Cuba to mark 50 years of revolution on Thursday
President Raul Castro will speak in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba from the same balcony where his older brother, Fidel Castro.
Cuba will mark on Thursday the 50th anniversary of the revolution that turned the island into a communist state and Cold War hot spot at the doorstep of the United States.
President Raul Castro will speak in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba from the same balcony where his older brother, Fidel Castro, proclaimed victory after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled the country in the early morning hours of Jan. 1, 1959.
The elder Castro, 82, in semi-seclusion since July 2006 after surgery for an undisclosed intestinal ailment, will not attend, officials said.
Due to his absence and the economic difficulties plaguing Cuba, what had been expected to be a major celebration of the revolution's longevity will be a no-frills event in a tree-shaded square with room for about only 3,000 people, the officials said.
Concerts are planned throughout the country, with the major one in Havana where popular Cuban band Los Van Van will play at the Anti-Imperialist Tribunal in front of the U.S. Interests Section.
The Interests Section was the embassy for the United States until it broke off diplomatic relations in January 1961 after U.S.-owned properties were nationalized by Fidel Castro.
Officials have said this was not a time for lavish celebration because Cuba is struggling from the effects of three hurricanes this year that caused $10 billion in damages, as well as the global financial crisis.
Government leaders gave a gloomy assessment of the economy last week, telling the National Assembly the country's trade and budget deficits had ballooned due to rising import costs and falling prices for exports.
Raul Castro called for more belt-tightening and an end to handouts he said discouraged people from working.
'A new stage'
"The victory of the 1st of January did not mark the end of the struggle, but the start of a new stage," he said. "There has not been a minute of respite during the past half century."
Should he not show up, Fidel Castro's absence will raise new speculation about his condition, to which many believe Cuba's future is closely linked.
Although he has not been seen in public for 2-1/2 years, he still has a behind-the-scenes presence in the government and a public voice via opinion columns he writes regularly.
He remains a world figure who made his name thumbing his nose at the United States, just 90 miles (145 km) away, and forging close ties with its Cold War enemy, the Soviet Union.
Many Cubans believe that as long as Fidel Castro is alive, his more pragmatic brother will not be able to reform the Cuban economy or political system in a meaningful way.
Others doubt Raul Castro wants to make many changes and that early reforms he implemented, such as opening computer and cell phone sales to Cubans, were meant chiefly to gain favor with Cubans skeptical he could fill his brother's shoes.
Cuba's revolution arrives at its 50th anniversary in a time of transition.
Fidel Castro is on the sidelines after ruling Cuba for 49 years and his archenemy, the United States, may be on the verge of change in its Cuba policy.
President-elect Barack Obama, who replaces President George W. Bush on Jan. 20, has said he wants to ease the 46-year-old U.S. trade embargo toward Cuba, is open to talks with Cuban leaders and will consider steps toward normalizing relations.
Both Castros have warily said talks were possible.
Changes are not just occurring at the top.
In Cuba, people, especially the young, clamor increasingly for an end to five decades of economic hardship and see improved U.S.-Cuba relations as a way out.
In the United States, a recent poll showed that for the first time a majority of Cuban-Americans in Miami, center of the Cuban exile world and anti-Castro sentiment, favor ending the embargo.
As Raul Castro told the National Assembly, "We are living in a radically different period of history."
Reuters Last Mod: 01 Ocak 2009, 10:56