Castro brothers silent at revolution ceremony
For the first time since 1959, neither Castro brother spoke at the
annual 26th of July celebration, which marks the start of the Cuban
By JUAN O. TAMAYO
Cuba's 26th of July ceremony turned into a bucket of cold water Monday
for those hoping for change, with Raúl Castro remaining silent despite
expectations he would announce reforms needed to ease a withering
Castro may be waiting to announce the reforms later this year, or
perhaps there's truth to reports making the rounds in Havana that he's
run into stiff opposition to the changes, analysts said.
Many Cubans had expected important news to emerge from the annual
celebration of the country's main holiday, anything from word on the
reforms to an appearance by Fidel Castro, who was seen in public six
times in the last two weeks after four years out of the limelight.
FIDEL'S A NO-SHOW
But the 83-year-old Fidel did not show up and Raúl participated only in
handing out awards to Cubans who distinguished themselves in the past
year. It was the first time since 1959 that neither Castro brother had
addressed the July 26 celebrations.
Perhaps Raúl just wanted to avoid domestic issues on a day that was to
focus on Cuba's alliance with Venezuela, said Phil Peters, a Cuba
analyst at the Lexington Institute in suburban Washington. Venezuelan
President Hugo Chávez canceled his appearance at the last minute amid a
diplomatic conflict with neighboring Colombia.
But other Cuba-watchers saw more ominous signals in Castro's silence.
``Raúl didn't speak because he doesn't have in hand the reforms that
everyone had been betting on,'' said Miami analyst and historian Alvaro
Alba. ``The message was clear: There are no reforms.''
Dissident Oscar Espinosa Chepe told El Nuevo Herald by phone from Havana
that Castro's silence could be a ``more-than-alarming signal that some
maneuvering against the changes is going on. There's a lot of talk here
that there are very strong arguments within the government.''
And one Cuban exile who strongly opposes U.S. sanctions and recently
visited Havana said friends in high government positions told him there
were ``rumblings of differences'' within the government. He asked for
anonymity to protect his friends.
The Havana friends, he added, were especially abuzz over the last line
in a Fidel Castro column, or ``reflection,'' dated July 4:
``Unfortunately, I have nothing to correct, and I take full
responsibility for what I have written in recent reflections.''
While the column was about Fidel's so-far erroneous predictions of
nuclear war in Iran and North Korea, his friends believe Fidel was also
criticizing his brother and others who blame him for Cuba's economic
chaos, the exile said.
Chepe added, however, that Raúl Castro could well be saving the
announcement of the economic reforms for a later time.
Havana is rife with unofficial reports that Castro will call a meeting
of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party later this year
to give its seal of approval to changes, he said.
``Raúl appears to be be waiting for the right time, between the
(legislative) National Assembly session next month and before the next
session in December,'' said Domingo Amuchástegui, a former Cuban
intelligence analyst who lives in Miami.
Cuba's state media reported 90,000 people attended Monday's celebration
in the central city of Santa Clara on the anniversary of Fidel Castro's
failed 1953 attack on the Moncada army barracks, regarded as the
beginning of the Cuban Revolution.
First Vice President José Ramón Machado Ventura, who delivered the
keynote speech, acknowledged Cuba needs economic reforms, saying, ``In
this historic moment, we will change everything that needs to be changed.''
NO QUICK FIXES
But he held out little hope the changes would come with the swiftness
required by the island's worst economic crisis since the early 1990s.
``We will continue with a sense of responsibility, step by step, at the
speed which we will determine, without improvisations or haste,'' he said.
Machado also lashed out at the U.S. government for the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, among other issues, and said Fidel Castro's ``visible
recuperation'' from the health crisis that forced him to hand over some
of his powers in 2006 sparked ``deep joy among Cuban revolutionaries.''
He made no mention of Raúl Castro's promise to free 52 political
prisoners -- 20 who already have been released and flown to Spain -- or
his unprecedented talks with the Cuban Catholic church.
Castro later Monday addressed the closing session of a meeting between
Cuban and Venezuelan officials, and said Havana would back Chávez in any
conflict with Colombia or Washington over allegations that Venezuela is
harboring Colombian guerrillas.
``We strive for peace and harmony . . . but . . . let no one have the
least doubt on which side Cuba will stand,'' Castro declared, according