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Why women now lead the dissident fight in Cuba

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"People are showing up asking us to help them more and more," says FLAMUR's country director, Belinda Salas Tapanes. "They come to us for networking. We don't have much more than that to help them."

Indeed, dissidents such as the women involved in FLAMUR – who last year collected more than 10,000 signatures demanding that the Cuban peso be the only unit of currency, thereby eliminating the present two-currency system – have few resources. Lacking the right to organize freely, they surreptitiously meet in crumbling apartments and speak quickly on tapped phone lines.

"At this point civil society is very weak," says Pedro Freyre, a Miami-based Cuban-American attorney and expert on embargo law. "The population's expectations have been beaten down so much that there's no spirit of rebellion. No one wants to be shot."

"There are a number of Cuban Gorbachevs around," he says referring to the Russian reformer who helped ease political and economic restrictions before the Soviet Union's collapse. "They just don't want to stick out their necks right now."

Raúl's 'gerontocracy'

Raúl's first move as official leader of Cuba in February was to surround himself with a core group of well-known hardliners that critics call a "gerontocracy." At the top of the list is staunch party ideologue José Ramon Machado Ventura, who Raúl named first vice president.

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