HAVANA — DISSIDENT Oswaldo Paya Sardinas likens Cuba to a boat taken over by terrorists.
"You don't negotiate with hijackers. But you do reason with them and try to look after the hostages. We don't want another Tiananmen Square massacre here," he says.
As head of the Christian Liberation Movement, Mr. Paya sent a letter to President Bush last month, asking the United States to moderate its hard line against Cuba.
"The US sits down with the Soviet Union, with the players in the Middle East, and Cambodia. Isn't it possible for the US to speak - and only speak - with the Cuban government?" asks Paya.
"We're not looking for a radical change of policy, just a gesture that shows the US cares about the people of Cuba, if not [Cuban President Fidel] Castro."
Since late November 1990, Pays group has been conducting a low-key campaign to collect signatures. They need 10,000 to bring a referendum to allow political amnesty and democratic elections.
Under Cuba's Constitution, the process is completely legal. But from the start, Paya and members of the movement have been harassed.
In July, an "act of repudiation" was staged outside Pays home. He was away, but another group member, Dagoberto Capote Mesa, was pushed into the street and threatened by some 30 people.
His house was ransacked and spray-painted with accusations that Paya was a "worm" (Mr. Castro's term for a traitor) and an agent of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Last month, Paya was with other dissident leaders who met with Spanish government officials. Paya probably escaped the treatment received by Maria Elena Cruz Varela by not returning home to the pro-Castro mob waiting at his house.
Recently, Paya was invited to a Latin American summit in Caracas, but his request for a visa was denied. Had he been allowed to go, he says, he would have asked neighboring nations claiming to favor democracy in Cuba to support his home-grown plan for change.
"If Mexico, Colombia, [and] Venezuela want to support self-determination in Cuba, we ask them to support a peaceful solution born in Cuba, not Miami," Paya says. "We ask them to watch that the Cuban government respects its own law and to guarantee this legal process."