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Cuban dissidents tap cyberspace from abroad

Cuban dissidents tap cyberspace from abroad
Wed Feb 7, 2007 11:51 AM ET
By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) – Leading Cuban dissidents who are denied access to
Internet at home now have their messages on Web sites thanks to the work
of exiled friends and family abroad.

Oswaldo Paya, who doggedly began a signature drive for a referendum on
civil liberties riding a bicycle five years ago, has no access to e-mail.

But his Web site (www.oswaldopaya.org) was launched last month by
relatives in Madrid. The site has Paya's statements and news about the
Varela Project, a petition that was rejected by the government despite
its 25,000 signatures.

"We have to do it from outside Cuba because we can't here," said Paya,
winner of Europe's 2002 Andrei Sakharov prize for human rights, on
Wednesday. "We want to express our point of view, which we cannot do
here due to the lack of freedom."

Cuba, like China, restricts Internet access. Cuba chooses whom it will
allow to have access to the World Wide Web, though passwords can be
purchased on the black market.

Since Cuban leader Fidel Castro handed over power to his brother last
July after undergoing emergency surgery, Cuba's communist authorities
have released three dissidents from jail, but there is no sign Cuba's
policy on limited Internet access has changed.

The wives and mothers of jailed Cuban dissidents, known as the "Ladies
in White" because they dress in white to march in silence demanding the
release of their men, have a Web site built for them by Cuban exiles in
Spain (damasdeblanco.com).

"I've never seen it. I don't have access to Internet," said Miriam
Leiva, a founder of the women's group whose husband was released in 2004
after 20 months behind bars for criticizing Castro's government.

A leading dissident in Cuba with close ties to the exile community in
South Florida, Martha Beatriz Roque, has had a Web site
(asambleasociedadcivilcuba.info) since 2004 that is run from Miami.

Even if Paya, Leiva or Roque could freely surf the Web, they still would
not see their sites because they are blocked in Cuba, as are other sites
of staunchly anti-Castro exiles.

"The Internet is a basic tool in today's world, but the government
doesn't want Cubans to have outside information and only grants access
to certain people," Leiva said.

Leiva said the site will help inform the world about their campaign to
win the release of 59 of the 75 dissidents jailed since March 2003. The
others were freed on medical parole.

The Cuban government calls dissidents "counterrevolutionary mercenaries"
who are on the payroll of its ideological nemesis the United States and
have little support in Cuba.

The dissidents' lack of access to the Internet comes on top of the
everyday shortages that all Cubans deal with — such as the limited
transport that had Paya seeking petition signers on a bicycle.

Cuba says it restricts Internet use because U.S. trade sanctions deny it
access to underwater telecommunications cables and it has to use
expensive satellite links through other countries.

Cuba last month announced a plan to bypass the U.S. embargo with an
underwater optic fiber cable to Venezuela, its closest ally.

Last year dissident Guillermo Farinas went on a seven-month hunger
strike to demand open access Internet for all Cubans. He was on an
intravenous drip when he called off the protest.

For free Internet access, some dissidents go to the U.S. Interests
Section, the American diplomatic mission in Havana, which has 23
terminals open to the public and takes about 200 users a week, by
appointment.

(Additional reporting by Esteban Israel)

http://today.reuters.com/news/articlenews.aspx?type=worldNews&storyID=2007-02-07T164905Z_01_N06277514_RTRUKOC_0_US-CUBA-DISSIDENTS-INTERNET.xml&WTmodLoc=Home-C5-worldNews-6

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