Today, 05:21 am
Reuters Rosa Tania Valdes
Cuba said it would not rush into reforms for its troubled economy, while
former leader Fidel Castro made his latest public appearance in
ceremonies on Monday marking the anniversary of the start of the Cuban
Cuban television showed Castro, 83, at a sombre ceremony in Havana's
Revolution Square, then in a lengthy meeting with Cuban intellectuals
and artists where he answered questions about a variety of topics for
more than an hour.
It was the latest in a string of appearances by Castro who has recently
emerged from four years of seclusion that followed emergency intestinal
surgery in July 2006.
In the last two appearances, he has donned a military shirt, which has
raised eyebrows because he wore a military uniform for most of his 49
years in power.
But the main event was in the central city of Santa Clara, where Vice
President Juan Ramon Machado Ventura spoke to 90,000 people, while
President Raul Castro looked on.
In a response to those pushing for faster change on the communist-led
island, he said the government would move deliberately and stay loyal to
"We will proceed with a sense of responsibility, step by step, at the
rhythm we determine, without improvisation or haste so as not to make
mistakes," said the veteran of the revolution and longtime Castro loyalist.
"We will continue the study, the analysis and the taking of decisions
that lead to overcoming our deficiencies," he said. "We will not conduct
ourselves by campaigns of the foreign press."
Machado Ventura spoke in front of a monument holding the remains of
Ernesto "Che" Guevara, the Argentine who helped lead the armed
insurrection that began on July 26, 1953.
On that day, Fidel Castro led an assault by young rebels on the Moncada
military barracks in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
The attack failed, with many of the rebels killed, but it marked the
beginning of the end for the government of U.S.-backed dictator
Fulgencio Batista, who fled the country on January 1, 1959.
While President Castro did not speak as expected at the Santa Clara
ceremony, Cuban television later showed him addressing a Cuba-Venezuela
summit in which the socialist allies said they had developed 139
projects on such things and energy and food production that they might
"This constitutes a new type of relation," Castro said at the meeting,
which took place at a resort island on Cuba's coast.
He also pledged to side with Venezuela against any aggression from
Colombia, which Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said may attack his
oil-rich country in alliance with the United States.
Machado Ventura's words echoed previous statements by Raul Castro that
the government must act deliberately to avoid mistakes that could
endanger the future of Cuban communism when the current generation of
leaders is gone.
Castro, 79, has tweaked the system to try to create incentives for
greater productivity, but his efforts have not yet raised salaries for
most Cubans, who receive social benefits but earn on average the
equivalent of $18 a month.
Machado Ventura, 79, cited three 2008 hurricanes and the longstanding
U.S. trade embargo against the island as principal causes for Cuba's
current economic lethargy.
Raul Castro surprised many this month by agreeing to release 52
political prisoners in a deal with the Catholic Church that quieted
international criticism about Cuba's human rights record.
But the prisoners were not mentioned by any of the leaders on Monday.
Cuba views dissidents as mercenaries working with the United States to
topple the communist government.
Fidel Castro ceded power provisionally to his brother at the time of
surgery, then officially resigned in February 2008 and Raul Castro was
elected his successor by the National Assembly.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was scheduled to speak at Monday's
celebration, but cancelled his trip due to the escalating tensions with
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Doina Chiacu)