|HAVANA (AP) -
About 50 Cuban dissidents held a meeting of
what a leader called an "alternative parliament" on Tuesday in celebration
of international Human Rights Day.
Marta Beatriz Roque, who hosted the event in her home, said the Assembly to Promote Civil Society was meant to unite 341 small dissident groups across Cuba.
"This is the first time that the assembly has had a mass meeting," she said. "But the objective is to join the 341 organizations so that, in a democratic way, these associations elect someone to lead them." Roque estimated the groups together have about 5,000 members.
The loosely organized gathering lasted a few hours, with people coming and going, and broke up around noon. Reporters saw about 50 people. Even at that size, it was an unusually large and public gathering of dissidents in Cuba.
"It is an achievement to be able to gather such a large force of the opposition," Roque told reporters.
Roque herself was among four dissidents arrested in July 1997 for publishing a document that criticized Cuba's Communist Party and President Fidel Castro (news - web sites)'s government. Convicted of incitement to sedition, Roque was freed in May 2000
She announced formation of the assembly in October, saying it was open to all dissident groups in Cuba.
Among those on hand Tuesday was Gonzalo Gallegos, the press attache from the U.S. Interests Section in Havana.
Cuba's government routinely accuses the Interests Section of financing and organizing dissent. Roque insisted that Gallegos' presence would not reinforce the official accusations, which she and most other dissidents deny.
"We invited a lot of diplomats. Our relations are with the world, not only with the United States," she said. "But unfortunately they have not been able to be with us."
Roque said a security official visited her on Monday night and asked her to "maintain discipline." She said she took that as official permission for the meeting.