HAVANA, Cuba, Tuesday January 3, 2017 — Thousands of Cubans paid tribute to late leader Fidel Castro yesterday with a military parade to mark the 58th anniversary of the revolution that brought him to power.
Castro launched his nearly half-century rule with a guerrilla uprising that ousted US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista on January 1, 1959.
The revolutionary leader died on November 25 at age 90.
Cuba marks the anniversary of the uprising with a military parade every year, but this year was significantly different with soldiers marching unarmed. In the past the parade has featured guns, tanks and missiles.
AFP reports that tens of thousands of soldiers, militia members, students and workers marched at Revolution Square in Havana.
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The event also marked the 60th anniversary of the landing of the Granma yacht which brought Fidel, his brother Raul and other revolutionary fighters from Mexico to Cuba, in November 1956, to start the revolution. Yesterday, troops marched behind a replica of the famous boat.
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Some waved large photos of the revolutionary leader; others carried a giant banner reading “We are Fidel,” despite the late president’s request that no cult of personality be built around him.
The island is facing a difficult year in 2017, which marks the last full year in power for Raul Castro, the younger brother who replaced Fidel when he stepped down due to ill health in 2006.
The 84-year-old general will likely face an economic recession as well as a hostile new US administration under President-elect Donald Trump, who has promised to undo favourable measures implemented by President Barack Obama unless the Cuban government makes new concessions on democratic freedoms and economic reforms.
Since resistance to pressure from Washington is a founding principle for the Cuban communist model, domestic concessions in exchange for continued detente are virtually impossible.
“Cuba will not renounce a single one of its principles,” student leader Jennifer Bello said defiantly in a keynote address at the parade, as Raul Castro and top military commanders looked on.
Meanwhile, the communist Caribbean country’s economy, which shrank 0.9 per cent in 2016, has been shaken by the economic crisis in Venezuela, Cuba’s close ally and key backer, whose discounted oil exports once kept Cuba afloat.
Cuba must overcome these economic and diplomatic hurdles during a year of transition, moreover. The ageing president has pledged to hand over office in 2018 to a successor, thought to be Miguel Diaz-Canel, a 56-year-old official with neither the Castro name nor mystique.