Revolution Reaches 50 And Cuba Is Somber
Jan 2, 2009
Simon Romero–The New York Times Media Group
cuban revolution, modern cuba
Cuba commemorated the 50th anniversary Thursday of its revolution amid
somber assessments of an economy hampered by shortages and battered by
hurricanes, even as its Communist leaders exalted the resilience of a
political system that has endured 10 administrations in the United
States while preparing to deal with an 11th.
Fidel Castro, 82, whose group of rebels waged a guerrilla war that
toppled the strongman Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959, remained behind
the scenes during the subdued festivities, grappling still with an
undisclosed illness that forced him into seclusion more than two years ago.
"I congratulate our heroic people," Castro said in brief comments
published by Granma, the newspaper of Cuba's Communist Party.
Castro's younger brother, President Ral Castro, 77, was set to address
the nation Thursday night from the eastern city of Santiago. But instead
of jubilation, the younger Castro, who took over as president in 2008,
seems to have been preparing Cubans in recent weeks for more hardships
as the revolution enters its sixth decade.
Cuban officials said in December that the economy would grow only 4.3
percent in 2008, about half the projected rate. Although the economy has
been stabilized in recent years by the provision of about 100,000
barrels a day of subsidized oil from Venezuela, it is dealing with a
host of problems.
Hurricanes wrought damage last year, while agricultural disarray
heightened reliance on food imports. Ral Castro has introduced halting
reforms — like allowing Cubans to buy cellphones or stay at hotels set
aside for foreign tourists — but average salaries of about $20 a month
put such luxuries out of reach for most people.
Scattered flags and small banners with slogans appeared in recent days
in this capital, but otherwise events surrounding the revolutionary
anniversary were in keeping with the somber economic mood.
Ral Castro faces in Barack Obama a president-elect who was not even born
when President Dwight Eisenhower ordered the first sanctions against
Cuba in 1960. But while Obama has signaled the possibility of dialogue
with Cuba's leaders and the lifting of some restrictions on travel to
the island, other nations in Latin America and elsewhere have gone much
further in efforts to make Cuba less isolated.
The presidents of Brazil, China and Russia have visited Havana in recent
months, pledging greater economic cooperation.
At Mexico's initiative in December, Cuba was admitted to the Rio Group,
a diplomatic association of Latin American and Caribbean countries. And
in October, the European Union formally renewed ties to Cuba.
"While the U.S. is dithering, virtually every other major actor in world
affairs is becoming more engaged with Cuba," said Daniel Erikson,
director of Caribbean programs at the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy
research group in Washington.
Cuba's enduring revolution, which has secured advances in education and
health care, faces other challenges. It has one the hemisphere's lowest
birthrates, 1.6 children per woman, and one of its highest life
expectancy rates, 77.3 years.
Emigration of thousands of young people each year also erodes its aging
population of 11.4 million.
Guillaume Decamme contributed reporting from Havana.