HAVANA (Reuters) - A magazine editor who has tested the limits of free speech in Cuba believes the Cuban government has no option but to allow universal Internet access, and he plans to exploit that opening to promote a more pluralistic Cuba.
"The government is obligated to allow it because the country's development demands it," Roberto Veiga told Reuters in an interview on Friday. "The government is aware it has to make political openings."
Veiga and his partner Lenier Gonzalez turned the Roman Catholic magazine Espacio Laical (Lay Space) into a rare forum for critical, open debate in Communist-ruled Cuba, where authorities monopolize the media and censor the opposition.
Espacio Laical operated freely but after 10 years Veiga and Gonzalez resigned under pressure from within the church in May. On Tuesday they announced they were launching a new website and debating forum called Cuba Posible.
Like the previous venture, Cuba Posible will air a broad range of views, but now they will operate without the protection of the church, which is by far the largest and best organised institution on the Caribbean island with a different ideology than that of the Communist Party.
Broadband Internet is available only to a tiny minority of Cubans due to technological and political restrictions imposed by the government.
While some authorities have said Cuba needs an open Internet for its economic development, the government still blocks opposition websites, such as 14ymedio.com, a news site run by dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez and her husband, Reinaldo Escobar.
Veiga plans to keep pushing the bounds of debate.
"Evidently in Cuba there will come a time when more than one party exists," Veiga said. "I have a personal opinion in favour of a multi-party Cuba. Our project wants to facilitate this and contribute to serenity in the process.
"Today in the streets of Cuba a lot of people express themselves ... there are many small public openings. What do we need? To create a large, national opening where all opinions can interact and collective opinions can be formed."
Veiga, 49, was confident a measured tone would protect Cuba Posible from official censorship, even though he said Cuban officials disliked Espacio Laical, "especially from the ideological sector."
Veiga declined to discuss the division within the church that led them to resign, except to repeat his previous public statement that the church wanted the magazine to be less political.
Cuba Posible will promote "transitional change" with views from a wide range of Cubans, Veiga said.
"Cubans want a change, a big change, but generally they yearn for a change without disruption, change without confrontation, without annihilation," Veiga said. "They want peaceful change within a process of inclusion."
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Rosa Tania Valdés; Editing by James Dalgleish)