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Cuban student denies arrest after government criticism

  • Story Highlights
  • Eliecer Avila grilled top Cuban official in video about Cuban policy last week
  • Avila now says that his comments were meant to improve socialism
  • He was absent from his university after he questioned official
  • Student says foreign media took his comments out of context
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HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- A Cuban student who appeared in a video last week grilling a top Cuban official is denying reports that he was arrested afterward, and maintains that his questions were aimed only at bettering socialism.

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Ricardo Alarcon, the president of Cuba's National Assembly, was grilled about government policies.

In the video CNN obtained and aired last week, Eliecer Avila was seen grilling Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban National Assembly, about low wages and why Cubans are banned from tourist hotels and from traveling abroad.

The student's questions came during a meeting between Alarcon and students at the University of Computer Science in Havana. Students who gave CNN the tape said they wished to remain anonymous.

In a new video, the Cuban government says it is responding to "manipulation" by the overseas press and "media terrorism."

In the new tape, Avila says his questions were meant to improve socialism. When asked by an interviewer about reports that he was arrested over the weekend, Avila acknowledges that while his absence from the university might have seemed mysterious to some, "At no point was it an arrest. My family is completely calm. There is no problem."

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Avila says the foreign media twisted his words out of context. "Practically everything that they're saying is a total lie, and it completely detracts from the meaning of the opinions we gave," he said.

The new video follows an article in Cuba's state-run newspaper warning that if the media outside Cuba is attempting to make Cubans criticize themselves in public, they will not succeed.

In the initial video, Avila identified himself as a revolutionary -- which in Cuba means a government supporter -- and he asked Alarcon why there is a double economy in which Cubans are paid in one currency but forced to make purchases in another worth 25 times as much -- the "convertible peso" tourists are required to use.

"That means a worker has to work two or three days to buy a toothbrush," Avila said.

"It seems to us a revolution cannot advance without a plan," Avila told Alarcon in the original video. "I'm sure it exists, we just want to know what it is."

Alarcon said he did not have the expertise to answer all the questions, but devoted 30 minutes to responding to Avila's queries.

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In what could be a decisive meeting of Cuba's National Assembly on February 24, recently elected deputies will meet for the first time to select the new Council of State and its president -- a post that ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro has held for decades.

The 81-year-old leader, who 18 months ago handed over day-to-day control of the government to his brother, Raul Castro, has hinted he may be ready to throw in the towel, permanently passing the reins to his brother and a "younger generation" of leaders. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Morgan Neill and Shasta Darlington contributed to this report.

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