GUY RAZ, host:
Welcome back to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
Cuba marks this day, July 26th, as the beginning of its communist revolution. Fifty-six years ago, Fidel Castro, his brother, Raul and Che Guevara led what proved to be a disastrous attack on the Moncada army barracks in Eastern Cuba. It would take those rebels nearly six more years to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista.
NPR's Jason Beaubien traveled to Eastern Cuba for today's celebrations. And he joins us on the line.
Jason, I understand President Raul Castro gave a speech today. What did he say?
JASON BEAUBIEN: The speech was interesting, for the most part, for the tone of the speech. He didn't announce any new programs or anything grand, but he didn't come out and bash the U.S. in the way that he has in the past and the way that Fidel certainly liked to do in the past and to blame all of Cuba's problems on the U.S.
He basically came out and said we need to work harder. We need to revitalize the agricultural system here on the island, and it's going to take hard work.
RAZ: What was the scene like there? I mean, how many people turned out?
BEAUBIEN: Well, tens of thousands of people turned out before dawn to come hear him at a speech that started right at dawn, but that's got a lot to do with the organizational structure of Cuba. People in their local communities are sort of organized to go, and people come basically from their neighborhood blocks.
Certainly at this speech, there was people shouting viva Fidel, but people were also shouting viva Raul, and afterwards, talking to people. Everyone is really looking to Raul and how Raul is going to lead Cuba out of the terrible economic straits that it's in right now.
RAZ: Now, we spoke to you out there yesterday on the phone while you were driving across the island from Havana to Holguin in the east for the celebration. What did you see on the road on your way there?
BEAUBIEN: What's really amazing is as you leave Havana, and there's this massive eight-lane highway that was built by the Soviets, and it's almost completely empty.
The economic woes in Cuba are just so great that vehicles aren't out on the road. Gas is at more than $4.50 a gallon here, you know, and this is a place where people, you know, supposedly earn $20 a month. Most people earn more than that somehow or another, but people really cannot afford to get in the car and drive, even if they have one. And then you get out of the countryside, and it's very verdant and quite beautiful, a lot of agricultural land, but much of that agricultural land is overgrown with weeds. It's fallow. You know, there are -you go through farms, as well, but a lot of it is not being used to its full potential.
RAZ: Did you get a sense of - sort of what's on the minds of ordinary Cubans when you were making that journey?
BEAUBIEN: You know what is really amazing, Cuba is probably one of the only countries in the world where an attractive young woman would get dressed up in a skintight red jumpsuit and heels and go stand by the side of the road and wave 50-peso notes at passing cars, and I actually saw that yesterday.
People are desperate for transportation. Everywhere we went, you would - every onramp you go, there are crowds, huge crowds of people, waving bills, waving 50-peso notes at the cars, trying to get them to stop so that they can get a ride somewhere.
We stopped and picked up a woman with her 9-year-old daughter. When the daughter got into the car, she was crying because they had been standing in the sun since dawn. It was about 10:30 a.m. at that point, and it was incredibly hot out, and it was sort of this incredible insight into the daily frustrations that not just adults but children go through here in Cuba in 2009.
RAZ: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien speaking to us from Holguin, Cuba.
Jason, thanks so much.
BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Guy.
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