INTERNATIONAL

Cuba marks revolution anniversary

Cuban President Raul Castro delivers a speech at the Moncada Cuartel in Santiago de Cuba on Saturday. (Right) Raul Castro and Vice-President Juan Almeida Bosque at the anniversary celebration.

Cuban President Raul Castro delivers a speech at the Moncada Cuartel in Santiago de Cuba on Saturday. (Right) Raul Castro and Vice-President Juan Almeida Bosque at the anniversary celebration.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: AFP

President Raul Castro warns of hard times ahead

SANTIAGO: 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 told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles (860 kilometers) 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 irregardless 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 who lives across the street from Moncada. ``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.

The crowd chanted ``Fidel! Fidel! 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 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.'' -- AP

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