HAVANA (Reuters) - With music and dance, but absent Fidel Castro, Cuba marked on Thursday the 50th anniversary of the former leader’s triumphant arrival in Havana after ousting a U.S.-backed dictator in a guerrilla uprising.
President Raul Castro, accompanied by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, attended a ceremony at the former military base where a white dove landed on Fidel Castro’s shoulder as he spoke to thousands of jubilant Cubans on January 8, 1959.
But Fidel Castro, not seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006, was a no-show, as he has been throughout the week-long celebration of the revolution’s anniversary that began with a January 1 speech by Raul Castro, his brother, in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba.
His absence from crowning events of his long rule has fueled speculation that the 82-year-old Fidel Castro’s health is worsening, but the government has stayed mum on the matter.
Fidel Castro proclaimed victory in Santiago de Cuba after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba on January 1, 1959, sealing the revolutionary victory.
He then led his bearded rebels on a cross-country victory tour that arrived on January 8 in Havana, where they were greeted as heroes by huge crowds who swarmed into the streets to celebrate the demise of the widely-hated Batista government.
A caravan has been retracing that trip this week and arrived in Havana on Thursday, led by Fidel Castro’s 59-year-old son, Fidelito, a nuclear physicist who donned a military uniform similar to the one his father wore and rode into the city in an open army jeep.
Raul Castro did not speak on Thursday, giving that honor instead to the visiting Correa who praised the revolution as a historic event for Latin America and condemned the U.S. trade embargo imposed against Cuba since 1962.
“Today we demand the end of the criminal embargo, premeditated genocide by the same powers as always,” said Correa, who is one of an emerging generation of Latin American leftist leaders.
Before his speech, a dance troupe wearing camouflage outfits performed a dance of tribute to the rebels who defeated Batista and children sang several songs celebrating the revolution. About 2,000 people attended the event.
Fidel Castro has been seen only in occasional videos and photos since the surgery for an undisclosed ailment that forced him to cede power to Raul Castro, who formally replaced him as president in February.
Even though he has stayed behind closed doors, Fidel Castro meets occasionally with visiting dignitaries and has maintained a public profile by writing columns published in state-run media.
He issued a brief note of congratulations to the Cuban people on the January 1 for the anniversary, but has not published a column since December 15.
Editing by Jeff Franks and Anthony Boadle
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