By RON RIDENOUR
HAVANA TIMES, January 1 – Modesty was the tone of Cuba’s celebration of its first half-century of revolution. The national act was held in Cespedes Park, in Santiago de Cuba, where Fidel spoke on January 1, 1959 after taking over the city.
Prior to the devastating hurricanes last fall, the government had planned a major celebration with visiting foreign presidents and military parades. Because of this natural setback plus the global economic crisis which has reduced the price of exports such as nickel and sugar, the government toned down its plans limiting its celebration to meet austere realities. No foreign leaders were present.
The downtown Cespedes Park is small and seated only 3,000 people. Almost all the invited guests were Cubans. The streets around the park were nearly deserted with the exception of a few civilian block guards and security personnel. There were no cheering crowds.
In the rest of Cuba, celebrations were limited to outdoor musical shows.
The commemoration in Santiago de Cuba was covered by about 120-150 foreign journalists transported by aircraft to the city and then in four buses from the airport. I did not see any organized international solidarity brigades or delegations as previously expected.
A documentary was shown on a dozen outdoor screens during the first hour of the one hour and forty-five minute ceremony. There were two dances, a few songs and poems honoring martyrs of the revolutionary struggle. Then President Raul Castro spoke for half-an-hour. He was briefly interrupted six times by modest applause.
“We have learned how to transform our dreams into a reality; how to keep our heads cool and our confidence in the face of dangers and threats; how to get over the big setbacks; how to turn every challenge into a victory and to overcome adversity,” the president told the gathering and a live nationwide TV audience.
However, Raul also referred to the famous speech that Fidel made to students on November 17, 2005. Fidel said, in essence, that the enemy cannot destroy the revolution but that Cubans can-because of lack of revolutionary morality and poor production-and it would be their fault.
Some delegates told me afterwards that they thought Raul was right because Cuba always lands on its feet and resists the worst of what the enemy launches at them.
Nonetheless, many Cubans are fleeing the land in order to improve their economic possibilities and others I have known from when I lived here for eight years do not share these delegates opinion. The double economy is a divisive factor, yet Raul chose not to delve into this theme.
The only time in which Raul spoke of internal problems was in reference to persons who choose not to work but to hustle as parasites, seeking the easy life. He quickly mentioned that criticism was useful but warned against division, which he said leads to defeat.
Raul sketched the history of US subversion, direct and indirect, violent and economic against Cuba. He noted that the US government and its Cuban exile terrorists have murdered 3,478 Cubans and handicapped 2,099. “Liberty has a high price,” he concluded.
On three occasions, the President referred to Fidel and his historic role. These were the points of greatest applause.
For a veteran following the Cuban revolution for half-a-century, I was disappointed at the austerity of its official celebration.