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Wednesday, 19 June, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Cuba votes to entrench socialism
A voter puts his name to the petition in Havana
Voters were strongly encouraged to sign the petition

Almost 99% of Cuba's registered voters have signed a petition supporting President Fidel Castro's government, according to the authorities.

Over three and a half days, Cubans went to 130,000 polling stations across the country to support an amendment to the constitution that declares Cuba's socialist system to be untouchable.

The move is designed to counter calls from both within and outside Cuba for democratic reforms.

"A historic day for Cuba," said one commentator - "A resounding defeat for the United States," said another.

Remain forever

More than eight million people put their names to a petition stating that the socialist system should remain forever, long after the death of Mr Castro.

President Castro signs the petition, Saturday 15 June
Castro showed the example at the weekend
The president himself initiated the petition - as a response to growing calls for reform of the socialist system he has led for more than 40 years.

The document was a resounding 'no' to change.

The leader of Cuba's trade union movement, Pedro Ross, who announced the result on national television, said President George Bush had threatened Cuba and Cuba had responded.

President Bush in May said Washington would not change its policy towards Cuba until the government implemented democratic reform.

Dissidents on the island have also been calling for change, last month presenting their own 11,000-name petition to the national assembly demanding greater civil liberties.

Quiet life

President Castro does not take criticism easily, and will wave the eight million signatures around as proof that he's still firmly in charge.

A voter signs the petition on Havana
Eight million voters did their 'patriotic' duty
But while no one was physically forced to sign the petition, many felt obliged to do so, fearing they might lose their jobs or come under scrutiny from ever-vigilant state officials who purveyed every workplace and neighbourhood.

As a result, it is impossible to gauge how much support President Castro has and how many signed the petition for a quiet life.

State-run television showed a steady stream of supporters explaining enthusiastically that they were signing to support Fidel Castro's revolution.

No mention was made of any kind of opposition. The result of the petition was never in doubt, and nothing in Cuba has really changed.

See also:

15 Jun 02 | Americas
12 Jun 02 | Americas
26 Jul 01 | Americas
21 May 02 | Americas
20 May 02 | Americas
09 May 02 | Americas
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