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Cuba marks Revolution Day at economic crossroads
Peter Orsi, The Associated Press
CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba (AP) — Cuba marked the 58th anniversary of Fidel Castro's failed attack on the Moncada army barracks Tuesday without a speech from President Raul Castro. Instead, Cubans heard from his second in comand, who offered few new details while hitting standard themes such as organization, discipline and economic reform.
The main speaker was 80-year-old Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who said the country will move forward with economic reforms "without haste, but without pause."
"We must make a definitive break with the mentality of inertia ... (and) evaluate how much more can be done with what is available," Machado Ventura said, before imploring the crowd and his countrymen to work harder and more efficiently. He repeated that the country was not abandoning socialism even as it embraced limited free market reforms.
"Order, discipline and rigor," he added, echoing the slogan on a billboard at the plaza.
The July 26 holiday is often used to make major announcements, and Cubans have a lot of questions on their minds these days. Raul Castro has allowed more islanders to run small independent businesses and hire employees, and pledged to groom new leaders to take over from the aging revolutionary generation.
Cubans are also awaiting word on potentially blockbuster changes such as plans to lay off hundreds of thousands of state workers, phase out the monthly ration card of basic goods and perhaps make it easier for islanders to travel abroad. The government has promised to let Cubans freely buy and sell homes and cars by the end of the year, a first since such transactions were frozen in the 1960s.
But while rough guidelines for the changes were approved at a Communist Party summit in April, precious few details have trickled out since then.
Machado Ventura addressed the reform process but repeated what officials have been saying since April: The changes are coming, but islanders must be patient.
"We are not putting on patches or improvising, but seeking definitive solutions to old problems," he said.
For the second year in a row, Raul Castro chose not to address the crowd. Fidel Castro, just days away from his 85th birthday and fully retired, was not present.
An upcoming session of Parliament on Aug. 2 will provide Raul Castro, a far less enthusiastic speaker than Fidel, with another high-profile chance to address Cubans.
The ceremony got under way just after sunrise Tuesday at a central plaza in the central city of Ciego de Avila, where heavy rains the previous night left muddy puddles. Raul Castro arrived in a white guayabera shirt and dark slacks and greeted other leaders before taking a front-row seat to watch the action.
On July 26, 1953, Fidel and Raul Castro and some 130 rebels attacked the Moncada barracks but were repelled. The Castros were captured, imprisoned and later released. They went into exile in Mexico, but returned several years later to overthrow strongman Fulgencio Batista.
On Tuesday, a master of ceremonies read a congratulatory message from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who days earlier left Cuba after undergoing chemotherapy treatment.
"Honor and glory to the martyrs of Moncada!" it read.
Associated Press writer Paul Haven in Havana contributed to this report.