Sunday, July 27, 2008

Raul Castro fails to announce reforms in Cuba

Raul Castro fails to announce reforms in Cuba
Posted on Sun, Jul. 27, 2008
Associated Press Writer

President Raul Castro warned Washington that Cuba would keep its
defenses up no matter who wins November's U.S. presidential election,
but failed to announce any new changes to the communist system during a
speech Saturday.

In a 48-minute Revolution Day address, Castro also told Cubans to
prepare for tough times ahead as rising oil and commodity prices take a
toll on the island's economy.

Amid anticipation that he would use the speech to unveil fresh reforms,
Castro instead focused on the past as he spoke to thousands of
supporters in front of the Moncada military complex, where a band of
rebels led by he and his brother Fidel launched an attack 55 years ago,
planting the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution.

"When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today,"
Castro said in Santiago, 535 miles southeast of Havana, the de-facto
capital of the island's eastern half.

He warned of more economic austerity for the already poor island and
commanded Communist Party leaders to fulfill the promises they make to
the Cuban people.

"Regardless of our great wishes to solve every problem, we cannot spend
in excess of what we have," Castro said.

And he vowed that Cuba would remain prepared for any potential U.S.
attack regardless of who wins the U.S. presidential vote, which pits
Barack Obama against Sen. John McCain.

"We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of
the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,"
Raul 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 five days later 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.

Since taking office five months ago, Raul Castro has made changes his
older brother eschewed - opening more unused state land to private
farmers, legalizing cell phones 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, Raul, five years
younger that Fidel, seems happiest there.

"Raul 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. "He can go to Havana, live and work there, but he has Santiago in
his heart."

Yet Fidel Castro - not Raul - 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.

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 Raul," 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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