Cuba's military power put on parade
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
HAVANA, Cuba (AFP) - Cuba rolled out anti-air defences, fighter jets and
marchers yesterday a raucous rehearsal for its first military parade in
a decade to mark Fidel Castro's 80th birthday, amid expectation here
that he may appear in the flesh.
Four months have passed since Castro underwent intestinal surgery and
then relinquished power temporarily to his brother and defence minister,
Raul Castro. Cuba postponed Fidel's birthday celebrations from August 13
to December 2, hoping his recovery might be well along.
But Cuban authorities, who do not comment in detail on Castro's health,
have stopped saying Fidel will be back on the job full time.
Celebrations have something of a farewell tone for many Cubans.
"I think he's feeling better and maybe will make a public appearance at
the parade ... but getting back to government again, to his usual job, I
don't know. It's difficult for me to see that," said a 52-year-old radio
worker who wished to remain anonymous.
Since Fidel Castro's operation, he has only been seen on television and
in still photographs since July 26.
Yesterday, activity was at a fever pitch and noise levels were up at
Revolution Square, where military cadets were out, MiG fighters soared
beneath the clouds and Soviet-era troop transport helicopters clattered by.
Young workers from several state industries were out marching with their
co-workers, waving huge red, white and blue Cuban flags in the cool breeze.
The military parade Saturday at which Fidel Castro is widely expected,
though his attendance is not officially confirmed, is the climax of
almost a week of festivities.
Some 300,000 people are expected to march, and 2,000 guests from 80
countries, including presidents, ex-presidents, Nobel laureates, actors
and musicians, are due on hand. Allies President Evo Morales of Bolivia
and president-elect Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua planned to attend.
All eyes will be on the main podium to see if the grey-bearded leader is
present and, if he is, hazard a guess at whether he might be strong
enough ever to retake the helm of Latin America's only one party
"We expect to see our commander in his military uniform. On Saturday we
are going to show that the Revolution is still on its feet and more
solid than ever," said Laura Cuadra, 52, a worker at an epidemiology
centre out marching.
Within a month of the operation, Castro said he had lost 18.6 kilograms
(41 pounds). His usual proud frame of a statesman had given way in
pictures to a gaunt elderly hospital patient.
Whether or not he returns to work full time, over the past four months
Cuba has grown used to the idea of life without Fidel. And with the
baton passed to Raul Castro, who has kept a low profile, the public
profiles of other communist leaders, including vice president Carlos
Lage, 55, have been raised on state television.
Loly, a 63-year-old nurse in Havana, said privately that Fidel Castro
was unlikely to return to power. "Fidel is not coming back. When he is
no longer alive, the political line is going to be the same, but let's
hope the economy improves. The people are not 'comunista', they are
Fidelista," she said.
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