Castro touts achievements on Cuban Revolution Day

Thursday, July 27, 2006

BAYAMO, Cuba -- Fidel Castro led tens of thousands of Communist Party faithful Wednesday in a celebration of the nearly suicidal barracks assault that launched the Cuban Revolution 53 years ago.

Returning to his roots in eastern Cuba, Castro told a large Revolution Day crowd in this provincial capital that his government's social achievements exceed anything a U.S.-backed replacement could accomplish.

Organizers estimated that more than 100,000 people showed up for the early morning event. Virtually all wore bright red commemorative T-shirts and waved small red, white and blue Cuban flags distributed by local party officials.

Castro appeared onstage in his trademark olive green uniform, drawing a huge cheer from the crowd. He spoke for more than two hours.

Castro, whose 47 years in power make him the world's longest-ruling head of government, was born and raised in eastern Cuba. He was just 26 when he led a ragtag band on July 26, 1953, in an assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago.

Although the attack failed, with many of the assailants killed and the rest -- including Castro and his younger brother, Raul -- imprisoned, it is considered the official start of the revolution.

The Castro brothers and the other surviving assailants were released early under an amnesty and traveled to Mexico, where they planned a guerrilla war against Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista.

In his speech, Castro praised Granma province, of which Bayamo is the capital. The province is named for the yacht that carried Castro back to Cuba from Mexico in 1956 to launch the battles that led him to triumph three years later.

A plan recently presented by a U.S. presidential commission envisions a post-Castro Cuba with multiparty elections and free markets, led by a democratic transition government that would be encouraged to request aid and other support from the United States.

"Granma doesn't need any Yankee transition plan to vaccinate and teach our people to read and write," Castro said, drawing loud applause from the crowd. "They should tell Mr. Bush ... to come to Granma to see a development plan."

Cuban leaders say there will be no transition after the death of Castro, who turns 80 on Aug. 13, but rather a succession within the existing system. Defense Minister Raul Castro, 75, will assume the presidency.

A large plaza was built for Wednesday's event, featuring a bronze-and-marble monument at the front carved with the faces of Cuban independence heroes such as Jose Marti. Bayamo, about 500 miles east of Havana, was the site of key battles in Cuba's independence wars against Spain and in Castro's revolution, which triumphed Jan. 1, 1959, when Batista fled the country.

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