Cuba Marks Anniversary Of Revolution

Cubans celebrate Monday the 57th anniversary of the armed revolt that led former Cuban leader Fidel Castro to topple Fulgencio Batista. But the country is now facing a host of problems from corruption to economic stagnation to imprisoned political dissidents.

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DON GONYEA, host:

We turn now to Cuba. Fidel and Raul Castro carried out a botched military operation on this day 57 years ago. It left many of their colleagues dead and got the brothers thrown into prison. Still, the 26th of July is a national holiday, marking the beginning of the revolution that ousted U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Santa Clara, Cuba. Good morning, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

GONYEA: So the main speaker at today's event was expected to be the president, Raul Castro. He didn't show?

BEAUBIEN: He was here, but he didn't speak. It was the first time in five decades that the president of Cuba has not spoken at the Veinte y Seis de Julio, the 26th of July celebration.

In the past, Fidel has been known to go on giving speeches that lasted for hours during this event. When he stepped down in 2006 for medical reasons, he handed power of to his brother, and Raul has traditionally given this speech every year.

This year, we were expecting Hugo Chavez to be here. He backed out at the last minute. There was speculation that Fidel himself might be here. He also didn't come. Raul was here. He was in the front row. They got to the end, and he didn't get up and give a speech. He left the message that he probably was going to give to his ministers to deliver to the crowd.

GONYEA: And what kind of reaction was there from the crowd, the fact that he didn't speak? He's clearly who they came to see.

BEAUBIEN: There was a little bit of shock when the music came up right at the end, and it was clear that everything was wrapping up and the people were starting to file out. But people that I talked to afterwards say that's OK. Clearly, he delivered the message through his other people. This is a message of we need to cut costs, we need to be more productive. We need to deal with the economy. And this was given by lots of other people today, but it was still quite striking that Raul did not get up and give a speech himself.

GONYEA: There's always a lot of speculation about the leadership of Cuba. Is there anything we should read into this, anything we might read into it?

BEAUBIEN: It's really difficult to tell in Cuba. This isn't a place where you can just turn to the spokesman and say, you know, what was going on? They won't answer questions on even some of the simplest things.

So a question like this, there's no way to really get an answer from the system. It really is difficult to tell. At the same time, Cuba is facing numerous problems at the moment. The dissidents who are being released is an issue that has been dominating the foreign press. Fifty-two dissidents are in the process of being released. Fifteen of them have already been released. It's possible that Raul didn't want to get up and not mention the dissidents, and thus he just didn't get up and didn't say anything at all.

GONYEA: NPR's Jason Beaubien, joining us from Santa Clara, Cuba. Jason, thanks much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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