By Isaac Risco
HAVANA TIMES — At a highly symbolic ceremony commemorating the event considered to have begun the Cuban revolution 60 years ago, Cuban President Raul Castro ratified today that new generations continue to replace the old in the country’s leadership “peacefully and with confidence”, DPA reported.
Today, the current leadership of the Castro government celebrated what will most probably become the last, round year anniversary of the assault on Santiago de Cuba’s Moncada Barracks – led by Fidel Castro in 1953- that it will host.
“It’s hard to believe that, sixty years after that 26th of July, several of us who participated in the attack are still alive,” Raul declared before some 10,000 people, who gathered for the festivities at the former headquarters of the Moncada Barracks, a little over 500 miles east of Havana.
“The process of handing over the country’s leadership to the new generations in a gradual and orderly manner is underway,” the 82-year-old president also affirmed at the close of the ceremony, attended to by 8 heads of State and government from the region, including presidents Nicolas Maduro (Venezuela), Evo Morales (Bolivia), Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Jose Mujica (Uruguay).
“The revolutionary generation has begun to step down so that the ‘young lads’ can take their place, peacefully and with confidence,” he added, invoking the words of intellectual and Cuban independence hero Jose Marti.
As expected, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, today 86 and in a delicate state of health, did not attend the ceremony in Santiago de Cuba. The historical leader of the Cuban revolution has appeared in public only rarely in recent years.
In February, Raul Castro’s government appointed an official born after the revolution to the number two post, a first since 1959. Fifty-three-year-old First Vice-President Miguel Diaz-Canel is considered to be the successor of Raul Castro, 82, the younger of the Castro brothers.
On entering office in February for a second, consecutive five-year term, Raul Castro announced he would step down in 2018. The president had initially assumed the position for a provisional two-year term in 2006, after Fidel Castro was forced to leave office owing to a serious intestinal condition.
“The years have gone by, but ours continues to be a revolution of young people,” said the Cuban president, who attended the ceremony dressed in his traditional olive-green military uniform and a typical Cuban peasant hat, worn to shield himself from Santiago de Cuba’s merciless sun.
All presidents in attendance were invited to take the podium briefly before Raul Castro’s address. Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa was notably absent in the group of left-leaning countries that comprise the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance of the Peoples of the Americas). His foreign minister, Ricardo Patiño, spoke on Ecuador’s behalf.
With a familiar “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, the Latin American leaders strongly criticized the United States and applauded the Cuban revolution, voicing the old slogans of “Homeland or Death” and “We Shall Overcome”.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica also offered a heart-felt defense of the Cuban revolution.
“The dreams of those Cubans (…) inspired us throughout Latin America,” said Mujica, a former member of Uruguay’s Tupac Amaru guerrilla movement who was elected president in 2010.
Unlike many intellectuals and Latin American leaders who distanced themselves from the Cuban revolution following a brief period of sympathies in the 1960s, Mujica has continued to show his support for Fidel Castro’s project throughout the years.
In the 1960s, inspired by the triumph of Fidel Castro’s revolution, many young people around Latin America joined guerrilla movements to try and topple authoritarian regimes in the region through armed insurrection.
Like his wife, senator Lucia Topolonsky, the 78-year-old Mujica joined the armed struggle in the 60s. The current Uruguayan president spent several years in prison for his activities at the time.
“Social change isn’t waiting around the corner,” Mujica also stated, in defense of Cuba’s revolutionary process.
Dissidents, both at home and abroad, accuse Fidel Castro of having established an authoritarian regime that has led the island to economic catastrophe.
The failed assault led by 26-year-old Fidel Castro in 1953 is commemorated every year at a different Cuban city and is referred to as the “Day of National Rebelliousness.” For the sixtieth anniversary of the event, the celebration was held at the location of the events themselves, in Santiago de Cuba.
Presidents Maduro, Morales and Ortega, as well as four heads of government from the Caribbean, arrived in the city on Thursday and Friday to participate in the festivities.
Mujica arrived on Wednesday as part of an official visit, the first since he entered office in 2010. The Uruguayan leader met with both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro on Wednesday.
The prime ministers of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Dominica, Ralph Gonsalves and Roosevelt Skerrit, respectively, as well as the heads of government of Antigua and Barbuda and Santa Lucia, Baldwin Spencer and Kenny Anthony, were also in attendance.