Saturday, January 21, 2006

Walesa to Cuba Dissidents: Be Prepared

Ironically the following article appeared in a newspaper called The Yuma Sun.

Associated Press Writer

HAVANA (AP) -- Former Polish President Lech Walesa advised Cuban dissidents to be ready for an inevitable democratic transition, telling them Saturday that activists in his country had been unprepared for the collapse of East European communism.

The former Solidarity labor leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate took questions from Cubans during a morning Internet teleconference at the home of the top American diplomat in Havana.

"When liberty arrives it's going to be difficult," Walesa said from Poland during the hour-long exchange, his image beamed on a projector screen set up in a salon. "We made a lot of errors. We were not prepared."

The Cuban government maintains that there will be no such transition on the island, and that the current economic and political systems will remain after 79-year-old Fidel Castro is gone.

Castro and other Cuban authorities have criticized a U.S. presidential commission report detailing how American aid can be used to promote a democratic transition on the island, calling it a thinly veiled blueprint for regime change.

About 100 people attended the event, including around a dozen of Cuba's better-known dissidents, diplomats from Poland and other East European nations and international journalists.

The Cuban government, which has grown increasingly critical over the past year of former East European nations that offer moral support to Cuban dissidents, did not immediately comment on the event.

The meeting at the home of U.S. Interests Section chief Michael Parmly came days after U.S. officials hooked up an electronic sign to broadcast human rights messages along the side of the American mission.

Poland was an ideological ally of Cuba before the breakup of the former Soviet Union and subsequent collapse of communism across eastern Europe.

"For me, for many Cubans, you are a symbol of liberty, of liberty, of the defense of the rights of man, a courageous leader," the independent Cuban journalist Angel Polanco told Walesa.

Martha Beatriz Roque, a former political prisoner, told Walesa that more than 330 prisoners of conscience are held in Cuba.

"They have paid a very high price for liberty in Cuba," Roque said. She was the only woman among 75 government opponents arrested in a crackdown on the opposition in March 2003. She and 14 others have been paroled for medical reasons.

The rest are serving sentences of up to 28 years on charges of being mercenaries who worked with Washington to undermine Castro's system - allegations they and U.S. officials deny.

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Hey she didn't even call him president this time.

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