Cuban dissidents seek unity in Castro's absence
By Anthony Boadle | September 5, 2007
HAVANA (Reuters) - With Fidel Castro's poor health making change in Cuba seem closer than ever, a leading dissident called on Wednesday for fractious opposition groups to patch up their differences and get ready before the ailing leader is gone.
Sociologist Hector Palacios urged Cuba's liberals to unite around a platform for a gradual and peaceful transition from communist rule to multi-party democracy. Its first demand was the release of 250 political prisoners and the abolition of repressive laws used to put Castro's critics behind bars.
"Opposition numbers have multiplied, despite the difficult conditions in Cuba," the dissident said at a crowded news conference in his small Havana apartment.
"We do not have to wait for Fidel Castro to die to grow. We are growing every day," said Palacios, who was paroled in December after serving almost four years of a 25-year prison sentence for his opposition activities.
It was the third call to unity in recent months by pro-democracy groups, who are still recovering from a crackdown that landed 75 of their more active members in prison in 2003.
Last week, Cuba's best-known dissident, Oswaldo Paya, head of the Christian Liberation Movement, called on the National Assembly to allow open elections and guarantee freedom of expression.
Cuban dissidents sense the time has come to organize, said Social Democrat Manuel Cuesta Morua, who has made two pleas for unity since April.
FIDEL CASTRO UNSEEN, BUT FEW CHANGES
Castro, 81, has not appeared in public for more than a year since life-threatening intestinal surgery forced him to hand over the reins of government to his brother Raul Castro for the first time since seizing power in a 1959 revolution.
Even though a score of jailed dissidents have been freed since them, Palacios said acting President Raul Castro had not increased political freedom in Cuba and real power still lay in the hands of Fidel Castro.
"When that power opens up it will be like a dam when you lift the floodgates and the water is freed," he said.
Palacios said opposition unity had been hard to achieve due to what he called a police state that has infiltrated dissident groups and "divided those who unite."
When Fidel Castro is gone, Cubans will demand political change and not just economic reforms that his brother has promised to revived the battered economy, Palacios said.
Cuba labels all dissidents "counter-revolutionaries" and "mercenaries" on the payroll of its arch-enemy, the United States. They are not well known in Cuba, where they have no voice in the government-controlled media.
Paya, Palacios and other prominent dissidents such as human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez and economists Martha Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca and Oscar Espinosa Chepe, issued a call to "Unity for Freedom" in April, deeming Cuesta Morua's initiative too moderate.
"The opposition is less divided than before, but it is still divided," Cuesta Morua said. "Unity is not around the corner."
(Additional reporting by Esteban Israel)
Lock of Che Guevara's hair to be sold
September 3, 2007
MIAMI --A former CIA operative and Cuban exile plans to auction what he says is a lock of Che Guevara's hair, snipped before the Argentinian revolutionary and friend of Fidel Castro was buried in 1967.
Gustavo Villoldo, 71, was involved in Guevara's capture in the jungles of Bolivia, according to unclassified U.S. records and other documents. He plans to auction the hair and other items kept in a scrapbook since the joint CIA-Bolivian army mission 40 years ago.
"It's time for me to put the past behind and pass these on to someone else," said Villoldo, also a veteran of the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.
The scrapbook also holds a map used to track down Guevara in Bolivia, photos of Guevara's body, intercepted messages between Guevara and his rebels and a set of Guevara's fingerprints taken before his burial.
It's hard to predict how much the collection will net at auction because there is nothing comparable on the market, said Tom Slater, director of the Americana department at Heritage Auctions of Dallas, which will put the collection on the block Oct. 25-26.
"We cannot recall ever having seen artifacts relating to Che's dramatic career and death appearing on the auction market, and we expect this offering to excite broad bidder interest," Slater said.
The Cuban government announced in 1995 that its anthropologists had uncovered Guevara's remains from Bolivia, and re-interred them in Cuba without doing DNA testing. Villoldo and other exiles and experts say the body is still in Bolivia.