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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"If the dissidents restrict themselves to walking silently, it's hard to see that they present much of a threat"
 real 28k

Sunday, 5 December, 1999, 10:26 GMT
Silent protest in Havana
The protesters did not chant, carry banners or hand out leaflets The protesters did not chant, carry banners or hand out leaflets

By Tom Gibb in Havana

Members of Cuba's small dissident groups have staged a low-key but highly unusual public protest in Havana.

The almost silent march in a suburb of the Cuban capital, by about 30 opposition activists, was watched by members of the authorities, who did not intervene, in marked contrast to previous protests.

The marchers, all from Cuba's small dissident groups, left one church in a rundown Havana suburb and walked about six blocks to another.

The protestors were left to make their way through the Havana suburbs The protesters were left to make their way through the Havana suburbs
They told journalists the protest was to demand liberty for political prisoners.

Some of them also argued against Fidel Castro's government.

However, any passing Cuban might not have noticed anything out of the normal except for the press and plain-clothes security.

The protesters did not chant slogans, nor did they try to hold up banners or hand out leaflets.

The fact that the authorities did not intervene is a marked change from the past when crowds of pro-government supporters have been mobilised to swamp any protest.

Change of mood?

This has led to one-sided and sometimes violent confrontations in which the protesters have usually ended up being arrested and jailed.

Public protests are illegal in the one-party system.

It's not yet clear, however, whether the change denotes a small new opening in Cuba.

Cuban state television has all week been making the most of showing riots in Seattle, pointing out glibly that such events never happen on the island.

The authorities may have been anxious not to provoke a confrontation that could show otherwise.

And if the dissidents restrict themselves to walking silently, it's hard to see that they present much of a threat.

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See also:
11 Nov 99 |  Americas
Cuba pounces on anti-government protest
16 Feb 99 |  Americas
Castro cracks down
01 Jan 99 |  Americas
Castro: The great survivor

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