Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary tomorrow of its communist revolution, which ushered in decades of enmity with the US, fueling one of the world’s most enduring and defining geopolitical dramas.
One of the world’s last communist strongholds, Cuba faces uncertain “structural reforms” promised by President Raul Castro, 77, after he officially took over in February from his ailing older brother and revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, 82.
After defying no less than 10 US presidents, Fidel Castro has now become a role model for a new generation of leftist leaders in Latin America, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Bolivian President Evo Morales, both of whom may attend the celebrations in southeastern Santiago de Cuba, heart of the Castro insurrection.
Fidel Castro became Cuba’s larger-than-life president after ousting dictator Fulgencio Batista in a long, hard-fought rebellion.
Together with a band of bedraggled revolutionaries including late Argentine icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Castro emerged from Cuba’s rugged jungle on Jan. 1, 1959, to seize control of the island.
An event is planned for tomorrow evening in Cespedes Park to commemorate Castro’s speech there 50 years ago that launched the revolution.
One month after the failed CIA-backed invasion of the Bay of Pigs, Castro’s revolution took on Marxist overtones in May 1961.
With his ubiquitous cigar and trademark straggly beard, Castro became a symbol of resistance to US imperialism.
The “comandante” successfully thumbed his nose at 10 US presidents for five decades during which Washington made several covert attempts on his life.
“It would be supremely naive to believe that the good intentions of an intelligent person can change what has been created through centuries of interests and greed,” Castro wrote in a letter to the G20 major economic powers after the Nov. 4 US election, won by Democratic Senator Barack Obama.
Cubans are hoping for a thaw in US-Cuban relations after Obama is sworn into office on Jan. 20 and better ties with the Cuban expatriate community.
Ernesto Caballo, who lives in the expatriate bastion of Miami, Florida, echoed some of the disappointment many Cuban exiles feel about their homeland.
“Things have changed here and we have not seen anything new in Cuba in 50 years of revolution,” he said.
Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo, who fell out with Fidel Castro and fled to the US after serving 22 years in a Cuban jail, said the Cuban leader still believed in the revolution.
“But in order to believe in this revolution, I had to spend my youth in prison,” said Menoyo, who returned to Cuba in 2003 to join the opposition.
He plans to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations.
Branded US puppets by Havana, Cuban dissidents, divided and without a leader, say there are 219 political prisoners on the island.
During his tenure, Fidel Castro expropriated foreign companies, jailed his political enemies and drove some 2 million Cubans into exile.
But he also introduced historic reforms, including major education and health advancements that raised the island nation to the level of leading Western countries.
Over five decades, Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants have endured a roller coaster ride, from a grinding four-and-a half-decade US economic embargo, the island’s economic collapse after the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, and more recently Fidel Castro’s “retirement” after he fell seriously ill in July 2006.