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    Cuban dissidents push for opening to democracy

    Cuban dissidents push for opening to democracy
    By Carlos Batista (AFP) – 8 hours ago

    HAVANA — Leading dissidents in Cuba have launched a reform plan seeking
    a democratic opening in the Americas' only one-party Communist-run state.

    More than 40 prominent members of a range of outlawed small parties and
    movements signed and issued the document calling for new laws and a
    plebiscite as a transition to democracy after more than five decades of

    They called upon their more than 11 million fellow Cubans to carry out a
    "genuine national dialogue and start the process of legal changes that
    exclude no one, so that Cubans can keep the positive things they have
    built, and change however they care to, the things they want to change."

    Dubbed the "People's Path," the document was signed by dissidents
    including Guillermo Farinas, Laura Pollan, Martha Beatriz Roque, Hector
    Maceda, Elizardo Sanchez and Oswaldo Paya.

    It calls for Cubans to be restored their freedom of movement inside and
    outside Cuba; and for freedoms of the press, association, and religion
    to be guaranteed; and for all people to be eligible for elective office
    regardless of party affiliation.

    "When there is space in which people can participate that will be
    created by legal changes, citizens' rights to national dialogue will be
    respected and free elections will be called for all public posts and an
    assembly to rewrite the constitution," the plan text adds.

    "The document was drawn up by all of us who have signed, and I think it
    is viable and a necessary message to the Cuban people," said Paya, who
    won the 2002 Sakharov rights prize for an earlier initiative seeking
    democratic opening that he spearheaded.

    Called the Warela Plan, that initiative tried to start reform using the
    current constitution as a starting point; the government rejected it
    outright. It did however receive public praise from former US president
    Jimmy Carter that year on his first visit to Cuba.

    Later the Cuban government pushed through a constitutional reform that
    makes socialism "irrevocable."

    There was no immediate Cuban government reaction to Wednesday's

    Havana however denies that it has political prisoners, and routinely
    smears dissidents as "mercenaries" in the pay of the United States.

    International attention on Cuba's human rights situation tends to rise
    and fall quickly.

    But the February 2010 death of dissident demonstrator Orlando Zapata,
    who died on a hunger strike protesting prison conditions, did draw a
    vocal international outcry.

    Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, now 84, back in 2006 and then ailing,
    stepped aside after just under five decades in power. His brother
    President Raul Castro, now 80 and the island's longtime military chief,
    as Cuba's leader has firmly rejected political opening and meaningful
    economic reform.

    The isolated Caribbean country's centrally planned economy is in a
    shambles, propped up largely by support from Havana's top regional ally
    Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

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