No Reforms On Cuba's Revolution Day

View of Moncada Barracks where Raul Castro delivered his Revolution Day address, July 26, 2008.
CBS
President Raul Castro warned Washington that Cuba would stay focused on defense regardless of who wins the U.S. presidential election in November, but broke no new ground in his Revolution Day address Saturday night, reports CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum.

In his 48-minute speech, Castro he said that, like Americans, Cubans are facing the global crisis of rising food and fuel costs. Unlike Americans, though, Cubans have been benefiting from many government subsidies, particularly for foodstuffs.

But Castro said Saturday that there are difficulties and they must be explained to the population and that Cubans should be prepared to receive not only good news. He specifically warned people not to have overly ambitious aspirations for material goods.

His words threw cold water on any expectations of new economic openings.

Since taking over from his ailing older brother Fidel - whose last public appearance was exactly two years ago - Raul has instituted reforms in agriculture, offering unused state lands to farmers in an effort to increase harvests. He has also allowed Cubans to buy cell phones, computers, and other electronic goods, to stay at hotels formerly restricted to foreign tourists, eliminated salary caps and raised pensions, among other measures.

He made it clear that there would have to be tighter accounting, more efficiency and less waste.

Castro also highlighted the past to thousands of supporters in front of the Moncada military complex, where rebels led by his brother Fidel launched an attack 55 years ago and planted the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution.

"When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today," Castro told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles southeast of Havana, the de-facto capital of the island's eastern half.

And he put the U.S., which also hoped for greater change under his regime, on notice.

"We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States," Raul said.

The comments were a prelude to discussing Cuba's defense preparations - officer training, upgrading of military hardware, and preparation of reserve forces that, along with militia, back up regular troops, reports Siegelbaum. He announced that the country's main annual military exercise, Bastion, would take place next November as a new U.S. president is elected.

Perhaps showing his age, the 77-year-old president ended the speech by mistakenly dedicating the 59th anniversary of the Moncada attack to his brother, Fidel. He then laughed at himself, noting that this year actually marked the 55th anniversary of the event.

It was at a commemoration of this anniversary two years ago that Fidel Castro was last seen in public. He underwent emergency intestinal surgery five days later and has only appeared in official videos and photographs since.

The Moncada attack was a disaster, with many assailants killed and most of the rest captured. But it launched a movement that brought Fidel Castro to power when President Fulgencio Batista fled the country.

Some Cubans hoped he would use the speech to ease restrictions on international travel or announce other incremental reforms, but none came.

While both Castro brothers were born in Cuba's east, Raul, five years younger that Fidel, seems happiest there.

"Raul is a man of the people and Santiago is full of his people," said Elizabeth Trumpeta, 42, an administrator at a government shoe repair shop who lives across the street from Moncada. "He can go to Havana, live and work there, but he has Santiago in his heart."

Yet Fidel Castro - not Raul - is featured on Revolution Day posters affixed to houses and businesses across Santiago. With a broad grin, he hoists a rifle skyward before a picture of the Moncada barracks, now a museum attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually.

The crowd chanted "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!" and "Long live Fidel!" throughout Saturday night's speech.

Some Cubans say their hopes for change under the new government are fading.

"There are a lot of people on the street who talk about change, but we haven't had even one economic or political reform that counts, nothing we hoped for with Raul," said Oswaldo, a 69-year-old retired construction worker. He declined to give his last name, saying, "Being able to openly criticize things is something else we can only hope for."