Castro's Government Celebrates 50th Anniversary On New Year's Day, Cuba celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the "Triumphant Revolution" which brought Fidel Castro and his guerrilla movement to power. The celebration comes as Cuba faces its worst economic problems since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
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Castro's Government Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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Castro's Government Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Castro's Government Celebrates 50th Anniversary

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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand. In a few minutes, the pop culture highlights or lowlights of 2008.

COHEN: But first, tomorrow, Cuba celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. His guerillas ousted the U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day 1959. Fidel Castro eventually brought the first communist regime to the Americas. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Havana, Cuba, and he joins us now. Jason, it has been a rich half-century of history there in Cuba. Could you give us a bit of an overview?

JASON BEAUBIEN: It's been a very tumultuous five decades or triumphant five decades as the propaganda machine here is saying, and there's banners all over Havana at the moment declaring the 50th anniversary of the triumphant revolution. And it has been 50 years that have really been marked by this relationship between Fidel and 10 successive administrations in Washington, starting back with Eisenhower.

And, you know, there have been U.S. efforts to oust Fidel to bring political change to the island, and almost universally, they have failed, from sanctions to embargos to outright two attempts with the Bay of Pigs. Castro has always managed to come out on top.

From the beginning, Fidel used anti-U.S. sentiment that was very strong in the island to gain support for his guerrilla movement throughout his time as president. He has sort of stirred that up to rally people behind him, and it still exists today. It's still very much this, we are fighting against the U.S., and that is part of what bring solidarity to the people behind Fidel's regime.

COHEN: Jason, you mentioned the banners. What exactly is planned for tomorrow, the official anniversary?

BEAUBIEN: It's kind of interesting here. It's a bit like sort of how the day of the dead merges with Halloween in Mexico. You've already got the Christmas holidays going on, and obviously, it's New Year's. And so, everyone is off work. The kids are out of school. Their festivity is going on sort of all over.

I was talking to a family yesterday, and they're going to roast a pig, and some of it - it's a little bit to hard to tell how much of this is about the anniversary of Fidel actually coming to power and how much of this - it's just sort of the holiday spirit. The actual formal ceremony is happening on Santiago.

And this is where were Fidel first launched what was a rather disastrous attack on the Moncada Army Barracks back in 1953, and most of his men were killed or captured. Then Fidel - he was actually in prison - managed to get out, went to Mexico, regrouped. But Santiago's viewed as the birthplace of the revolution.

And Fidel actually hasn't been seen in public since he fell ill back in 2006. Then his brother took power, and in February this year, Raul actually was formally brought in as president. So at these ceremonies in Santiago, we are expecting a speech from Raul rallying the country again behind this communist state.

COHEN: Jason, 50 years on, how are things there in Cuba?

BEAUBIEN: Well, life is still actually pretty difficult for people here. You've got people only earning about $20 a month. People say on a daily basis, they're sort of - inventing is the word they use, to sort of get by, to get food on their table every day. And in Havana, many of the buildings are crumbling. But there's also very much a sense of pride that Cuba has universal health care, universal education, and has sort of gone in its own unique way with this revolution and the Fidel administration.

COHEN: You are there because you're a journalist. You have permission, but most Americans can't travel to Cuba because of the U.S. embargo against the island. Is there any chance that relations will change under the Obama administration?

BEAUBIEN: There's a lot of optimism here that things will change under the Obama administration. And Obama has said that he would lift the travel ban on Cuban-Americans if people would come back and visit their families and that he would lift the limits on remittances that Americans can send here.

So there's very much optimism that things will change, but after all, this is Cuba, and people predicted change here many times in the past. And over the course of 50 years, things have pretty much kept going the way Fidel and what now is being run by his brother - the way this administration wants things to go.

COHEN: NPR's Jason Beaubien speaking to us from Havana, Cuba. Thank you, Jason.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome, Alex.

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