So-called dissident rally reveals weakness of the US policy
Campaign News | Friday, 20 May 2005
Some refuse to take part, saying it was sponsored by Miami emigres
HAVANA, May 20 - In what the international media called an unprecedented event, about 100 so-called dissidents from disparate groups opposed to the Cuban revolution gathered publicly on Friday and chanted "Down with Fidel" before an aufdience of international media and US and EU diplomats.
"Freedom! Freedom!" the group shouted in the yard of Felix Bonne, a US-paid oppositionist, in a working-class section of Havana.
The participants included members of some so-called dissident groups, but not all, as some stayed away claining that the event was paid for by Miami emigres and the Bush administration .
"We think this is the first democratic assembly that has ever been held in Cuba," boasted one of the organizers and former political prisoner Marta Beatriz Roque, who recently testified to the US Confress on the need to remove the revolutionary government from power.
Her close links to the US interests section in Havana and the fact that the event was backed by Miami-based exile groups that support violence, meant that other important so-called dissidents stayed away form the tiny gathering
As if to underline the obvious nature of the event, US diplomats brought a videotaped message from US President George Bush, who congratulated attendees on their courage and efforts to build "democracy".
The two-day so-called "Assembly to Promote Civil Society" was provocatively started on the date that, until the 1959 Revolution, was celebrated as Cuba's Independence Day.
Among the dozens of foreign observers who attended, was James Cason, chief of mission of the US Interests Section in Havana, who has been the centre of a campaign financed by the US state department to "create a a united oppossition within Cuba". There were also representatives of the European Union and the Japanese, Polish, Czech, and Canadian embassies.
However, a well-known so-called dissident Oswaldo Paya of the pro-democracy Varela Project refused to take part, calling the meeting "a fraud against the opposition" organized by "extremists whose movement has in the past been infiltrated and influenced by Cuban State Security agents."
No government authorities were known to be on hand and there was no blatant police presence in the neighbourhood.
The authorities blocked some international observers from attending. Two Polish European Union deputies who tried to enter the country Tuesday were turned back, and four Polish journalists who planned to attend were detained Friday, the Polish Embassy in Havana said.
Also, Thursday night, Cuba expelled a Czech senator and a German deputy who had been in the country for five days and were planning to attend the meeting. Czech Sen. Karel Schwarzenberg and German Christian Democratic parliament member Arnold Vaatz told CNN they were directed to get on an Air France flight to Paris.
Organizers were hoping that more than 350 dissident groups would be represented at the meeting by the time it ends on Saturday, but that is unilkely.
On Tuesday the U.S. Senate passed a resolution "extending its support and solidarity to the participants of the historic meeting" and "urging the international community to support the assembly and its mission to bring democracy and human rights to Cuba." The U.S. Treasury Department granted travel licenses to anti-Castro Cuban-Americans who want to attend.
Cuba accuses assembly organizers of being "mercenaries in the pay of the U.S.A.,"
Asked by CNN to comment on the planned assembly, Castro said, "Those who attack us don't represent more than a fraction of 1 percent. ... You (the foreign news media) have helped create them."
Many wives of Cuban political prisoners did not attend the meeting, saying they feared it would be "provocative" and counter-productive.
The whole show proved the weakness of the US policy of trying to foment opposition on the island.
But this did not stop the international media reporting on it and the alleged effect the expulsion of the politicians might have on EU-Cuba relations.
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