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Cuba Campaigns to Have Its Socialist Rule Unchangeable - 2002-06-15

Cuban President Fidel Castro has launched a four-day national campaign to have a constitutional amendment declare the island's socialist system as unchangeable.

President Castro on Saturday became the first person to sign a petition in support of the amendment. More than 120,000 petition stations are set up nationwide and Mr. Castro says he expects at least seven million people to sign the document.

Mr. Castro announced the petition drive Thursday, one day after he led a march in Havana in support of the amendment. Large marches were reported in other cities.

The developments come one month after a group of pro-democracy dissidents presented Cuba's National Assembly with a petition of more than 11,000 signatures calling for a referendum on political reforms.

The initiative, known as the "Varela Project," calls for a vote on whether Cubans support civil liberties, including freedom of speech and assembly, the right to own a business, electoral reform and an amnesty for political prisoners.

The U.S. State Department dismissed President Castro's campaign, saying he is trying to obscure popular support for the dissident initiative.