Soviet cogitations: 1446 Defected to the U.S.S.R.: 10 Oct 2007, 15:55 Party Member
26 Jul 2008, 22:25
HAVANA (AFP) - Cuba is marking the 55th anniversary of its communist revolution as the island faces an uncertain political and economic future two years after Fidel Castro passed power to his brother Raul, who addresses the nation Saturday.
Raul Castro will be the featured speaker at a commemoration in the southeastern city Santiago de Cuba, the island's second-largest city and birthplace of the revolution begun on July 26, 1953 when the Castros and their supporters began the overthrow of the previous regime.
They succeeded in 1959, pursuing a Marxist-inspired model. Fidel Castro, the father of that revolution, ruled until July 2006, when an undisclosed ailment requiring intestinal surgery forced him to hand the reins to his younger brother.
About 10,000 people are expected to gather, according to official media, to hear the speech by the 77-year-old Raul, whose reign became official in February when he was named Fidel's successor as president.
His appearance will be closely watched at home abroad for signs of whether, after more than half a century of hardline socialist policies, the regime is embracing a broader market-oriented shift such as those undertaken by fellow socialist states China and Vietnam.
Although a few reforms have been introduced -- the right to buy mobile telephones or to stay in hotels previously reserved for foreigners -- there is uncertainty as to whether deeper changes are on the way.
Other reforms, such as the right to own private taxis or some farmland, and the lifting of salary ceilings, have been approved and are waiting to be applied.
Raul a year ago promised gradual "structural" reforms that have yet to materialize, though the modest transformations have been welcomed.
"There is less political pressure, we are less caught up by that sort of thing," said Maria Cruz, 54, explaining that the huge public rallies with near-required participation that accompanied Fidel Castro's addresses have disappeared.
Electrical blackouts that used to plague the country have also become rarer and shorter, and brand-new Chinese-made buses can be seen in the streets -- which are themselves repaired more quickly by workers.
Those initiatives were begun under Fidel Castro, but it is only now that they are being seen.
"The public transport has improved. Just a little, but it's improved. For the rest, though, no, everything's the same," said Nancy Gutierrez, 57.
"If you work, you eat, but you can't do anything else."
While some long for more notable reforms, supporters of the revolution are quick to note Cuba's relative stability in the half-century of socialism.
"Here, there are no changes. There is just continuity," Julian Rodriguez, a 75-year-old neighborhood director of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution in Havana's Marianao district, said proudly.
Earlier this month state media reported that Raul Castro authorized the placement of vacant farmland in private hands -- considered the reform with the greatest potential economic impact to be unveiled since he became president.
Washington has dismissed Castro's reforms so far as "cosmetic" and, with Europe, has demanded political prisoners be released and dissent tolerated.
I believe the journalists only put in negative comments about Cuba's improvements. I'm sure there's lots of other people saying they're satisfied with the change
We have beaten you to the moon, but you have beaten us in sausage making.- Nikita Khrushchev