Fidel: Happy Days Are Here Again

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This story was written by CBS News Producer Portia Siegelbaum
For the fourth time in as many weeks, Cuban President Fidel Castro will take to the airwaves on Thursday. His last three speeches were upbeat, promising improvements in the standard of living.

Most Cubans stayed glued to their TV sets for appearances that lasted from three to five hours. At some bus stops, people were seen following his words on transistor radios.

"It's been a long time since we've heard any good news. Let's just hope its all true," said one Havana City postal worker as he hopped on the #190 bus heading home after making his rounds.

Besides announcing the imminent arrival of home appliances such as pressure cookers and electric rice pots at affordable prices or on an installment plan, Castro revealed new measures to strengthen the local currency.

This new peso power, he declared, would boost consumer buying power, while improvements in the economy would allow the nation to import more of what consumers need.

It was also the first time in many years that Castro referred to official opinion polls taken regularly, but rarely made public. "Of course, he's doing it now. When was the last time Fidel had anything good for the public to react to?" commented one Foreign Ministry official.

According to the Cuban leader, more than 26,000 opinions were collected on the first of the speeches delivered March 8 to a convention of women. Of the 28,000 plus opinions collected on his March 17 speech, Castro claimed only 253 were critical. In a buoyant and optimistic mood, he volunteered to read only the critical opinions.

"Every time Fidel speaks they cut the electricity, it appears intentional," read one opinion shared by Castro, referring to blackouts that occurred in several parts of the country in recent weeks. Probably not "intentional" but certainly ironic since the Cuban president had just pledged, "Blackouts will be history" within a year.

Power outages have been the bane of Cubans existence since the Soviet Union collapsed and Moscow cut off its heavily subsidized oil shipments. Today Cuba is receiving 53,000 barrels a day on high favorable terms from oil-rich Venezuela.

So it was with great interest that Cubans listened as Castro gave a detailed explanation of ongoing government investments to upgrade the country's ailing power grid, including construction of 300 new small generating plants and the purchase of $34 million in spare parts and equipment from Japan for one of Cuba's largest power plants.