Image: Castro supporters
Joe Raedle  /  Getty Images
Cubans carry a poster of President Fidel Castro through Havana's Revolution Square on Saturday.
updated 12/2/2006 8:18:34 PM ET 2006-12-03T01:18:34

Fidel Castro failed to attend a military parade Saturday marking the 50th anniversary of the date he and his rebels launched their revolution, fueling speculation that the ailing Cuban leader may not return to power.

Acting President Raul Castro, who is Fidel’s younger brother and the island’s defense minister, led the event instead, giving a speech in which he reached out to the U.S. government, which has a decades-old trade and travel embargo against the communist-run island. He did not explain the absence of his brother, who has not been see in public since July 26.

“We take this opportunity to once again state that we are willing to resolve at the negotiating table the long-standing dispute between the United States and Cuba,” Raul Castro said. But he said Cuba would insist upon “equality, reciprocity, noninterference and mutual respect.”

“In the meantime, after almost half a century, we are willing to wait patiently until the moment when common sense prevails in Washington power circles,” he said.

The acting president still criticized the United States, particularly its involvement in the Iraq war and attempts to “annex Latin America” through its regional trade policies.

Clear message to U.S.
The parade’s most obvious purpose was to warn the U.S. against taking advantage of Castro’s illness to attack the island. In the last 15 years the Cuban military has taken on a purely defensive role, and is trained to repel invaders.

It also commemorated what Raul Castro called “a transcendental act in our history.”

Cubans and Castro supporters as well as opponents around the world had speculated all week whether the leader, recovering from intestinal surgery, would show. The military event, which lasted about two hours, culminated five days of events — none of which were attended by Castro — to celebrate the leader’s birthday.

The Cuban leader turned 80 on Aug. 13 but delayed the celebrations to give him time to recover from his surgery. Few details about his condition have been released by Cuba’s government.

Cuban officials insist Castro is recovering, but U.S. officials say they believe he suffers from some kind of inoperable cancer and will not live through the end of 2007. He has appeared thin and pale in photographs and videos released by the government since he temporarily ceded power to his brother.

Tens of thousands of Cubans marched behind anti-aircraft missiles, tanks and other armored vehicles while MiG fighter jets and helicopter gunships flew overhead at the parade. The crowd of loyalists was more subdued than in other massive events presided by Fidel Castro.

Hundreds of elderly former combatants from the revolutionary struggle sat near the podium where Raul Castro spoke. Thousands of marching troops launched the parade, including special forces wearing red berets, militia men dressed in blue uniforms and a group of riders on horseback wearing the white dress uniform of 19th-century Cuban independence fighters.

Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, which replaced the military that existed before the Cuban Revolution, traces its roots to Dec. 2, 1956, when 82 rebels landed on the island on a yacht — the Granma — that sailed from Mexico.

Only 12 survived the landing and initial skirmishes with President Fulgencio Batista’s forces in December 1956. Among the survivors were the two Castro brothers and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who headed for the hills to build a command post for the revolution that drove Batista from power and out of Cuba on Jan. 1, 1959.

Castro purportedly sent note
Fidel Castro purportedly sent a message to those celebrating his birthday earlier this week, telling a crowd of 5,000 supporters at the opening event Tuesday at a Havana theater that he was too sick to meet with them.

“I direct myself to you, intellectuals and prestigious personalities of the world, with a dilemma,” said a note read at the event. “I could not meet with you in a small locale, only in the Karl Marx Theater where all the visitors would fit, and I was not yet in condition, according to the doctors, to face such a colossal encounter.”

More than 1,300 politicians, artists and intellectuals from around the globe were attending the tribute to the man who governed Cuba for 47 years. Bolivian President Evo Morales, Haitian President Rene Preval, Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega and Colombian Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez were among the guests of honor.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Castro a no-show

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