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Cuban Dissident Criticizes US Economic Embargo - 2003-01-13

Cuba's leading pro-democracy dissident says the decades-old U.S. economic embargo of Cuba is a poor tool for promoting change on the communist-run island.

In an address to Cuban exiles in Miami, Oswaldo Paya said reform can only come to Cuba when Cubans themselves take the initiative. He says change cannot be imposed from abroad, whether through an economic embargo or any other means.

Mr. Paya says some people believe the embargo is the solution to Cuba's problems, but he says it is not. He says others believe that foreign investment, tourism, and cultural exchanges with Cuba can bring change.

But, he added, these ideas leave out the primary agent of change in Cuba, which is the Cuban people.

The United States recently relaxed the embargo to allow the cash sale of food and medicine to Cuba. But the Bush Administration insists overall U.S. policy to the island will not change.

Mr. Paya, 50, is best-known for championing the Varela Project, a grass-roots petition campaign seeking a referendum on civil liberties and other reforms in Cuba. The initiative generated more than 11,000 signatures but so far has been cast aside by the island's communist-controlled national assembly.

Mr. Paya's rejection of the U.S. economic embargo of Cuba, along with his efforts to promote change while working within the legal confines of Cuba's constitution, have made him a controversial figure in Miami.

Many hard-line Cuban exiles back the embargo and advocate President Fidel Castro's ouster by virtually any means.

Generally ignored by Cuba's state-run domestic news media, Mr. Paya is better known abroad than in his native island.

Mr. Paya recently met with Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington and had an audience with the Pope at the Vatican. Last year, he received the European Union's top human rights award.