Cuba can overcome any U.S. initiatives, Castro says

May Day speech targets Bush commission's report

May 02, 2004|By Vanessa Bauza | Vanessa Bauza,SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

HAVANA - Cuba's socialist system would overcome any U.S. initiatives aimed at hastening political change on the island, President Fidel Castro told a sea of flag-waving Cubans in a two-hour May Day speech.

Referring to a report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba that was expected to be presented to President Bush yesterday, Castro said his enemies across the Florida Straits are "once again making themselves hoarse, shouting threats of upcoming measures to affect our economy and destabilize our country."

Included in the commission's report is a proposal to slash the amount of money Cuban Americans are allowed to send to their relatives, according to sources familiar with the report. The cash transfers are among Cuba's biggest source of money - between $100 million and $1 billion annually. Castro did not mention the potential loss of revenue.

"To those who persist in their efforts to destroy the revolution I simply say, in the name of the crowd gathered here ... long live socialism," he said.

Dressed in his traditional green fatigues, Castro, 77, frequently digressed from his prepared text during his wide-ranging speech, touching on many of his favorite topics: from Cuba's low infant mortality and high literacy rates, to criticism of the war in Iraq and conditions at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where hundreds of suspected Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners are detained.

He also called the European Union and several Latin American countries a "herd of hypocrites" for recently voting in favor of a resolution criticizing Cuba at the United Nations Human Rights Commission while ignoring a motion made by Cuba to seek inspections into the U.S. detention facility.

International labor leaders, leftist groups and anti-capitalist demonstrators commemorated May Day around the world yesterday. Few rallies were as big as those in Cuba, where hundreds of thousands of people were bused into squares in cities across the island.

Lazaro Castro said he arrived in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution about 2 a.m. yesterday to secure a spot in front of the flag-waving crowd. Castro, 40, who is not related to Cuba's leader, said he has not missed a May Day rally since he was a child.

"It's a tradition in our family," he said. "Fidel speaks from his heart. His ideas are the ideas of the people. Personally, we pray for his health every night."

The South Florida Sun-Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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