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“Within the revolution, everything; outside the revolution, nothing,” he said.

During “the five gray years” from 1971 to 1976, officials took a narrow view of “within the revolution.” Some artists and academics were fired from their jobs and hounded into exile. Free-thinking poet Heberto Padilla was denounced, arrested and forced to make a public apology for his thoughts, even after winning a major local literary award.

Since taking over the presidency, Raul Castro repeatedly has invited Cubans to debate his economic reforms and said people will not be punished for their opinions. The government says millions had their say during town-hall style meetings held across the island.