Cuba's acting president, Raul Castro, Thursday led celebrations marking a 1953 rebel attack that helped launch the Cuban revolution. In Miami, VOA's Brian Wagner reports it was the first time in decades the ceremonies did not include aging leader Fidel Castro, who handed power to his brother nearly a year ago.
Tens of thousands of people turned out in the eastern city of Camaguey, to hear a speech by Raul Castro marking one of the key dates on Cuba's calendar. Many supporters wore red shirts and waved the national flag or the red and black flag that symbolizes the July 26 revolutionary movement.
The date marks a failed attack led by Raul and his brother Fidel against the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. Many rebels died in the botched uprising, and Fidel Castro was later captured and jailed. The attack, however, boosted Fidel's profile across the island and helped propel the revolutionary movement that toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.
Earlier this week, Cuban officials said Fidel Castro, who will turn 81 next month, would not appear at the annual celebrations, which he has led for decades. He has not been seen in public since undergoing stomach surgery nearly a year ago.
In his speech Thursday, Raul Castro criticized the United States for what he called its "failed and illegal" policies against Cuba. He said Cuba will be watching U.S. presidential elections next year, to see if a new administration will be open to dialogue with the Cuban government.
The 76-year-old army general said Cuba suffered a serious blow when his brother fell ill, but that the country never descended into the chaos Washington had predicted.
He said upcoming elections will be a new opportunity to show the force of Cuba's true democracy.
Cuba is to begin one-party elections in October, to select delegates who will later cast ballots for the government's top two posts, which are currently held by Fidel Castro. Analysts say it may be a key opportunity for top officials to confirm that, after 48 years in power, Fidel Castro is no longer in charge.
In Miami, many Cubans who sought to escape the Castro regime say there is little difference between Fidel and Raul.
One exile, Jesus, said Fidel has always provided the intellectual leadership of the revolution, but Raul can no longer rely on that because Fidel's health has declined.
Many Cuban exiles say that difficult conditions persist under Raul Castro, adding that little will change on the island until the Communist government falls.