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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 03:41 GMT 04:41 UK

World: Americas

Cuba opposition plan for democracy

The opposition coalition called for multi-party elections

By Tom Gibb in Havana

A coalition of moderate opposition groups in Cuba has publicly presented a plan for the island's peaceful transition from a one-party state to a Western-style democracy.

In an unusual move, the group delivered a copy of its plan to the ruling council of state, headed by Cuba's veteran leader, Fidel Castro.

The five parties which presented the long and detailed document are among dozens of small groups which form the Cuban opposition.

Calling themselves the Reflective Round Table of the Moderate Opposition, the coalition called for a gradual transition to multi-party democracy through dialogue between Fidel Castro's government, the internal opposition and Cuban exiles.

They also called for the release of political prisoners, multi-party elections, economic liberalisation and press freedom.

Hard-line government

But it's a wish-list which is far from being fulfilled. Fidel Castro has repeatedly said that the island's socialist state will continue indefinitely.

[ image: President Castro has no plans for change]
President Castro has no plans for change
Indeed, laws passed this year have strengthened punishments for anti-government activity. The government brands all opponents as counter-revolutionary, saying they're entirely directed by the United States.

The opposition has no access to the media, it cannot hold public meetings, and so offers little threat to the ruling Communist party.

Those that push too hard to try to break these restraints or seek new recruits too actively usually end up in jail.

The opposition is also badly divided by personal rivalries and political differences; many echo the line of more radical Cuban exile leaders in Miami and reject the idea of any dialogue with Fidel Castro.

Until now, the government has been adept at exploiting these divisions, infiltrating groups and sowing suspicion and mistrust to prevent a united opposition from ever materialising.

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