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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

Raul Castro’s (boring) speech on July 26 at Moncada Barracks

Posted July 27, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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CBS (Original title: No Reforms On Cuba’s Revolution Day)

President Raul Castro warned Washington that Cuba would stay focused on defense regardless of who wins the U.S. presidential election in November, but broke no new ground in his Revolution Day address Saturday night, reports CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum.

In his 48-minute speech, Castro he said that, like Americans, Cubans are facing the global crisis of rising food and fuel costs. Unlike Americans, though, Cubans have been benefiting from many government subsidies, particularly for foodstuffs.

But Castro said Saturday that there are difficulties and they must be explained to the population and that Cubans should be prepared to receive not only good news. He specifically warned people not to have overly ambitious aspirations for material goods.

His words threw cold water on any expectations of new economic openings.

Since taking over from his ailing older brother Fidel - whose last public appearance was exactly two years ago - Raul has instituted reforms in agriculture, offering unused state lands to farmers in an effort to increase harvests. He has also allowed Cubans to buy cell phones, computers, and other electronic goods, to stay at hotels formerly restricted to foreign tourists, eliminated salary caps and raised pensions, among other measures.

He made it clear that there would have to be tighter accounting, more efficiency and less waste.

Castro also highlighted the past to thousands of supporters in front of the Moncada military complex, where rebels led by his brother Fidel launched an attack 55 years ago and planted the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution.

“When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today,” Castro told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles southeast of Havana, the de-facto capital of the island’s eastern half.

And he put the U.S., which also hoped for greater change under his regime, on notice.

“We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States,” Raul said.

The comments were a prelude to discussing Cuba’s defense preparations - officer training, upgrading of military hardware, and preparation of reserve forces that, along with militia, back up regular troops, reports Siegelbaum. He announced that the country’s main annual military exercise, Bastion, would take place next November as a new U.S. president is elected.

Perhaps showing his age, the 77-year-old president ended the speech by mistakenly dedicating the 59th anniversary of the Moncada attack to his brother, Fidel. He then laughed at himself, noting that this year actually marked the 55th anniversary of the event.

It was at a commemoration of this anniversary two years ago that Fidel Castro was last seen in public. He underwent emergency intestinal surgery five days later and has only appeared in official videos and photographs since.

The Moncada attack was a disaster, with many assailants killed and most of the rest captured. But it launched a movement that brought Fidel Castro to power when President Fulgencio Batista fled the country.

Some Cubans hoped he would use the speech to ease restrictions on international travel or announce other incremental reforms, but none came.

While both Castro brothers were born in Cuba’s east, Raul, five years younger that Fidel, seems happiest there.

“Raul is a man of the people and Santiago is full of his people,” said Elizabeth Trumpeta, 42, an administrator at a government shoe repair shop who lives across the street from Moncada. “He can go to Havana, live and work there, but he has Santiago in his heart.”

Yet Fidel Castro - not Raul - is featured on Revolution Day posters affixed to houses and businesses across Santiago. With a broad grin, he hoists a rifle skyward before a picture of the Moncada barracks, now a museum attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually.

The crowd chanted “Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!” and “Long live Fidel!” throughout Saturday night’s speech.

Some Cubans say their hopes for change under the new government are fading.

“There are a lot of people on the street who talk about change, but we haven’t had even one economic or political reform that counts, nothing we hoped for with Raul,” said Oswaldo, a 69-year-old retired construction worker. He declined to give his last name, saying, “Being able to openly criticize things is something else we can only hope for.”

Read the entire speech here

Member Comments

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On July 27, 2008, publisher wrote:

Boring.

Empty.

A small speech from a small man. That’s how I see it. I thought that maybe Raul might have wanted to be a visionary and maybe a next generation leader but he is living under the shadow of Fidel and can’t or won’t shake it.

I realize now that he really has nothing substantial to offer and is deferring to the ghost of Fidel Castro.

He is clearly living in the past and forcing all Cubans to continue to support the tired old Revolucion which today simply no longer exists.

La Revolucion freed the Cuban people from Batista. Who will free the Cuban people from the Castros?

Jose Marti has been spinning in his grave for decades.

Sorry Raul but it’s now time for you to go too.

