- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003


Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya, who captained an islandwide pro-democracy petition drive last year, said yesterday that freedom in Cuba can come about only from within the country, not from outside forces.

Mr. Paya, speaking to reporters after a morning meeting with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, said his campaign crossed an important threshold even though it did not bring about his objective of a national referendum to ensure the protection of human rights.

"The changes have begun, not in the structures of government, but in the hearts of the Cuban people," he said, speaking in Spanish.

He said he discussed the U.S. embargo against Cuba with Mr. Powell, affirming his view that he does not see that four-decade-old measure as a "factor for change" on the island.

The Cuban people seek from the United States and other countries "solidarity and moral support," Mr. Paya said.

"It's important to de-Americanize the problems of Cuba," he added. "We must bring change about through our own means."

Mr. Paya came here to receive a human rights award from the National Democratic Institute, a government-supported pro-democracy grouping. The award was to be presented last night by former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

Cuba's communist government surprised Mr. Paya, 50, and his allies by allowing him to leave the country in December so that he could travel to France to receive the European Union's top human rights award.

The day before his mid-December departure, his home was vandalized.

In May, Mr. Paya's pro-democracy Varela Project turned in stacks of petitions that backers said were signed by 11,020 persons asking Cuba's parliament for the referendum. He has said an additional 10,000 signatures have been obtained since.

The petition drive was considered to be something of a breakthrough in a country known for repressing challenges to communism. Mr. Paya has said scores of people were detained or questioned during the campaign.

He said he will travel in the coming days to Miami, where polls show that he enjoys strong support among Cuban Americans.

"I will talk to all who will listen and listen to whoever talks," Mr. Paya said.

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