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Thursday, 27 June, 2002, 13:25 GMT 14:25 UK
Cuba backs permanent socialism
Fidel Castro
Castro spoke of the achievements of his government
After three days of speeches, the Cuban National Assembly has voted to amend the country's constitution, making its socialist system of government untouchable.


The revolutionary process of socialism cannot be reversed

Fidel Castro
"A return to the past is undesirable, unthinkable and impossible for our people. The revolution is invincible," Vice-President Carlos Lage told the assembly.

The vote came at the end of two weeks in which nine million Cubans took to the streets and 99% of voters signed a petition in support of the amendment.

It was called by President Fidel Castro in response to what he perceived to be attacks from George W Bush.

The US president made a speech last month in which he called on Cuba to make democratic reforms.

Over the course of the three days, more than 160 Cuban deputies, schoolchildren, leaders of social groups and soldiers addressed the National Assembly.

They all said much the same thing - that Cuba was a sovereign state that would not bow to pressure from the United States.

US accused

The speaker of the parliament, Ricardo Alarcon, accused Washington of trying to suffocate Cuban society with its 40-year trade embargo and travel ban against the island.

"Cuba will never return to capitalism," he said.

A voter signs the petition on Havana
99% of voters signed a petition supporting the agreement
The last words were spoken by Mr Castro, who in two long speeches laid out the achievements made during his 43 years in office - in health, education and sport.

Cubans would defend themselves with everything, including their lives, he said, but would never sacrifice their dignity or sovereignty.

"The revolutionary process of socialism cannot be reversed," he said.

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said the measure was also necessary to protect the current system after the Mr Castro and his brother and appointed successor die - a rare public reference to their mortality.

"The key here is what we will do when the generation that carried out the Revolution and commands it today, the generation of Fidel and of Raul, is no longer with us.

"The key is not to be disarmed of our ideas," said Mr Roque, who at 37 is among the youngest of the government officials.

'Opposition stifled'

No mention was made in any of the speeches about a petition that dissidents handed to the National Assembly last month calling for greater civil liberties.

Schools, factories and offices were closed during the three-day session so workers could watch the speeches on national television.


Paradoxically, by trying to mummify the Cuban constitution, the government may actually be declaring it irrelevant

Robert Pastor, former US official
The figures, which no one disputes, seem to indicate overwhelming support for President Castro and his socialist system.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Havana says opposition in Cuba has been stifled and many said they felt pressured into signing the petition.

Some experts said that by approving the amendment President Castro may have made the biggest mistake of his political career.

"Paradoxically, by trying to mummify the Cuban constitution, the government may actually be declaring it irrelevant," Robert Pastor, a former official in the Carter administration, told the Miami Herald newspaper.

"If it says this constitution is beyond reproach, you will have to start with another constitution."

Our correspondent says only the most committed sincerely believe that 99% of Cubans support Mr Castro's government, but it is clear that 99% do not feel they can oppose him either.

See also:

19 Jun 02 | Americas
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09 May 02 | Americas
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