A: Cuba. Cuban President Raul Castro declared last night that the Communist system on the island is stronger than ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)
: (Shouting in Spanish) Viva Fidel!
U: (Shouting in Spanish) Viva!
: (Shouting in Spanish) Viva la revolucion!
U: (Shouting in Spanish) Viva!
: They're celebrating Fidel Castro, the founder of the revolution 50 years ago. Now, here's part of the story they did not celebrate yesterday. Cuba has a soaring trade deficit, crumbling infrastructure and a faltering agricultural system. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Santiago.
JASON BEAUBIEN: Cuba is billing this commemoration as a celebration of 50 years of victorious revolution, and in his speech to hundreds of people gathered in the main square in Santiago, President Raul Castro cast the past five decades as a battle between Cuba and its belligerent, imperialist neighbor 90 miles to the north. And in this battle, Raul said, Cuba has triumphed.
: (Spanish spoken) Todas las administraciones Norteamericanas...
BEAUBIEN: Every U.S. administration, Raul said, has tried to force regime change on Cuba. From the disastrous CIA-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961to the ongoing embargo, the Cuban president said the U.S. has always failed. The Marxist/Leninist government has outlasted 10 presidential administrations in Washington.
: (Spanish spoken) Es una victoria doble rica...
BEAUBIEN: It's a victory twice as sweet, he said, because it's been achieved over a hateful, sick, vindictive and powerful neighbor. Raul Castro formally took over as president earlier this year 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, yet key exports declined. Sticking to the combative tone of his address in Santiago, Raul said the Communist country is on a war footing, not just against the United States but against social injustice.
: (Spanish spoken) Nunca mas sera la miseria...
BEAUBIEN: Never again, he said, will misery, shame, abuse and injustice return to our land. Some on the island, however, say these things have already returned. The average salary here is about U.S. $20 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. After Raul Castro's speech, Marali Senida Martinez Riega said the Communist society established by Fidel is a miracle.
M: BEAUBIEN, 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 only got a fourth-grade education, she says; now, they can go to the university and for free. Echoing Raul, she says the triumphant Cuban revolution continues, and she predicts will last at least another 50 years. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Santiago.
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