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Cuban May Day demonstration begins without Castro

Cuban May Day demonstration begins without Castro

There was no sign of a convalescing Fidel Castro as hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched through Revolution Plaza on Tuesday to celebrate May Day, an event the island's "maximum leader" had attended for decades without fail.
In a speech just before the huge annual parade began, Salvador Valdes, secretary general of Cuba's central workers union, hinted it was highly unlikely the 80-year-old Castro would make his first public appearance since stepping down from power nine months ago.
"A speedy recovery and lots of health, dear Fidel," said Valdes, adding "Viva Fidel!" as the crowd shouted back "Viva!"
The place where Castro would have watched the festivities _ a raised platform under a towering statue of Cuban colonial independence hero Jose Marti staring out over the plaza _ was instead occupied by his brother Raul.
The acting president and defense minister, five years younger than his more-famous sibling, stood stiffly and smiled, occasionally waving as marchers streamed past, clutching plastic Cuban flags, portraits of Fidel Castro and banners denouncing U.S. "imperialism."
Special guests surrounded the base of the platform, including a Cuba solidarity group from the New York City area.
"I think the most important thing is for him to take care of himself right now," Joppe Van Meervelde, 29, a metal workers' unionist visiting from Belgium, said of Fidel Castro. "Even without him they all came out en masse."
Van Meervelde said "all of the problems here are caused by the U.S. embargo," referring to Washington's 45-year-old sanctions against travel to and trade with the communist-run island.
In the hours before the march began, Fidel Castro issued the latest in a series of new communiques he has been writing in recent weeks _ but gave no hint he would show up in public.
Castro called for a revolution in energy production in his latest message and reiterated his opposition to U.S. plans to use food crops to produce ethanol for cars, predicting that American fuel needs would require the labor of the world's impoverished sugar cane workers.
"Tomorrow the 1st of May is a good day to carry these reflections to the workers and all of the poor people of the world," Fidel Castro wrote in the statement dated Monday evening.
On Sunday, one of Castro's main allies, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said the Cuban leader is once again "in charge" but declined to comment on whether his friend would show for May Day.
Many marchers wore red or white T-shirts that appeared to have been distributed by the Cuban government with a May 1 slogan reading "More solidarity, unity and strength than ever."
"There's hope in Latin America for a shift to the left," said Fredy Franco, a labor activist who was visiting from Nicaragua. "That's why we are here, supporting Cuba's socialist project."
Smaller marches were held simultaneously in cities around the island, with the government expecting several million people to participate.
"It's amazing. I don't think I've ever seen this many people before," said Jim Gorman a unionist from Vancouver, Canada, who watched the Havana march.
Those gathered protested the recent decision to free on bond anti-communist militant Luis Posada Carriles, pending his trial on U.S. immigration charges. Havana accuses the Cuban-born Posada of orchestrating a 1976 airliner bombing that killed 73 people _ a charge he denies.
Demonstrators held signs and banners declaring "Prison for the Executioner" in reference to Posada, accusing the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush of a double standard on terrorism.
The portraits of five Cuban spies imprisoned in the U.S. for being unregistered foreign agents could be seen everywhere, under banners reading: "Freedom now!" The five are vilified in anti-Castro circles as dangerous conspirators. But here they are widely considered heroes who only sought to protect Cuba from anti-communist terrorists.
Joseph Mitchell, a British trade unionist, said that "life in Cuba may not be as it should be because of the U.S embargo." His choice of words was quickly corrected by other marchers, who said it was an American "blockade," not embargo.
Mitchell said this was his third May Day march, and that Castro had been present at the other two. He said it had been "magnificent to see him" and said he hoped to see the revolutionary again, but added that he was not sure he would.
Cuban loyalists hoped to see the bearded visage of their leader, but the urgent need to see the man who ruled this country for 47 straight years seems to have faded in recent months as life has continued normally under the leadership of Raul Castro.
Occasional government photographs and videos of the elder Castro have assured Cubans he is still alive and recovering, appearing stronger and more robust in the most recent images. Castro met separately in recent weeks with Colombian writer and Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez and a top Chinese Communist Party leader, and has penned four editorials, including Monday's.


Updated : 2021-04-12 09:08 GMT+08:00