HAVANA — An unprecedented meeting of dissidents seeking political change in communist Cuba wrapped up Saturday with the election of a panel to direct the group.
Cuban leader Fidel Castro's government made no effort to stop the two-day event, but it deported politicians and other observers from Europe who had arrived on tourist visas to attend the meeting.
Similar attempts by dissidents over the years to bring together the dozens of tiny and illegal organizations around the Caribbean island were repressed during the planning stages by arresting the leaders.
Chants of "Freedom" and "Democracy now" rang out from the fruit-tree shaded backyard of a home on the outskirts of Havana, the capital, where more than 100 delegates gathered to vote for a 36-member steering committee from a list of 75 candidates.
The committee will then elect officers to lead the group, the Assembly to Promote Civil Society.
"This is what we are all about, true democracy, and what we seek for our country," Martha Beatriz Roque, lead organizer of the event, said as 105 registered delegates lined up for a snack and to collect their ballots around noon.
Roque, an economist who has spent four of the last eight years in jail, was expected to be elected by the new steering committee later Saturday to lead the organization that unites dozens of small dissident groups across Cuba.
The island's small dissident movement is recovering from a crackdown in March 2003.
The movement remains badly divided and silenced by censorship in the island's state-run media.
Several opposition groups stayed away from the meeting because they disapproved of Roque's close ties to right-wing Cuban exiles in Miami and the United States' public support for organizing the meeting.