Activists from 32 little-known organizations opposed to Cuba's communist government issued a call for an end to social repression on the island at a Thursday gathering in the home of a prominent human rights activist.
The event took place in the western Havana home of internationally known activist Francisco Chaviano, a veteran Cuban dissident who was released in 2007 after 13 years in prison.
Participants crowded into a small room where Chaviano read a statement on behalf of the grass-roots political groups from 10 Cuban provinces.
They demanded free elections, the release of all prisoners held for political motives and full state respect for human rights. The statement also said the only way for Cuba to survive the global economic crisis was for the government to ease bans on private business ownership and free enterprise.
Cuba's communist government controls nearly every aspect of the economy and allows only extremely limited free enterprise. It tolerates no organized political opposition, dismissing those who oppose it publicly as paid mercenaries of Washington.
Chaviano, a mathematics professor, was arrested in 1994 and sentenced by military tribunal to 15 years in prison on charges of disclosing secrets concerning state security and falsifying documents. He had been head of the Cuban Civil Rights Council, an organization that denounced the infiltration of dissident movements by undercover state security agents.
The independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation says there currently are more than 200 political prisoners, a number that has dropped since Fidel Castro ceded power to his brother Raul in 2006.
Those attending Thursday also expressed support for dissident Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, whose site receives more than a million hits per month, mostly from readers outside Cuba. Sanchez's blog is blocked on the island, and Cubans have restricted access to the Internet.
Chaviano said older activists could learn from Sanchez, saying "it will be of great help even for the oldest of the dissidents to incorporate ourselves into the new technology."
"We support her and believe in her braveness and in many of the youths who are joining the work for change in Cuba," he said.
Last month, Sanchez was roughed up by two men in plainclothes and an unmarked sedan who she said were state security agents.