- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2002

HAVANA Fidel Castro's government is responding to calls for democratic reforms in this country's one-party system by proposing a constitutional amendment declaring Cuba's socialist state "untouchable."
Mr. Castro has called for a massive march this morning in Havana and in cities across the island to support the amendment, announced exactly one month after a group of activists submitted Project Varela, a proposed referendum for deep reforms in the socialist system.
The Cuban president said late Monday that such a march "has never been done before." In Havana alone, at least 1 million people are expected to participate.
The proposed constitutional amendment and the mobilization appear to be Mr. Castro's response to Project Varela.
"What's untouchable is liberty," Project Varela organizers responded yesterday in a written statement about the government's proposed constitutional amendment.
Organizers submitted more than 11,000 signatures to Cuba's National Assembly on May 10, demanding a referendum asking voters if they favor civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly, the right to own a business, electoral reform and amnesty for political prisoners.
Most Cubans first heard of Project Varela in mid-May when former President Jimmy Carter mentioned it in his live and uncensored television address to the Cuban people. Most Cubans still do not know what exactly the document proposes; it has not been published by the state-controlled national media.
"We warn that this anti-civic attempt against the same constitution, against the people's intelligence, is a very grave act against popular sovereignty," project organizers Oswaldo Paya and Miguel Saludes said in the statement sent by fax to international news organizations.
They called on all Cubans to support changes proposed by the project "to achieve respect for fundamental rights" on the island.
Mr. Castro has said nothing publicly about Project Varela.
In comments to international media, several communist officials have accused project organizers of being on the U.S. government payroll. They also have described what they say are legal and technical problems with the demands, indicating the project has little chance of success.
Before Mr. Castro spoke Monday, hundreds of representatives of Cuba's popular organizations, which form the pillars supporting Cuba's one-party system, unanimously agreed to ask the National Assembly to consider approving the proposed amendment.
The proposal asks lawmakers to ratify that "Cuba is a socialist state of workers, independent and sovereign, organized with all and for the good of all, as a unified and democratic republic, for the enjoyment of political liberty, social justice, individual and collective well-being, and human solidarity."
The march and proposal come after President Bush's May 20 address reiterating his promise not to ease up on Cuba trade or travel restrictions until the communist country undertakes deep reforms.

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