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Crossing Continents Thursday, 21 November, 2002, 09:10 GMT
Cuba's subversive rumblings
Havana - not at ease with the revolution
Keith Morris

The Cuban government's revolutionary zeal appears to be as strong as ever as the state keeps an iron grip on its people. But not everyone is prepared to conform. Crossing Continents' Keith Morris tracked down those who dare to voice their opposition.

Havana - every street has a communist neighbourhood watch group: "the ears and eyes of the revolution".

Their job is to know what everyone is doing.

They want to know the residents' political activity, working hours, general comings and goings - even their sexual habits.

Fidel Castro
Castro still hangs on tight to the beliefs of the revolution
Rub them up the wrong way and you could lose your flat or job.

I went to visit some people who have crossed the line.

Muffled subversive words were uttered into a hidden microphone and at night up a dark alleyway in Havana.

"Thing's won't change till the guy is dead."

"We are not living, just surviving."

"The repression is perfect."

It's not what I expected to hear. Maybe not even what I wanted to hear.

Fidel Castro was no Pinochet or Somoza.

Even Cuba's enemies had to acknowledge that its free education and health services put some developed countries to shame.

But listening to people constantly worried, they would be jailed for talking to me, it became impossible to ignore that there is real discontent.

There is a sense that people have been cheated by a revolution that promised to set them free.

Raul Rivero
Raul Rivero brings the reality of Cuban life to anyone who will listen
Dissidents speak out

Raul Rivero is an independent journalist.

He tries to provide an alternative to the total domination by the state media.

He can't get published in Cuba, so his work is mostly read or broadcast in Miami.

"Our approach is not that we are an opposition, but simply that we will not be cheerleaders for the government. We want to describe reality."

He has been detained many times.

But he says the government tries to silence him in other ways: recently his 70-year-old mother went to collect her pension.

The official at the desk told her "This person is dead."

Gisela Delgado
Cubans hunger for Gisela Delgado's books
Gisela Delgado co-ordinates a growing network of Independent Libraries.

Run from people's living rooms they have anything from 250 to 3,000 books.

The idea is to provide wider access to reading.

There's near 100% literacy in Cuba, but the state controls what can be read.

Gisela told me: "President Castro said 'there are no prohibited books in Cuba, just books too expensive to buy,' so we decided to take up the challenge."

In Gisela's library in Havana we found Hemingway and Harry Potter...but also books she says are banned: George Orwell's Animal Farm and works by exiled Cuban writers.

When she can get hold of them she stocks photocopied pamphlets by journalists like Raul Rivero.

Osvaldo Paya
Osvaldo Paya is challenging the very heart of the Cuban constitution
Osvaldo Paya's name may not ring a bell, but Czech President Vaclav Havel wants him nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

And the European Union has just given him its top human rights award.

They all admire him for setting up the "Varela Project", a direct constitutional challenge to President Castro.

Paya and his colleagues travelled round the country gathering more than 11,000 signatures from Cubans calling for a national referendum on enacting basic political and social freedoms.

Paya says the Project has brought hope: "In the past people would have decided to leave the country or simply hoped that Fidel Castro would change.

"But now they have a different way. People now realize that unless Cubans take responsibility for their own situation they are never going to be free."

Revolutionary grip

Instead of calling Paya's referendum, the government pushed through its own calling for "the revolution" to be made irrevocable.

Many still do believe in the Revolution. Many are against it.

And others are against it but stand with the government out of national pride because they are angry with what they see as a bullying US trade embargo.

President Castro says the Varela Project will get a response from the National Assembly "in due course."

So Mr Paya continues gathering signatures.

Other dissidents have lost patience and launched an "Assembly to Promote Civil Society" to try and kick start change.

Cuba is complex.

The sun, sea and salsa are real - and so is the stunting ideological straightjacket and security apparatus.

Crossing Continents: Cuba - a foot in the door
Thursday 21 November 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 1100 GMT
The programme is repeated Monday 25 November 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 2030 GMT

Correspondent: Mariusa Reyes
Producer: Keith Morris
Editor: Maria Balinska
Online Producer: Andrew Jeffrey

Fidel Castro
"The embargo is weakening"
A gathering of men in Havana...
"The food the Cuban government is going to buy from the Americans is not for the people"
Osvaldo Paya
"They phone me day and night threatening me, insulting me"
Osvaldo Paya
"They called their own referendum to call the revolution irrevocable"
Osvaldo Paya
"Suddenly it [discontent] bursts through - just look what happened to the Berlin Wall"
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