Cuba Celebrates 50th Anniversary of Bay of Pigs

By Portia Siegelbaum
CBSNews.com
April 16, 2011

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20054587-503543.html

Havana - A military and civilian parade led by tens of
thousands of young people paid homage to the historic
leaders of Cuba's revolution on the 50th anniversary of one
of their greatest triumphs: The defeat of a CIA-backed exile
invasion at the Bay of Pigs, always referred to here as
"imperialism's first defeat in the Americas."

It's also the lead-in to this afternoon's opening of a long-
delayed Communist Party Congress intended to restructure the
island's floundering economy with reforms long anathema to
Cuba's communist stalwarts.

Former President and First Secretary of the Communist Party
Fidel Castro is apparently watching the military review from
home, but his brother and successor Raul Castro and other
grey-haired government and Party leaders are on the
reviewing stand in Havana's Revolution Square, waving to the
troops and people as they parade past.

Raul Castro will be 80 in July, and Fidel Castro will mark
his 85th birthday in August, after surviving a near-fatal
illness in 2006 that forced him to relinquish his public
positions.

The massive demonstration of revolutionary fervor is being
billed as a demonstration of the continuity of the
revolution led to victory and run by Fidel and Raul Castro
for the past 52 years.

Streets leading to the square were blocked by 5 a.m., as
hundreds of thousands of workers, students, housewives and
troops got into formation. Traffic on Havana's seafront
drive, like other streets, was backed up for miles, as buses
bringing in marchers from nearby provinces crept along
bumper-to-bumper.

An hour-long display of military hardware, from MIG fighter
planes and helicopters flying overhead to a variety of
armored vehicles rolling past (either produced or adapted in
Cuban factories) is being followed by an apparently endless
parade of civilians waving flags and balloons.

The messages being sent by today's march: One, Cuba is
prepared to defend itself against military aggression; and
two, the revolution will outlive its historic leadership.

Speaking last December, President Raul Castro recognized the
inevitable saying, "The sixth Congress of the Communist
Party should be, as a fact of life, the last to be attended
by most of us who belong to the revolution's historical
generation. The time we have left is short, the task
gigantic."

Since assuming the presidency officially in 2008, Raul
Castro has gradually but consistently overturned nearly all
of his older brother's economic and social policies. From
closing boarding schools to turning over tens of thousands
of hectares of fallow government land to private farmers; to
implementing austerity measures that canceled generous
government subsidies on even prime necessity items such as
food; and opening a still-limited private sector, not as a
grudging concession but an essential component of the new
economic structure.

The eyes of all Cubans are on the four-day Congress
beginning at 4 p.m. local time today. Some are watching with
trepidation fearing the loss of the all-encompassing social
security net that has cushioned them for more than five
decades. Although a plan to lay off 500,000 workers by this
month has been postponed, President Castro has made clear
that the reduction of state payrolls is to continue.

Others are watching with the hope that the Congress will
give them the opportunities they want to strike out on their
own as private entrepreneurs without excessive government
controls and taxes.

Nearly all Cubans are hoping that the Congress will drop
long-time restrictions on the buying and selling of cars and
homes, two of the most irritating prohibitions representing
government meddling in people's lives.

However, President Castro has stressed time and again that
the changes he is implementing are not meant to destroy
socialism but strengthen it. The timing of the Congress is
very deliberate - it begins 50 years to the day that Fidel
Castro announced his revolution was to be socialist, and 50
years since he led the Cuban people at the Bay of Pigs to
victory over the United States' first major effort to
implement what would now be called "regime change" on the
island.

[Portia Siegelbaum, New York native is the long-time Havana-
based CBS News reporter and producer.]

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