Cuba has marked the 50th anniversary of the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power, and turned the island - 145 kilometers south of U.S. shores - into a Communist state.

Cuban President Raul Castro led official ceremonies in Santiago de Cuba, the city from where his older brother proclaimed victory when dictator Fulgencio Batista fled on New Year's Day, 1959.

Raul Castro, who wore an olive green army uniform, alluded to difficult economic times ahead before a a crowd of about three thousand invited guests. He predicted the revolution would last another 50 years.

The ailing Fidel Castro did not appear. But he printed a letter of congratulations to the Cuban people in the state-run Granma newspaper.

Fidel Castro has not been seen in public for more than two years and details of his illness are a state secret.

The leaders of China, Russia, and those from fellow Latin American countries Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela sent messages of congratulations to Cuba Thursday.

Cuba's economic problems have been made worse by $10 billion in damage caused by three hurricanes that pounded the island last year. Many Cubans earn an average of $20 per month. Cuba blames the long-standing U.S. economic embargo for its troubles.

A White House spokesman said the United States will continue seeking freedom for the Cuban people He said the Castro brothers have not treated their people well, noting that many political dissidents are in jail.

Raul Castro has promised reforms and expressed a willingness to hold talks with U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

Mr. Obama says he would be willing to speak with Cuba's leaders. But he said he would keep the long-standing economic embargo as a way to push for democratic change.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.