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Posted August 06, 2005 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Mike Williams | Cox News Service

It was part pep rally, part solemn tribute to fallen heroes, part State of the Union address.

It was all slick political theater, masterfully stage-managed by Fidel Castro, the man who changed Cuban history and clearly revels in his role as an outsize player on the world stage.

Still irrepressible as he nears his 79th birthday, the communist firebrand used the July 26 anniversary of the start of his rebellion to dismiss reports that his four-decade-old revolution is once again in trouble.

“To hear the news reports and the misinformation, you would think our revolution will last only three more hours,’’ Castro said, drawing chuckles from a packed crowd of handpicked supporters at the Karl Marx Theater.

“But no revolution in history has ever had the consensus and support of the people like the Cuban revolution.’‘

Decades of neglect

Sixteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s loss of $5 billion a year in Russian subsidies, Cuba does appear to be struggling.

Although tourism continues to grow and feed the Cuban state, decades of neglect of the island’s infrastructure have triggered electricity shortages, while two powerful hurricanes in the past year decimated the already-dilapidated housing stock.

International news reports depict a restive Cuban population frustrated by drought, food shortages, low wages and power brownouts made worse by the sweltering tropical heat, a frustration that has boiled over with the surprising appearance of anti-government graffiti in some Havana neighborhoods.

Workers quickly paint over the offending slogans, while Castro supporters have broken up recent protests organized by the island’s dissidents.

But while Cuba’s recent problems have triggered a new wave of rumors in Miami’s vocal Cuban exile community that Castro’s hold on power is teetering, the Maximum Leader left no doubt that he is still firmly in charge and has no intentions of stepping aside.

Arresting orator

Belying rumors that his health is poor, Castro spoke from a plain wooden lectern for nearly four hours. His once-thundering voice was at times reduced to a croak, but he still showed an unmistakable oratorical brilliance, a rising-and-falling cadence, a rush of attacks followed by soothing asides, that has made him an icon in many parts of the world.

“The country is faced with a complex situation because of drought, the lack of power and the hurricanes,’’ Castro said in a rare admission that anything at all is amiss in Cuba. “But the enemies of the revolution are trying to use these events to say Cuba is going through an economic crisis. Once again, they fail to understand our people and their determination.’‘

The speech was a rambling discourse filled with a torrent of invective aimed at President Bush, whom Castro called the hemisphere’s “main terrorist.’‘

There was praise for Venezuela’s leftist leader and Castro ally, Hugo Chvez, who is selling Cuba badly needed oil at reduced prices, and a lengthy discussion of the minutiae of Cuban life apparently aimed at demonstrating Castro’s depth of compassion for his people and his understanding of the challenges they face.

Quieter celebration

In years past, the July 26 anniversary of Castro’s failed 1953 attack upon an army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago has been marked by massive outdoor rallies. Foreign press reports made much of the fact that this year’s events centered on the small gathering of Communist Party elite and loyal supporters at the indoor Havana theater, perhaps a sign of Castro’s uneasiness over the frustrations of his people, or of concerns over his stamina.

Last October, Castro fell while leaving a stage after a speech, breaking a kneecap and injuring an arm, while in 2001 he fainted after another outdoor speech, triggering yet another wave of rumors among Cuban-Americans, some of whom swear he has Parkinson’s disease or prostate cancer.

But Castro appeared fit and at times fiery during his indoor speech. His hands were steady and his long, thin index finger often jabbed the air to emphasize his words.

He drew attention to the case of Luis Posada Carriles, an anti-Castro activist and former CIA operative suspected of involvement in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner leaving Venezuela that killed 73 people. After years of living in Central America, Posada slipped into the United States this spring.

After news reports revealed that he was living in Miami, Castro accused the United States of harboring a suspected terrorist while claiming to be leading a worldwide war against terrorism. U.S. officials arrested Posada on charges of illegally entering the country in May, and he will soon face a deportation hearing. “We demand his extradition to Venezuela,’’ Castro said, a demand that U.S. officials have so far ignored.

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