Fidel Castro, Addressing a May Day Rally, Accuses U.S. of Trying to Provoke a War With Cuba
HAVANA May 1 | The Associated Press
Fidel Castro, addressing a May Day rally of hundreds of thousands of people, accused the United States on Thursday of trying to provoke a war with Cuba.
“In Miami and Washington they are now discussing where, how and when Cuba will be attacked,” the Cuban president said in a speech at the annual celebrations in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.
“On behalf of the one million people gathered here this May Day, I want to convey a message to the world and the American people: We do not want the blood of Cubans and Americans to be shed in a war.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd as Castro, wearing his typical olive green uniform and cap, arrived for the ceremony and took his place alongside other communist leaders.
“Long live May Day! Long live socialism! Long live Fidel!” declared Pedro Ross, secretary-general of the Cuban Workers Confederation, as the event began a half-hour early because of concerns that it would rain.
Castro accused the United States of hypocrisy over recent hijackings of Cuban planes and boats, saying Americans were provoking and actively encouraging the hijackings, only to later denounce them.
As an example of America’s “brazenly provocative” actions, Castro said Kevin Whitaker, chief of the State Department’s Cuban bureau, warned Cuban diplomats in Washington on Sunday that the American government “considered the continued hijackings from Cuba a serious threat to the national security of the United States.” There was no immediate response from the State Department.
On April 11, a firing squad executed three men convicted of terrorism for trying to commandeer a Cuban ferry full of passengers to United States.
Castro has said that the executions were a harsh measure needed to halt the hijackings of boats and planes and stem a brewing migration crisis. No one was hurt in the hijacking, one of a wave of at least four attempted and successful hijackings over the last few weeks.
The U.S. government along with other governments and international human rights groups has condemned the speed with which the trials and executions were carried out.
Cuba also has been criticized for sentencing 75 dissidents to prison terms of up to 28 years on charges of collaborating with U.S. diplomats to destabilize the socialist regime. It was the island’s harshest crackdown on opponents in decades.
Among the crowd, one group hoisted an effigy of President Bush, fashioned of cardboard and plastic bags and bearing the message, “Bush: Don’t mess with Cuba.”
A scattering of Cuban flags waved above the crowd, along with the flags of nations from around the region, including Brazil, Venezuela, Canada and Uruguay.
“We workers are gathered here to tell the American empire that we are not afraid, in spite of their lies,” 66-year-old gardener Jose Rego said shortly before the ceremony began.
More than 900 union leaders from around the world including 160 from the United States reportedly were participating in the Havana rally.
Addressing the May Day crowd, the Rev. Lucius Walker Jr., an American pastor who has long backed Castro’s government, said that Cuba is “loved, respected, appreciated and supported by millions of U.S. citizens.”
But he also called on Cuba to abolish the death penalty.
“Cuba: you are a world leader in human rights and respect for human life,” said Walker, pastor of Salvation Baptist Church in Brooklyn and executive director of New York-based Pastors for Peace. “The death penalty demeans that. You are better than that.”
Walker exhorted the U.S. government to “cease its hypocritical lies and distortion about Cuba’s human rights record because the United States itself is the worst violator of human rights in this hemisphere.”
photo credit and caption: Cuban leader Fidel Castro gestures as he delivers a speech on May Day, 2003 in Havana in front of hundreds thousands of Cubans. (AP Photo/Jose Goitia)