By Anthony Boadle | Reuters
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban President Fidel Castro on Saturday dismissed Bush administration plans to speed up political change in Cuba and said his government—in power since 1959—will continue building a socialist society at the U.S. doorstep.
Castro said Cuba had survived the antagonism of the world’s most powerful nation for 45 years and will continue to resist.
“This revolution will leave a lasting mark in world history and has nothing to be ashamed of,” Castro said at a massive May Day rally in Havana’s Revolution Square.
The 77-year-old Cuban leader, dressed in military fatigues, spoke for almost two hours under a scorching sun. His brother and designated successor Raul Castro attended, also wearing a military uniform.
Castro accused the United States of committing “genocide” and said peace in Iraq was not possible until American troops withdrew.
Washington had no right to criticize Cuba in the U.N. Human Rights Commission when the United States had built a “horrendous prison” for alleged al Qaeda militants at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay where some 600 prisoners are being held without trial or legal rights, he said.
Authorities said more than one million people attended the labor rally. Cubans were driven to the square in buses from their work places at 6 a.m. Many wore red T-shirts and waved Cuban flags.
A Committee for a Free Cuba appointed by President Bush had until Saturday to hand the White House a set of recommendations for speeding up a post-Castro transition to democracy in Cuba.
Miami’s Spanish-language newspaper, El Nuevo Herald, reported last week that the 50-page report includes a proposal to cut by half the remittances that Cuban Americans can send their families in Cuba, from $300 to $150 a quarter. The remittances are estimated to total $1 billion a year, a vital inflow of cash for Castro’s economically-battered government.
Castro said the Bush administration was threatening steps to undermine Cuba’s economy and destabilize the country.
“To those who persist in destroying the Revolution, in the name of the immense multitude gathered here, I truly say to them, as at other decisive moments of our struggle: ‘Long Live Socialism’, ‘Fatherland or Death,’ ‘Venceremos’ (We shall overcome),” Castro said in closing his speech.
Cuba last year rounded up 75 dissidents and jailed them for terms of up to 28 years. They were accused of conspiring with the United States against Castro’s government.
Castro maintained that Cuba—a one-party state—is the most democratic country in the world because it looks after the social rights of its people, with free health and education.
Literacy is higher in Cuba than in many industrialized nations, and infant mortality lower than in the United States, where 44 million people do not have medical coverage, he said.
The average age Cubans can expect to live to will rise to 80 in five years, Castro said.