.S. President George W. Bush.

"I have a message to those assembling today to protest in Cuba: As you struggle for the freedom of your country, the American people stand with you," said Mr. Bush.

Some shouted "Viva Bush" (Long Live Bush), while others had exclaimed earlier in the meeting, "Abajo Fidel" (Down with Fidel).

Organizers, who had said that 500 people would be in attendance for the meeting, held in the back yard of co-organizer Felix Bonne, were left to contend with a turnout closer to 200. Just over half were said to be residents from around the island. The remainder comprised of the organizers themselves, international journalists, diplomats, and others. James Cason, chief of the U.S. Interests Section, was one such guest.

In light of the aforementioned, Cuban President Fidel Castro holds that the United States has bankrolled the opposition in question, which Washington denies. Moreover, he asserts that "those who attack [Cuba's government] do not represent more than a fraction of 1 percent" of the island's populace, as a government rally last Tuesday drew millions of people.

The opposition event also revealed divisions within the dissident group itself, when arguments broke out among them. Some dissidents, such as Oswaldo Paya, refused to even attend the meeting. Paya, lead organizer of the Varela Project, commented to the Associated Press that his decision was based on "...a distrust of where these people come from," calling their effort "a smoke screen."

Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz (born August 13, 1926) has led Cuba since 1959, when, leading the 26th of July Movement, he helped overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and turn Cuba into the first Communist state in the Western Hemisphere. He held the title of premier until 1976, when he became president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers. He has been the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba since its inception in 1965.