Santiago de Cuba, Cuba In a brief speech laced with references to ailing and absent brother Fidel, President Raul Castro marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution Thursday with a warning that America will continue attempts to topple the communist regime.
Unlike previous occasions when the 77-year-old president called for dialogue with the United States, Castro did not touch upon the issue this time.
Instead, he said, the revolution’s anniversary was twice as sweet because it came “despite the unhealthy and vindictive hatred of the powerful neighbor.”
Castro, who officially replaced his brother as president in February, said one American administration after another has sought regime change in Cuba.
Wearing his olive-green uniform, the longtime defense minister warned that the island’s future leaders must “never be misled by the enemy’s siren songs and be aware that ... the enemy will never cease to be aggressive, treacherous and dominant.”
The golden anniversary comes amid rising calls on both sides of the Florida Straits for U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who takes office this month, to remove travel barriers and work toward restoring relations with Cuba.
The festivities also mark a time of transition for this island nation of 11.3 million people. The young, bearded rebels that Fidel Castro led to victory in 1959 are now old men, and many of them surrounded Raul Castro as he spoke in the same small square here where Fidel proclaimed victory half a century ago.
The enduring public absence of Fidel Castro, 82, who has not been seen publicly in more than two years, gave the occasion a somber feeling.
Anniversary events in Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, were toned down after a trio of devastating hurricanes caused $10 billion in damages.
Some 3,000 invited guests — mostly party members and provincial officials — sat in plastic chairs in the quaint square, which was adorned with Cuban flags and towering banners. Black and white video images of Fidel Castro and the heady first days that followed the triumph of the revolution were shown on giant TV screens.
Shouts of “Viva Fidel! Viva Raul” rose in the cool evening air.
“It is an honor to be here,” said Felix Rodriguez, 57, an agricultural engineer from Santiago, his eyes moistening with tears. “This is where it all started. And we’re still here.”
Raul Castro vowed to extend his brother’s revolution and said the global financial crisis meant that Cuba faced difficult times ahead.
“The current disturbances in the world tells us that the coming years will not be easier,” he said. “This is the truth. I am not saying this to scare anyone.”