Fidel Castro sends word to May Day rally
Campaign News | Wednesday, 2 May 2007
Anita Snow in Havana
There was no sign of the convalescing Fidel Castro as hundreds of thousands of Cubans yesterday marched through Havana's Revolution Plaza to celebrate May Day, an event the island's "maximum leader" has attended over decades.
In a speech just before the huge annual parade began, Salvador Valdés, secretary general of Cuba's central workers' union, hinted that it was highly unlikely the 80-year-old Castro would make his first public appearance since stepping down from power nine months ago.
"A speedy recovery and lots of health, dear Fidel," said Mr Valdés, adding "Viva Fidel!" as the crowd shouted "Viva!"
A Communist party official said that yesterday marked just the third May Day march Mr Castro had missed since leading the Cuban revolution in January 1959.
The place where Mr Castro would have watched the festivities, a raised platform under a statue of the Cuban colonial independence hero José Martí, was instead occupied by Raúl Castro, his brother.
Raul, five years the younger and now acting president and defence minister, stood stiffly and smiled. He occasionally waved as red-clad marchers streamed past clutching plastic Cuban flags, portraits of Fidel Castro and banners denouncing US imperialism. Guests, including a Cuba solidarity group from the New York City area, surrounded the platform.
Before the march, the president issued a communiqué. He reiterated his opposition to US plans to use food crops for ethanol for cars, predicting that American fuel needs would require the labour of the world's impoverished sugar-cane workers. He said May Day was "a good day to carry these reflections to the workers and all of the poor people of the world".
On Sunday, a main ally, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chávez, claimed President Castro was once again "in charge".
Marches were held simultaneously in other Cuban cities; several million people were expected to attend.