Friday, January 02, 2009

Golden Cuban Anniversary

Left: Map of Cuba

Cuba celebrates revolution's 50th anniversary

Fifty years after triumphant armed revolutionaries descended from the eastern mountains, Cuba celebrated the revolution's anniversary Thursday with festivities. Fidel Castro and revolutionaries enbarked on a mission to overthrow the Batista dictatorship. In 1956 they loaded 38-feet long motor yacht Granma full of guerrillas and weapons and sailed to Cuba, landing near Cabo Cruz on December 2.

The group of visionaries made their base in the mountains of Sierra Maestra, attacking garrisons and recruiting peasants to the revolutionary army. In the areas controlled by the guerrillas, they started land reform and socializing processes. Land reform became a primary slogan -- the banner and material spearhead of the movement, which ultimately encouraged peasants to participate in the armed struggle and reject the Batista regime. Revolutionary forces invaded central Cuba in late 1958. They were able to conquer the island as Batista and his officials fled and take power in January 1959.

The nation has recently suffered a trio of devastating hurricanes, which preyed upon the economy with a total loss of $10 billion, a sullen situation exacerbated by the current global financial crisis. The nation is also somber under the weight of enduring the public absence of an ailing Fidel Castro, who did not attend the celebrations. However, the people of Cuba celebrated cheerfully the golden anniversary of the worker's revolution.

The celebrations, including dances and concerts across the island, belied the start of a year infused with possibilities for increased cash and visitors, and other changes that might expand the Cuban economy. Many Cubans hold hopes for improved relations with the new United States adninistration following Barack Obaama's declarations he would talk directly with Raul Castro and lift severe restrictions on family travel and remittances to the island.

Left: The Cuban flag is composed of five horizontal stripes, three blue ones and two white ones and a red triangle in which features a single white five-pointed star. The three colors (red, sky-bleu and white) and the three points of the triangle represent the Republican ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, which were proclaimed during the French Revolution and are known as the Republican Tri-Color. The three blue stripes are said to represent Science, Virtue, and Beauty. The two white ones to represent Justice and Purity. The red color of the triangle represents the blood of the Patriots. The lone white star within the equilateral red triangle represents the unity of the Cuban people and the Independent Cuban Nation upon the blood spilled by the revolutionary heroes. The width is twice the height.

President Raul Castro, who succeeded his older brother in February, spoke from the same balcony where Fidel declared victory over dictator Fulgencio Batista's government on Jan. 1, 1959.

Fidel Castro's health remains guarded and has been out of sight after undergoing major intestinal surgery almost 2 1/2 years ago. But the 82-year-old continues to write occasional essays that suggest he still contributes to government affairs.

Shortly before midnight Wednesday, a brief statement by Castro was read on state television, congratulating "our heroic people" on the eve of the anniversary.

Left: Che Guevara and Fidel Castro two of the most influential figures in the Cuban revolution.

The 77-year-old Raul Castro is the current president in the Cuban government, but has yet to introduce any major policy initiatives, which stray too far from the initiatives of Fidel's governance. Although some expect there may be some transcendent change, evident in recent speeches and actions that have liberalized society. Most notably, Raul has spearheaded the release of most of the country's political prisoners.

Officials initially planned a more grandiose anniversary celebration but scaled back after three hurricanes this year caused $10 billion in damages and wiped out nearly a third of Cuba's crops. Raul Castro last week called for more cost-cutting measures as the island posted an annual economic growth of 4.3 percent for the year, barely half the original government forecast.

Over a half-century, the triumphant revolution erased illiteracy, crafted a universal health care system, and built thousands of new schools. But after Fidel Castro embraced socialist policies in 1961, labor unions lost the right to strike, and opponents of the new government were jailed as US efforts to destabilize the island intensified.

The Havana-based non-governmental Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Reconciliation last counted 219 political prisoners on the island, down from as many as 15,000 in 1964.

Cuba's revolution was nevertheless long admired throughout the Third World as Castro stood up defiantly to the Yankee imperialists, and infant mortality rates began rivaling those of developing countries. Cuba was able to send doctors and engineers throughout the third world, in order to help emerging states.

The revolutionary movement remains relevant as several regional governments embrace milder versions of the socialist principles long promoted by the island's government. Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are especially strong leftist allies. The hopeful moment we have been witnessing in Latin America in recent years has something to do with the Cuban revolution's existence. Cuba served as a beacon for liberation to an entire generation.

Across the decades, Cuba's socialist system has hung on, even after its best ally, the Soviet Union collapsed while China and Vietnam embraced hybrid free markets while still maintaining their political systems. The US has used various forms of sabotage, including biological warfare, assassination attemps and nurturing a fifth column against the Cuban revolution nevertheless, Cuba survived all these difficult challenges.

When President George W. Bush leaves office later this month, the revolution will have outlasted 10 American presidents who maintained strict U.S. sanctions aimed at overthrowing the Cuban leadership.

A new enlightened dialogue with Cuba could signal an impetus toward easing the siege conditions in Cuba. If the United States forego its hard line stand of idealistic based opposition against Cuba the many guises and hindrances used to obscure normal relations between the two nations. The blockade may wither away to dawn a new era in the Caribbean that may improve US credibility in the Latin American sphere. It is time overdue for a major change in U.S. policies toward the island and that rapprochement could help forge an opening on the island and outward.

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