SANTA CLARA, Cuba — A B-team of socialist speakers spent Cuba’s Revolution Day bashing the United States for everything from its drug consumption to the war in Iraq to its military support for Colombia, portraying Washington as the great villain in world affairs.
But the day was more notable for who did not address the crowd: President Raul Castro never took the lectern, brother Fidel Castro was a no-show, and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez canceled his trip to Cuba. It was the first Revolution Day in memory in which neither Castro spoke.
The Castros often use July 26, the most important date on Cuba’s calendar, to set the agenda for the coming year. A spate of public appearances by the 83-year-old Fidel Castro after years of seclusion had fueled speculation he would be onstage with his younger brother. That neither man spoke was a surprise (though both made separate appearances elsewhere later in the day), particularly because Cubans have much they are waiting to hear.
The country is in a painful economic downturn, and there have been warnings from intellectuals that corruption is eating away at the revolution’s foundations. Raul Castro has made efforts to open the economy, while exhorting Cubans to work harder and stop depending on the state. The government is also in the midst of fulfilling a pledge to free 52 political prisoners.