Cuban dissident Paya calls for national dialogue
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban dissident Oswaldo Paya called on Monday for a "national dialogue" between the communist-led nation's government and its opponents, with the hope that Cuban leaders will be more open to change after U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes power.
Paya said he would try to unite dissident groups for talks with a government that has long viewed them with contempt about the "historic necessity for change" in Cuba.
"The people of Cuba are arriving at the end of a stage in their history and it's good that it coincides with a new stage also in the politics of the United States," he told Reuters.
Obama, who will become president on Tuesday, has raised hopes in Cuba that U.S. policy toward the island will move toward normalization after five decades of tension.
In a reversal of Bush administration policies, Obama has said he will ease the longstanding U.S. trade embargo against the island 90 miles from Florida and pursue talks with the Cuban government.
President Raul Castro has also said he is open to talks with Washington, but expressed doubt in a recent television interview that Obama can do much to change entrenched U.S. policy.
Raul Castro took over the presidency in February after long-time leader Fidel Castro stepped down due to a long illness.
The Cuban government has traditionally viewed dissidents as instruments of a U.S. policy that calls for regime change.
Dissidents, who say there are more than 200 political prisoners in Cuban jails, have called for greater democracy, more freedom and market-oriented economic reforms.
In 2002, Paya, leader of a group known as the Christian Liberation Movement, presented more than 25,000 signatures to the National Assembly calling for a constitutional change to allow reforms.
In what was viewed as its response to the petition, the assembly changed the constitution to confirm that socialism in Cuba was irrevocable.
(Reporting by Esteban Israel and Rosa Tania Valdes; editing by Jeff Franks and Todd Eastham)
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