Cuban Opposition Group's Leader Proclaims Intensified Effort, despite Recent Crackdown

Article excerpt

HAVANA - The same week that Fidel Castro ordered the shooting down of two Cessna planes from Florida, dissident Hector Palacios was detained by Cuban security forces and put in a prison dungeon for six days.

Mr. Palacios, who heads the outlawed Solidaridad Democratica (Democratic Solidarity), was one of more than 200 dissidents rounded up in February for planning an unauthorized public meeting in Havana. The Castro regime's clampdown was considered a death blow to the newly created Concilio Cubano (Cuban Council), an association of more than 130 opposition and human rights groups.

But Mr. Palacios, since released, is adamant that the council's mission has just begun. "We've been delayed but will come back with greater strength," he said from his Havana home, which is closely watched by security men.

While several key Concilio Cubano members are still under arrest, the others have managed to regroup secretly, Mr. Palacios said. The council has announced by fax to exile groups, foreign governments and international human rights bodies, the United Nations and the Vatican that it intends to organize a public meeting in Havana after September.

"By publicizing our previous meeting, we made sure the whole world knew that the government was lying when it said that things are changing in Cuba," Mr. Palacios said.

It was also a way of achieving international recognition. In his last official visit to Havana, the vice president of the European Union, Manuel Marin, met Concilio Cubano leaders for consultations on possible economic cooperation between the EU and Cuba.

The council was created in November, when hundreds of groups decided to bury ideological differences to form a common, nonviolent opposition front.

Concilio Cubano has four basic aims:

* Democratic elections.

* Amnesty for an estimated 1,000 political prisoners.

* Fostering a free press.

* Creating private companies.

Divisive issues such as the U.S. trade embargo and the role of Cuban exiles in a future government have been kept firmly off the agenda.

Concilio Cubano has between 1,300 and 1,500 members, while there are up to 40,000 Cubans actively involved in the opposition, said Mr. Palacios. According to foreign diplomatic sources in Havana, many fence-sitting Cubans would join the political movement if the council gained in stature.

But Concilio Cubano does not underestimate the difficulty of finding new recruits. An extensive network of government spies and informers has instilled mistrust among Cubans.

Nearly 40 years in power has also given Cuban leaders experience in harassing dissidents and their families.

"The system turns immediately against traitors. …