October 26, 1999
HAVANA, Oct 26 (Reuters) - One of Cuba's most prominent dissidents criticised Tuesday the U.S. embargo on the communist-ruled island and urged heads of state at next month's Ibero-American summit in Havana to meet with a wide cross-section of the Cuban people.
The statements from Oswaldo Paya, who heads the small, moderate Christian Liberation Movement, came as part of a flurry of dissident activity in Cuba ahead of the Nov. 15-16 meeting of leaders from Latin America, Spain and Portugal.
In a special ``Message to the Summit,'' Paya urged regional leaders not to allow the event to become a diplomatic set-piece dominated by Cuba's communist leader Fidel Castro.
They should, he said, seek meetings with ordinary Cubans, human rights and opposition groups, and religious denominations, as well as attend to the official agenda.
``The people are the legitimate owners of this country, although they have their hands tied. All the statesmen and personalities who visit us should realise that. You are welcome - but don't ignore the owner of the house,'' wrote Paya.
``There is a contradiction that the participants in the Ibero-American Summit must resolve -- the Cuban people are excluded in their own country, the totalitarianism is not left- wing or right-wing, it is not a system chosen by our people, it is the negation of our right to choose a government and a system, a negation of many fundamental rights.''
In a separate document titled ``Lend a Hand to Cuba,'' Paya criticised the 37-year-old economic embargo on the island as an obstacle to reform of Cuba's one-party socialist system, and a cause of suffering to the island's 11 million inhabitants.
``The U.S. economic embargo does not help towards peaceful transition. Rather it has become a centrepiece of the argument with which to justify (political) immobility,'' he said.
Paya urged Washington to lift ``as a first urgent step'' the embargo on food and medicine sales, followed by the legal structure supporting the sanctions.
``It's not fair that the Cuban people suffer the consequences of isolation. It is up to Cubans to conquer their rights and achieve democratic changes,'' he said.
Paya's group, like most opposition groups in Cuba, is calling for dialogue with the Castro government to plan economic and political reforms for the future.
Havana views his and other opposition groups, however, as insignificant ``counter-revolutionaries'' who lack popular support, are mercenaries and puppets of hostile U.S. policy to Cuba, and break local laws by their anti-government activities.
The government has been responding to a recent rise in dissident activity, ahead of the summit, with a string of temporary arrests and house-confinements.
Copyright 1999 Reuters Limited.
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