Sunday, July 27, 2008

Castro: Defense is priority


Castro: Defense is priority
For Cuba's Revolution Day, President Raúl Castro returned to the site
that was the birthplace of the revolution led by his brother, Fidel.
Posted on Sun, Jul. 27, 2008
Associated Press

President Raúl Castro warned Washington that Cuba would stay focused on
defense regardless of who wins November's presidential election.

But he failed to announce more changes to the communist system during a
major address Saturday night.

Castro, a four-star general, instead highlighted the past in a 48-minute
Revolution Day speech to thousands of supporters in front of the Moncada
military barracks, where rebels led by his brother, Fidel, launched an
attack 55 years ago and planted the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution.

''When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here
today,'' Castro told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles southeast of
Havana, the biggest city in Cuba's eastern half.

He warned of more economic austerity for the already poor island in the
face of rising food prices, but also used the speech to command
Communist Party leaders to put Cuba's house in order and fulfill
promises they make to the people.


And he put the United States, which also hoped for greater change under
his regime, on notice.

''We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of
the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,''
Raúl said.

Perhaps showing his age, the 77-year-old president ended the speech by
mistakenly dedicating the 59th anniversary of the Moncada attack to his
brother, Fidel. He then laughed at himself, noting that this year
actually marked the 55th anniversary of the event.

It was at a commemoration of this anniversary two years ago that Fidel
Castro was last seen in public. He underwent emergency intestinal
surgery shortly afterward and has only appeared in official videos and
photographs since.

The Moncada attack was a disaster, with many assailants killed and most
of the rest captured. But it launched a movement that brought Fidel
Castro to power when President Fulgencio Batista fled the country in 1959.

Since taking office five months ago, Raúl Castro has made changes his
older brother long opposed -- opening more fallow state lands to private
farmers, legalizing cellphones for ordinary citizens and allowing some
workers to seek legal title to their homes.

Some Cubans hoped he would use the speech to ease restrictions on
international travel or announce other incremental reforms, but none came.

While both Castro brothers were born in Cuba's east, Raúl, five years
younger than Fidel, seems happiest there.

''Raúl is a man of the people and Santiago is full of his people,'' said
Elizabeth Trumpeta, 42, an administrator at a government shoe repair
shop who lives across the street from Moncada.


Yet Fidel Castro -- not Raúl -- is featured on Revolution Day posters
affixed to houses and businesses across Santiago. With a broad grin, he
hoists a rifle skyward before a picture of the Moncada barracks, now a
museum attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually.

The crowd chanted ''Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!'' and ''Long live Fidel!''
throughout Saturday night's speech.

Some Cubans say their hopes for change under the new government are fading.

''There are a lot of people on the street who talk about change, but we
haven't had even one economic or political reform that counts, nothing
we hoped for with Raúl,'' said Oswaldo, a 69-year-old retired
construction worker. He declined to give his last name, saying, ``Being
able to openly criticize things is something else we can only hope for.''

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