One of Cuba’s best-known dissidents accused Fidel Castro’s government of harassing activists participating in a new project aimed at sparking discussion about democratic reform.
Oswaldo Paya, head of the Varela Project democracy drive, said Cuban state security agents had visited the homes of activists and tried to persuade them not to take part in the National Dialogue project launched last month.
In a statement faxed to news organizations in Havana, Paya maintained the project was “persecuted because of the well-founded fear that the people will support it.”
The Cuban government has not publicly commented on the National Dialogue project, which calls for small groups of citizens to discuss a draft document about possible changes in Cuba’s socialist systems.
Authorities long ago rejected Paya’s earlier proposal, the Varela Project. Project volunteers had submitted 25,000 signatures to Cuba’s parliament petitioning for a referendum on whether voters favor civil liberties such as freedom of speech and the right to business ownership.
Many of the 75 dissidents arrested and sentenced to long prison terms in a crackdown last year were Varela Project volunteers, accused of working with U.S. diplomats to undermine the island’s government. They denied the charges.