The Cuban government will not hold a plebiscite on whether President Fidel Castro should resign, a senior Cuban government official says.
"No, we will not organize a plebiscite," Deputy Foreign Minister Raul Roa said during a press briefing late Saturday called to discuss the official version of Cuba's human rights performance.
Roa provided the first high-level Cuban government response to growing pressure from Castro opponents here and abroad for a referendum on Castro's rule.
First broached in December by 163 international intellectuals, the plebiscite idea later was endorsed by 75 U.S. lawmakers and now is also supported by the few but increasingly vocal and influential anti-Castro dissidents here.
Forces behind the plebiscite proposal maintain that after 30 years in power, Castro must revalidate his legitimacy through a national vote in the same style as the Oct. 5 plebiscite in which Chileans voted to oust President Augusto Pinochet after 15 years of military rule.
Shortly after Roa's rejection of the plebiscite idea, the principal Castro foe in Cuba -- human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez -- said Roa does not have the last word and that dissidents will continue pressing for a vote on Castro.
"Legally, Roa cannot reject the idea of a plebiscite," Sanchez said in an interview. "He does not have the power to make such determinations. It's just an authoritarian reaction, typical of the government."
Roa, for his part, said the Cuban revolution 30 years ago had been sufficiently popular to provide the necessary legitimacy to the regime.
"In Cuba, another plebiscite is not needed because here the people have the real power," Roa said.
He also objected to any comparison of Chile with Cuba.
The Cuban government considers Pinochet a puppet of the United States and a massive violator of human rights, while it views Castro as a benevolent leader and a progressive figure opposed to "U.S. imperialism."
"To take the example of Chile and suggest a similar plebiscite in Cuba is simply monstrous," Roa said.
In December, 163 leading foreign artists, writers and actors -- including U.S. actor Jack Nicholson and Nobel Prize- winning author Saul Bellow -- began the campaign for a plebiscite by writing to Castro. A few weeks later, 28 U.S. senators, led by Florida Sens. Connie Mack, a Republican, and Bob Graham, a Democrat, sent a similar letter to Castro. The senators' letter was followed by a letter from 47 members of Congress led by Florida Democrat Claude Pepper.
The congress members also proposed that Cuban exiles should be allowed to return home to vote.
In addition, the letter requested that Castro legalize opposition human
rights committees such as Sanchez's Cuban
Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation and the larger but less well-organized Cuban Human Rights Party founded by rival activist Ricardo Bofill, now in exile.
At the briefing Saturday, Justice Minister Juan Escalona said the Cuban government has not received any formal requests for legalization from human rights groups in Cuba.
But Sanchez showed a copy of a letter dated Oct. 27, 1987, in which he requested official certification for his organization.
Asked about this later, Escalona said Sanchez's request was not a formal request for legalization but merely a query on whether there were any other organizations similar to his group already in existence.
Citing another example of Cuban government interference with human rights activists, Sanchez said that only a few days ago nine members of Bofill's Human Rights Party, including its current leader Samuel Martinez, had been arrested, fined and then released for trying to distribute their regular newsletter to foreign television crews.
Escalona confirmed the arrests, saying the group had attempted to distribute a publication that had not been legally sanctioned.
At any rate, Escalona acknowledged that the Cuban government was not interested in making it easy for dissidents to legalize their groups because -- he said -- they do not reflect legitimate national concerns but only serve the interests of the United States.
"Requests to improve human rights in Cuba are made not to help the dissatisfied people in Cuba but to please the United States," he said.
© 1996 The Miami Herald.