Cuba marked the anniversary of Fidel Castro’s first armed uprising 62 years ago today with calls for an end to the US embargo and the return of the US naval base at Guantanamo.
The ceremony — attended by Cuban president Raul Castro and some 10,000 of the country’s ruling elite and their guests but not by the frail 88-year-old Fidel — was the first since the restoration of relations with the United States.
“Now begins a long and complex road toward the normalisation of bilateral relations, which includes, among other things, the end of the blockade and the return of the Guantanamo naval base,” said Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, the number two of Cuba’s communist party.
Machado’s brief speech contrasted with the hours long anti-American orations Fidel was known for, particularly on the July 26, 1953 anniversary of the assault he led on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago.
Although a military failure that landed Castro in prison, the uprising is considered the start of a revolutionary movement that ultimately ousted the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Fidel stepped down as the country’s president in 2006 in poor health, and has watched with some skepticism as his brother and successor Raul has gradually opened the Soviet-style economy to private enterprise and outside investments.
On December 17, Raul and US President Barack Obama stunned the world by announcing plans to restore relations severed for more than half a century. On July 20, the longtime Cold War foes reopened embassies in each other’s countries.
A US trade embargo remains in effect, however, with opposition to lifting it strong in the Republican-dominated US Congress.
The US naval base at Guantanamo on the southeastern tip of Cuba is now best know for a US prison holding suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban militants that Obama has so far unsuccessfully sought to close.