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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 July, 2003, 05:24 GMT 06:24 UK
Castro lashes out at EU
Fidel Castro in Santiago
Castro's appetite for big speeches has hardly dulled
Veteran Cuban leader Fidel Castro has dismissed the EU as an agent of the US or "the superpower's Trojan horse", as he put it.

In a speech at the historic Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba to mark the 50th anniversary of the revolution which brought him to power, Mr Castro told a crowd of 10,000: "Cuba does not need the help of the European Union to survive".

In 1953, as a 26-year-old revolutionary, Mr Castro led about 120 fighters in a raid against the garrison of about 800 soldiers at Santiago de Cuba.

A group of old colonial powers historically responsible for slave trafficking, looting and even the extermination of entire peoples
Fidel Castro, on the EU

Mr Castro's forces were crushed and he was arrested, but Cubans still mark the date as the beginning of the revolution.

In this anniversary year, the Cuban leader directed his thunder against the EU, which was until recently seen as an economic lifeline for the ailing Socialist state.

Relations deteriorated rapidly in early June, however, when the EU raised the prospect of sanctions over the Cuba's mass imprisonment of dissidents.

The EU was a "group of old colonial powers historically responsible for slave trafficking, looting and even the extermination of entire peoples", Mr Castro told his audience.

Sparking a revolution

National celebrations of the 50th anniversary include fireworks, cultural galas and an appearance by Elian Gonzalez - the child at the centre of a row between the US and Cuba three years ago.

BBC News Online looks back at the revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power

Hundreds of Cuban children have also re-enacted the attack on the barracks.

A number of Mr Castro's ill-armed revolutionaries were killed or captured in the attack on the barracks and he was put on trial.

"Convict me; it does not matter. History will absolve me," Mr Castro, a trained lawyer, told the court in a speech which became a manifesto for the Cuban revolution.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison but was freed in a general amnesty less than two years later.

He went to Mexico and later returned to Cuba to oust the right-wing dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959.

He has since become the world's longest-serving head of government, outlasting nine US presidents and long-standing American hostility to his regime.

Uncertain future

His country has gone from being the third-richest in Latin America to one of the poorest.

Cuban migrants trying to cross the Straits of Florida 16 July
Cubans use many methods to flee towards Florida
Its economy now relies heavily on funds sent from Cubans abroad and on tourism, much of which stems from the EU.

Untold numbers of Cubans flee the island every year, trying to cross to nearby Florida - including via a truck turned into a raft this week.

However, Cuba can still boast good healthcare and education:

  • It has the highest life expectancy in Latin America and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world

  • It has one doctor per 166 people and one of the most extensive free public health systems in the world

  • It also has one of the highest literacy rates in the world, with just over 95% of the population being able to read

But as President Castro nears his 77th birthday in August, many Cubans wonder how much longer he will remain in power, and what may happen when he dies.

"There is a sense of resigned expectation on the island because no one really knows how Cuba is going to get out of this hole," Eusebio Mujal-Leon, a Cuban-born professor now based in Washington, told Reuters news agency.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Matt Frei
"The masses gathered in Santiago de Cuba"



SEE ALSO:
Cubans aim for Florida by truck
24 Jul 03  |  Americas
Cuba's hardships fuel discontent
08 Jun 03  |  Americas
Cuba's phoney war
25 Apr 03  |  Americas
Cuba jailings draw anger
09 Apr 03  |  Americas
Country profile: Cuba
04 Jun 03  |  Country profiles


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