Castro speech will be scrutinized at home and abroad
By Ray Sanchez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
July 26, 2008
Havana - When Raul Castro returns to the birthplace of the Cuban
revolution Saturday for the 55th anniversary of a historic rebel
assault, many Cubans will be listening to his speech for hints of change.
A year ago, Castro used his first July 26 speech — the biggest event of
the revolutionary calendar — to set the agenda for the modest changes he
has implemented. Observers abroad as well as ordinary Cubans here
believe that more change is coming, including the easing of travel
restrictions and greater opportunities for Cubans to start their own
businesses and that Castro might reveal some of his ideas for the future
during this year's event in the eastern city of Santiago.
"I think we might see a couple of surprises," said Frank Mora, a Cuba
expert at the National War College in Washington, D.C. "Every time Raul
gives a speech, he throws a little something out there ... in an attempt
to show that Cuba is moving forward, that the revolution is changing."
Since formally taking over power from his ailing older brother Fidel
Castro in February, Raul Castro has lifted caps on wages and
restrictions on items such as computers and cell phones. He has also
allowed Cubans to rent cars and visit tourist hotels.
In the sluggish agricultural sector, Castro has decentralized
decision-making and granted unused state land for use by private farmers
and cooperatives. Cuba watchers said the moves signal Castro's
willingness to steer Cuba away from the hard-line socialist doctrine
espoused by his older brother.
"The distribution of land is the only real substantive reform because in
a sense it represents the potential transfer of wealth to a sector of
society," Mora said.
William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington,
said Raul Castro has demonstrated an expediency that was unimaginable
with Fidel in power.
"Raul is experimenting to see how additional market mechanisms work out
economically and to see the political ramifications," he said. "And yet
Raul is always careful to mention that he's consulted with Fidel and has
gotten Fidel's blessing. I think more change is coming."
In a speech before Cuba's rubber-stamp parliament earlier this month,
the younger Castro hinted at more economic change.
"Socialism means social justice and equality, but equality of rights, of
opportunities, not of income," he said. "Equality is not egalitarianism."
On Saturday evening, many Cubans will be listening to the radio or
watching on television as Raul Castro marks the anniversary of the July
26, 1953, rebel assault on the Moncada army barracks in Santiago. The
attack was disastrous for the rebels but set in motion the revolution
that toppled U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
In Old Havana, Fernando Castillo, 67, expects to be sitting in his small
apartment watching the speech on his Korean-made television.
"We expect more good news for the people," the retired radio and TV
producer said. "We're reinventing our system, creating a new form of
socialism. No one should think that the turnover from Fidel to Raul
represents some kind of Trojan Horse."
Standing on the street with friends one block away, Silvio Montero, 28
and unemployed, said he hoped to go dancing Saturday night.
"The speech will be more of the same," he said. "What doesn't change is