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Cuba Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Castro's Revolution - 2003-07-26


Cuba's government on Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the initial attack that began the Cuban revolution. The observances take place amid a faltering economy and a harsh government crackdown on dissidents.

Fifty years ago, Fidel Castro led a group of rebels in an assault on the Moncada barracks in the eastern city of Santiago. The attack failed miserably, and Fidel Castro and many of his colleagues were sent to prison.

However, less than two years later, Mr. Castro was let out of prison and sent into exile in Mexico. A few years later, he returned to Cuba where he led the 1959 revolution that overthrew the government of Fulgencio Batista.

Cuba's aging revolutionaries always celebrate July 26 as the beginning of their revolution, and the country's most important holiday. This year is no exception, and Cuban officials have spent large sums of money on the July 26 observances, even as Cuba's economy has faltered badly.

Direct foreign investment in Cuba has dwindled to less than $40 million a year. Cuba's all-important sugar harvest is expected to be at about two million tons, the lowest output since the 1930s.

Hans De Salas Del Valle, a researcher at the University of Miami's Cuban Studies Institute, says most young Cubans have given up on the Castro revolution.

"Most disturbing, I would say, is growing disaffection among younger Cubans," he said. "University enrollment rates have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 1989, when Soviet subsidies came to an end. If you look at the faces of those who are venturing out onto the high seas in an effort to reach the United States, they are, by-and-large, young males. Cuba is really losing its future, its young generation, which either [is] opting to try to hustle to make a dollar from tourists on the island, instead of pursuing higher education, or willing to risk their lives by venturing out into the Florida straits to reach the United States."

In the days leading up to the July 26 observances, U.S. Coast Guard authorities reported intercepting several large groups of Cuban migrants attempting to reach Florida. Under U.S. law, those who actually set foot on U.S. soil are allowed to stay, while those who are intercepted at sea are sent back to Cuba.

This year's July 26 observances also come just months after a harsh crackdown on dissidents by Cuban authorities. More than 300 political prisoners languish in Cuban jails, and in March, 75 dissident journalists and human rights activists were sentenced to long prison terms, sparking international condemnation.

Hans De Salas Del Valle of the University of Miami says the Castro government has little to fear from its opponents. Most Cubans, he says, are too exhausted by the daily struggle for survival to organize any new opposition to the government.

"It is unlikely that anyone, certainly within the regime, would be willing to topple Fidel Castro," he went on to say. "The Cuban people, by and large, are simply too busy trying to make ends meet. They can no longer depend on the government to feed their own families. The government food rations would only get a family through about seven-to-10 days out of a month. Most Cubans survive on the equivalent of $10 a month, paid in local currency, in pesos. And, nowadays, most essential goods are only available in U.S. dollars. So, most Cubans are simply preoccupied with feeding their own families and making ends meet."

Mr. Del Valle says, as they mark the 50th anniversary of the beginning of their revolution, most Cubans are simply waiting for what they describe as the biological solution - the death of Mr. Castro - before any change will come to their island. The Cuban leader who turns 77 in August, has been in power 44 years, making him the world's longest-serving leader.