Cuban leader invites criticism of country

Oct. 1, 2007 at 11:47 PM

HAVANA, Oct. 1 (UPI) -- Interim Cuban President Raul Castro has made an unprecedented appeal for public criticism of the Communist regime, it was reported Monday.

Castro asked groups such as the Cuban Communist Party and the University Student Federation to come together and debate the country's shortcomings, The Miami Herald reported online.

"This is going to be public venting, not serious change," said Alcibiades Hidalgo, a former Cuban ambassador to the United Nations and personal secretary to Castro, the Herald reported. "Rather than being a real inventory of problems -- which they already know and don't need -- this is an exercise in political propaganda in order to put on a new, more understanding face."

The decision by Castro to welcome grievances in a public forum is a stark departure from the Communist island's long-standing policy of quelling the voice of dissent.

Long-time Cuban leader Fidel Castro turned over authority to his younger brother Raul in June 2006 after announcing he was suffering from an unspecified gastrointestinal ailment.

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