Mon, Jul 28, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Cuba celebrates revolution's 50th year

STILL GOING STRONG After 44 years in power, Cuban President Fidel Castro is showing no sign of letting up and continues to verbally attack the US and Europe

AP , SANTIAGO, CUBA

Cuban boy Elian Gonzales, 9, is seen waving a Cuban flag on Saturday in Santiago de Cuba during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the attack on Moncada military barracks, which ultimately led to the successful Cuban revolution.

PHOTO: AP

Standing before the military barracks where he launched his revolutionary battle a half-century ago, Fidel Castro reopened a war of words with the EU, accusing it of being America's "Trojan horse" and saying its economic aid is no longer needed.

"Cuba does not need the help of the EU to survive," Castro told an enthusiastic crowd of about 10,000 invited guests, mostly Cuban officials and party leaders gathered for the anniversary celebrations. The event was broadcast live on government-run television and radio stations.

He mocked Europe's political leaders, saying they were unable to deal independently with the communist state without taking American policies into consideration.

As well as being "the superpower's Trojan horse," Europe had a past it should be ashamed of, Castro said, calling the EU "a group of old colonial powers historically responsible for slave trafficking, looting and even the extermination of entire peoples."

The Cuban leader was enraged in early June when the 15-member EU bloc announced it was reviewing its policies toward Cuba because of human rights concerns. He also was troubled by Britain's support of US military action in Iraq.

The EU opened an office in Havana earlier this year to administer the up to 15 million euros (US$16.4 million) it gives Cuba in aid each year. The EU is Cuba's largest trade, aid and investment partner.

As a 26-year-old lawyer, Castro launched 50 years ago what many considered to be a suicidal attack on Moncada military barracks in this eastern provincial capital. Now 44 years in power and the world's longest ruling head of government, Castro -- who turns 77 next month -- celebrated the anniversary of that audacious armed attack by proving that he still puts his political principles above all else.

But Castro's government is struggling with a severe cash crisis, despite a recent jump in the number of visitors to the island following a tourism slump following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the US.

Cuba also has come under widespread international criticism in recent months after a crackdown on dissent that put 75 of his harshest critics behind bars on sentences of up to 28 years, as well as the April 11 firing squad executions of three men who tried to hijack a passenger ferry to South Florida.

Before dawn on Saturday, hundreds of Cuban schoolchildren wielding ancient BB guns arrived outside the barracks in vintage American sedans to re-enact the raid by 129 revolutionaries on then-dictator Fulgencio Batista's army.

More than a dozen of the men who survived the attack at the same site five decades before were on hand as gunshots rang out in the still morning air over the former barracks that now serves as a school.

Although they were initially caught off guard, Batista's soldiers gained control of the situation. Six attackers and 16 soldiers were reported killed during the resulting firefight.

Cuban historians say 55 of the rebels who were captured were tortured to death, and the military killed 10 civilian bystanders.

Despite the mission's failure, it was a public relations success. Batista's violent response only brought Castro and his supporters more sympathy.

If not for the attack, Cuba today would be "a semi-colony of the US," said 69-year-old Moncada survivor Ramon Pez Ferro, who serves on the Cuban parliament's foreign relations committee. "We were young people with political worries who wanted to achieve independence for our country and improve its social situation."

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