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On July 27, 2008, publisher wrote:

One more thing I would like to add…

A leader is someone who refers to the past but looks forward to lead his/her people.

A manage is someone who lives in the past and does not look forward.

Raul is a manager. He is clinging to the past and not looking forward, by choice.

It is like he is walking backwards. So, he is making forward progress but looking backwards, not forwards.

I really can’t explain it but it is clear to me know that he is not a leader and not a man who represents the future of Cuba.

Unfortunately I don’t know who that person is. Maybe Oswaldo Paya. That is my best guess.

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On July 27, 2008, publisher wrote:

I just read the speech again.

Reads like a Fidel wannabe but without the passion. Propaganda without the punch.

Just ramblings of an old man clinging to the glory days.

It is getting sad now for Raul.

It has been sad for Fidel for many years.

Someday the clouds will be lifted from over the Cuban people and they will see the sun.

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On July 28, 2008, abh wrote:

It seems to me that some people were hoping this would be a groundbreaking speech.  I was not really thinking it would be all that different to be honest.  Publisher: your own list of reforms is quite long; I would never try to say the reforms initiated so far are great and the people should be thankful, however I think in the long run if none of these modifications are successful in improving the overall situation in the country, then everybody is in trouble.  Keep in mind, much of what you criticize may be true.  Just be careful where your logic leads.  I question whether Oswaldo Paya is a realistic hope for someone who will be a national leader.  I think economic concerns are #1 right now and if Raul can provide some relief it will be welcomed.  If not they’re gonna need to do some “soul searching” and come up with a plan for the 21st century.  Come to think of it, maybe that needs to be done anyway…

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On July 28, 2008, manfredz wrote:

abh…
teh Cubans I’ve gotten into discussions with (usually after several drinks) also mention economic reforms as their need-to-change items.  Can’t recall anybody bringing up political reforms as needing fixing.  Dont know if its not on their radar or if they feel that crosses the line of what you can safely discuss with a (relative) stranger.
Don’t think they are expecting all the economic reforms that need doing to come overnight, but they’d like to see it starting.  Since I havent been back sicne Jan, I dont know where the feelings are currently.
Also found they’re afraid if things get turned upside down tehy may lose thigns they precious.  I know we often feel they don’t have much to cherish, but think you’ll find they do -  education, medical care etc, are not for everybody in the neighbouring islands and they find this is very important to them. Also many fearthat massive reforms will lead to control returning to the exile Cubans, and most people despise those that left rather than understand them (or at least that is the impression I got).
As mentioned before, Raol still has th earn his pay as reformer - most of the reforms he’s done so far have been simple to deliever.

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On July 28, 2008, abh wrote:

Right, the reforms up to now have been relatively easy to prescribe, I agree.  I believe that one of the strongest forces at play here are EXPECTATIONS.  Expectations can be a dangerous and underrated political force.  It worries me that Raul has raised expectations because I’m a little doubtful of his abillity to meet them.  I know he is not generally held in high regard by Cubans I know.  However, if he continues to enact reforms and charts a course that helps the average Cuban with his or her daily bread, I’m all for it.  Discontent on the island is high and I think Raul knows this and is wary of raising expectations too high as he walks the tightrope of trying to tinker with the system but not have it come down tumbling around him.
To a certain extent I agree with the Publisher’s sentiment that this was a dissapointing speech.  Another way of looking at it would be to say that it’s a speech where he tries to keep expectations under control by focusing on the work that needs to be done.  Is it more of the same?  Sure, I think we all feel this way whenever we hear these speeches.  However, is Raul successfully taking his country into the next era?  I say the jury is still out, but I believe the domestic bar is being set low.  Recent articles where Cuban officials have cited world food prices as damaging the economy are the current example.

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On July 28, 2008, publisher wrote:

Doesn’t get most of it’s food on credit or for free?

Doesn’t Cuba decide which bills to pay?

Therefore, high food prices are just another scapecoat for the failures of communism.

“Gee, sorry folks. We’d love to raise your standard of living but the pesky (choose one…) high food prices, high oil prices, Embargo, global warming etc, just won’t allow us to do that this. Maybe next year people. Just hang in there for another year.”

