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Fidel Celebrates 52 Years

This story was written by CBS News Producer Portia Siegelbaum.


Havana appears to be deliberately toning down celebrations for one of the Revolution's top anniversaries, the July 26th "Day of National Rebellion".

Instead of the usual massive outdoor rally followed by block parties, Fidel Castro is going to address some 5,000 of his loyalists in the capital's largest theater, the Karl Marx, according to a Monday night announcement on state-run television.

It has been 52 years since Fidel Castro and a small band of devoted followers attacked the country's largest military barracks, thus launching the armed struggle against the Batista dictatorship.

However, the damage wrought by Hurricane Dennis earlier this month and severe problems with the country's electricity system makes "celebrating unseemly" according to a Foreign Ministry official.

Residents of the capital agree although they're somewhat surprised by the lack of festivities. "There's always been a big rally. I was sure Fidel was going to speak in Revolution Square," said Mariela Diez. The 53-year old State-office worker, a staunch Castro supporter, nevertheless expressed relief at not having to stand for hours under the blazing sun. "It's too hot for that."

Diez admitted that she and her neighbors have been having a hard time sleeping through this summer's record temperatures hovering in the mid-nineties. Cuba's obsolete electrical system was struggling to meet demand even before Hurricane Dennis struck the island earlier this month, downing 36 high-tension towers and over a thousand electric poles. Since then lengthy blackouts of six hours or more have left fans motionless and ice, or even cold water, at a premium.

The situation in central and eastern Cuba where Hurricane Dennis wrought most of its destruction earlier this month is worse. "People there have lost their homes and some still are without electricity and running water. I don't think we should be dancing in the streets," remarked Mayra, a chemist working in the food industry. Mayra and her boyfriend will nonetheless be celebrating the holiday - at a nightclub, at discount prices offered to exemplary workers.

"At least we can expect the lights not to go out for the next three days," declared Caridad, a teacher, referring to the government-announced holiday that runs through Wednesday.

The heat and the blackouts have left Cubans tense and frustrated. "Fidel told us blackouts were going to be part of the past," said a university professor who asked not to be identified.

She was referring to a series of speeches dating back to March in which the Cuban leader heralded improvements in living conditions beginning with the electricity supply. "He raised our expectations and we've been badly let down," she said, adding, "Fidel has always told us the truth, even when the news was bad. We're not used to be told everything is fine when its not."

Cubans in all walks of life and political persuasions have been complaining and there have even been unusual protests, some staged by dissidents. People report random incidents of rocks being thrown at electric company offices during the blackouts and of the appearance of anti-government signs.

Two weeks ago the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) throughout the capital called on its grassroots membership to step up its vigilance. In local block meetings, neighbors were asked to keep the peace during the celebration of the upcoming national holiday.

"They told us that dissident groups were creating disturbances in some municipalities," explained Camila, a housewife in the Playa neighborhood. "Schools out and people are home on vacation. There's not a lot to do," she said. Her neighbor, Victoria chimed in, "With all the thunderstorms we've been having, you can't even go swimming. I support Fidel but I also think a lot of people are ready to explode."

Asked what he was doing during the three-day holiday, Enrique, a car mechanic employed by the State, replied, "Waiting to see what Fidel says on the 26th. He needs to talk about these blackouts and what August is going to be like."

By Portia Siegelbaum

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