Posted on Sat, Feb. 19, 2005                                                     THE MIAMI HERALD



Cuban dissident groups differ on post-Castro strategy

Cuban dissidents have competing views about how to spur change on the communist-ruled island.


Differing views on Cuba's future among Havana dissidents are becoming more apparent with ongoing efforts by prominent activists to reinvigorate a movement crippled by a government crackdown in 2003.

Oswaldo PayŠ and Martha Beatriz Roque agree that Cuban leader Fidel Castro must release his 46-year grip on the island and that the future should be decided by the Cuban people.

But differences between PayŠ's Committee for National Dialogue and Roque's Assembly to Promote Civil Society have become more clear in recent days as both groups gear up for upcoming events meant to search for a consensus.

The core of their disagreement: whether officials of the current communist government should have any say in the future of a post-Castro Cuba.

''We want nothing to do with the government,'' said Roque, whose group is planning a gathering May 20 and has invited notable figures like former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and former Czech President Vaclav Havel.

''There is already a spontaneous social transition occuring in Cuba. It just lacks focus and direction,'' Roque, 59, said in a telephone interview from Havana. ``This gathering will help provide guidance, but without the government.''

''We can't include them because the government doesn't listen,'' added Roque, who was among 75 activists arrested during the 2003 crackdown. She was released late last year for health reasons.

PayŠ, who this week again called for widespread participation in his National Dialogue, said change must involve all Cubans, including those with power.

''Ours is a dialogue without borders,'' said PayŠ, who led a signature-drive for a referendum on democratic reforms that was dismissed by the government. He said the National Dialogue will soon make formal proposals for everything from revamping the justice system to ecological concerns.

''What we are trying to do is find common ground,'' PayŠ, 52, said on the phone. ``We can't exclude people who have government jobs just because they might think differently.''

''If we want change, we must include them,'' he said. ``Otherwise, it won't happen.''

Both activists have been publicly scorned by Castro and praised by exiles and foreign governments, including the United States.

But some of the differences on the island have been carried over into the exile community.

Vladimiro Roca, another prominent dissident, said differences of opinions are good. He supports PayŠ's efforts, he said, but also plans to attend Roque's May 20 event.

''No opposition project really competes with the other because they all act against the government,'' said Roca, who heads his own dissident group, All United.

''We don't know which plan will actually spur change,'' said Roca, 62, the son of the late Cuban Communist Party leader Blas Roca.

``The more plans are on the table, the better.''