Change Cuban vote laws
By Anita Snow | The Associated
Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 31, 2007.
HAVANA The architect of the Varela Project
pro-democracy drive asked Cuba's parliament
on Thursday to abolish and replace the country's
electoral law and hold free, democratic
general elections as soon as possible.
In the letter addressed to the president
of Cuba's national assembly, Oswaldo Paya
also asked for a change in existing laws
to guarantee citizens "freedom of expression,
respect for diverse opinions existing in
society and access by all citizens and opinions
to mass media."
A copy of the letter and an accompanying
news release were hand-delivered by messenger
to The Associated Press on Thursday evening.
The latest move by Paya, among Cuba's best-known
dissidents, appeared aimed at reviving the
long-shelved Varela Project just as communist-run
Cuba gears up for municipal elections this
There was no immediate official reaction
to the new initiative, which was announced
after government offices closed for the
The Varela Project was a signature-gathering
drive that asked voters if they favored
a referendum that would change Cuba's electoral
law and guarantee rights including freedom
of speech and assembly and private business
When Paya delivered the first batch of
25,000 signatures to the parliament in 2002,
it was seen as the most extensive homegrown,
nonviolent effort to push for reforms in
Cuba's one-party system since Fidel Castro
took power in 1959.
Lawmakers later shelved the initiative,
ruling it unconstitutional, and the Cuban
government responded with its own petition
drive to declare socialism an "irrevocable"
part of the constitution.
"We call on all Cubans to pay attention
and support this demand for a new electoral
law," Paya and Minervo Lazaro Chil
Siret wrote in a separate declaration as
leaders of the Christian Liberation Movement
that previously promoted the Varela Project.
"In this moment in our history, Cuba
needs transparency and confidence and that
only can be achieved by respecting the ideas
and rights of everyone, not imposing an
electoral process ... that for years has
impeded the people from freely expressing
and deciding for itself."
In a similar move, recently released political
prisoner Francisco Chaviano on Thursday
sent journalists a letter also addressed
to National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon,
asking that the next general elections include
a referendum on whether to continue with
Cuba's current system.
Signed by Chaviano and his wife, Ana Anguililla,
the letter said such a popular referendum
"is necessary, given the historical
juncture implied by the end of Fidel Castro's
mandate due to his health and age."
Chaviano, among Cuba's most veteran dissidents,
was released earlier this month after 13
years in prison.
Castro, 81, officially remains Cuba's president,
but has not been seen in public in the 13
months since he temporarily ceded his powers
to his brother Raul after undergoing intestinal
No date for general elections to elect
provincial and national assembly members
has been announced, but they are expected
early next spring. Municipal assembly elections
are scheduled for Oct. 21, with neighborhood
meetings to nominate candidates starting
The Varela Project was named for the Rev.
Felix Varela, a 19th century Roman Catholic
priest and early promoter of Cuba's independence
Copyright © 2007, South