At a government meat shop in Havana, where meat and eggs are rationed, sometimes there is ground beef or chicken. Sometimes there is nothing.
At a government meat shop in Havana, where meat and eggs are rationed, sometimes there is ground beef or chicken. Sometimes there is nothing. Jason Beaubien/NPR
A busy street in Old Havana. Fifty years after the revolution, Cuba faces huge challenges: a soaring trade deficit, crumbling infrastructure and a faltering agricultural system.
A busy street in Old Havana. Fifty years after the revolution, Cuba faces huge challenges: a soaring trade deficit, crumbling infrastructure and a faltering agricultural system. Jason Beaubien/NPR
Cuban President Raul Castro declared Thursday night that the communist system on the island is stronger than ever. He and other Cuban leaders were celebrating the 50th anniversary of the revolution that ousted the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista. But despite Castro's declarations, Cuba faces huge challenges: a soaring trade deficit, crumbling infrastructure and a faltering agricultural system.
Cuba is billing this commemoration as a celebration of 50 years of victorious revolution.
In his speech to hundreds of people gathered in the main square in Santiago, President Castro cast the past five decades as a battle between Cuba and its belligerent, imperialist neighbor 90 miles to the north. In this battle, Castro said, Cuba has triumphed.
Every U.S. administration, he said, has tried to force regime change on Cuba. From the disastrous, CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 to the ongoing embargo, the Cuban president said, the U.S. has always failed.
The Marxist/Leninist government has outlasted 10 presidential administrations in Washington.
It's a victory twice as sweet, President Castro said, because it has been achieved over a hateful, sick, vindictive and powerful neighbor.
Raul Castro formally took over as president in 2008 from his ailing older brother, Fidel. Raul's speech and this 50th anniversary come at a tough time for Cuba.
Earlier this week, the country's economic minister said Cuba is facing its most difficult period since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. As Cuba's farms languish, the island now imports roughly 60 percent of its food. Its trade deficit skyrocketed last year as the cost of food and other imports soared while key exports declined.
Sticking to the combative tone of his address in Santiago, Castro said the communist country is on a "war footing" not just against the United States but against social injustice.
Never again, he said, will misery, shame, abuse and injustice return to Cubans' land.
Some on the island, however, say these things have already returned.
The average salary here is about 20 U.S. dollars a month. Education and health care are free, and everyone gets monthly rations of subsidized food. But in the capital, relatively healthy, well-educated Cubans sidle up to tourists to quietly beg for money. Even people who vigorously support the communist system say putting food on the table each month is a constant challenge.
Yet after Castro's speech, Marali Senida Martinez Riega said the communist society established by Fidel Castro is a miracle.
In the first place, now everyone can think and is literate, she says. She was 22 when Fidel came to power in 1959. Back then, most people in rural Cuba got only a fourth-grade education, she says. Now they can go to university — free.
Echoing the president, she says the triumphant Cuban revolution continues, and she predicts it will last at least another 50 years.