ANDREA RODRIGUEZ | Associated Press Writer
HAVANA (AP)—Giant posters, radio appeals and newspaper articles urged Cubans to turn out for a massive May Day celebration aimed at defying international criticism of the island’s human rights record.
Cuba has come under fire in recent weeks for sentencing 75 dissidents to prison terms ranging from six to 28 years on charges of collaborating with American diplomats to subvert the socialist system. The dissidents and diplomats deny the charges.
The May 1 gatherings “will be a message for those trying to intimidate us,” the Communist Party newspaper Granma said Wednesday.
President Fidel Castro is expected to defend the island’s socialist system during an address in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
The rally is expected to draw up to 1 million people, organizers said. More than 900 union leaders from around the world, including 160 from the United States, also are expected to attend, said Pedro Ross, secretary-general of the Cuban Workers Confederation.
A major pillar of support for the communist-run government, the confederation asked Castro to speak at the celebration in Havana, according to a statement read on the Caribbean nation’s government-run television late Wednesday.
On Wednesday, actors and dancers rehearsed at the Plaza of the Revolution while technicians adjusted equipment.
“We’ll show the world an extraordinary show of support for the social system we have chosen,” Granma said.
The crackdown on opponents was the island’s harshest in decades, drawing condemnation even from leftist intellectuals traditionally sympathetic to the country.
The communist island received even harsher criticism for the April 11 firing-squad executions of three men convicted of terrorism in the attempting hijacking of a ferry filled with passengers. No one was injured in the hijacking attempt.
During this year’s annual six-week session which ended Friday, the United Nations Human Rights Commission passed a resolution urging Cuba to accept a visit from an international rights inspector, a request the country rejected.
Still, Cuba was re-elected to the 53-member U.N. commission for another three-year term, prompting the Untied States to walk out of the meeting in protest on Tuesday.