“and by the way, please stop stealing from the Cuban government, that’s the other reason we can’t offer a higher standard of living”.

Same shit, different decade.

Amazing.

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On July 28, 2008, abh wrote:

Well, I think it’s easy to share your frustration, publisher.  I can imagine that any normal Cuban citizen might have many of the same reactions that you did.
HOWEVER, stepping back, I would argue that you only have to look at your own post of Raul’s “reforms” to see that not everything is as it used to be.  I see things changing slowly and I haven’t heard any argument that uses facts more than emotions to pursuade me otherwise.

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On July 28, 2008, publisher wrote:

I agree he has announced many reforms but do they really mean anything? We all know about the bureaucracy and restrictions in Cuba.

First, most Cubans can’t afford the computers, the cellphones or nights in hotels. Second, I can only imagine the restrictions on private taxis for example.

I know the taxes and restrictions on paladares and casas particulares are very restrictive and the Cuban government can come in for pretty much any reason and take it all away with no notice or recourse.

So, sure the list of reforms is long but practically speaking, are average Cubans making more money, living freer or better.

The Cuban government is still the hand of God for most of the people in Cuba .

Until that changes, I don’t expect much from Raul.

He is not leading his people, that is very clear.

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On July 28, 2008, Mako wrote:

A friend of mine returned yesterday. I am going in a few weeks. He says the natives are getting resless

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On July 29, 2008, publisher wrote:

Fidel’s bullshit was the glue that held the country together.

Raul’s bullshit doesn’t have any flavor.

How’s that for an analogy?

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On July 29, 2008, publisher wrote:

Let me change that a bit.

Raul’s bullshit doesn’t have the same bonding qualities.

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On July 29, 2008, Juan Gonzalez-Piloto wrote:

I have been speaking to a lot of people coming from Cuba lately and noticing the constantly increasing jamming of the Miami exile radio stations and I just wonder, are Prince raul and company getting ready to make a sudden departure a la Batista?  The situation in Cuba apparently is getting worst and worst and like stated above the natives are getting restless.  People are wondering what’s happening to the oil and oil revenue of the 100,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil coming to Cuba daily when the consumption of is around 60,000 or less of barrels per day.  At this rate, I think the prince and company are just raking in the $4 million daily and adding to their departure pool.  When the heat turns up soon, they we join their already foreign-living family members.  I see a Batista-like departure coming overnight soon.

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On July 29, 2008, publisher wrote:

Juan,

If that happens, what are your thoughts about the day after, the week after and the month after?

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On July 29, 2008, abh wrote:

Juan G-P:
I think we all are frustrated with the curent domestic situation in la isla.  However, that frustration should not lead us to fantasy.  I really don’t see top Cuban gov. officials leaving.  I could get into a longer discussion of why I don’t see that happening, but I’ll just leave it here by saying that we need to keep these issues in perspective, and I just don’t think it’s realistic that the Cuban government is going to dissolve overnight.  There have been rumors like this for the last 50 years, especially in the last two years, and I expect the rumors to continue while the government undergoes an agonizingly slow process of some change and reform

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On July 29, 2008, manfredz wrote:

Mind you we’re all just posting our opinions, but I too see a flee-by-night scenario as unrealistic.  The reason I feel this is not because the people love Raol but because they fear what the void would bring.  They are afraid that the Americans or teh Miami Cubans would take advantage of such a void, and this is not the future that the Cubans I’ve talked to wish.
I forsee (and rememebr we all have our scenarios - mine comes from how I analyze things not from a crystal ball so its no better than anybody elses) one of two scenarios - either Raol delivers enough to keep the people (grudingly, neverthe less) saying they’ll wait to see how it goes, or the other power figures in the governement feeling that Roal wont, and convincing him to retire and let someone else try.

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On July 29, 2008, Mako wrote:

I don’t see Raul doing a bug out like Batista ( I encourage every one to read “Havana Nocturne”; GREAT BOOK !!! )  but the present leadership’s “let them eat cake ”  attitude , will slowly force them from power, or force them to change.
Batista and the revolution are distant memories to many Cubans today. In its PRESENT state, the revolution has lost the hearts and minds of the young generation

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On August 05, 2008, Mako wrote:

Roberto ,did you hear about Martians landing in London ?