Video: Castro skips May Day celebrations

msnbc.com news services
updated 5/1/2007 11:14:23 AM ET 2007-05-01T15:14:23

Hundreds of thousands of cheering workers marched through Cuba’s Revolution Plaza on Tuesday but Fidel Castro was nowhere to be seen.

The place where Castro would have watched the festivities — a raised platform under a towering statue of Cuban colonial independence hero Jose Marti — was instead occupied by his brother Raul.

Castro had attended the annual International Workers’ Day march for decades. But the 80-year-old communist leader has not been seen in public since emergency intestinal surgery forced him to step down temporarily nine months ago and temporarily cede his duties to his 75-year-old brother.

In a speech just before the huge annual parade began, Salvador Valdes, secretary general of Cuba’s central workers union, hinted it was highly unlikely that Castro would make his first public appearance since stepping down from power.

“A speedy recovery and lots of health, dear Fidel,” Valdes said, adding “Viva Fidel!” as the crowd shouted back “Viva!”

Slideshow: May Day in Cuba

The acting president and defense minister, five years younger than his sibling, stood stiffly and smiled, occasionally waving as marchers streamed past, waving plastic Cuban flags, portraits of Fidel Castro and banners denouncing U.S. “imperialism.”

‘A good day’
Many marchers wore red or white T-shirts that appeared to have been distributed by the Cuban government with a May 1 slogan reading “More solidarity, unity and strength than ever.”

Castro issued the latest in a new series of communiques Monday, calling for a revolution in energy production, but gave no hint of whether he would make a May Day appearance.

He reiterated his opposition to U.S. plans to use food crops to produce ethanol for cars, predicting that American fuel needs would be provided with the labor of the world’s impoverished sugar cane workers.

“Tomorrow the first of May is a good day to carry these reflections to the workers and all of the poor people of the world,” Castro wrote in the communique.

Occasional government photographs and videos of the elder Castro have assured Cubans he is still alive and recovering, appearing stronger and more robust in the most recent images.

‘We need him to return’
Still, supporters hoped he would appear.

“We need him to return,” said Luisa Cuellar, who woke up before dawn to walk with friends to Revolution Square, the political heart of communist Cuba since Castro swept to power in a 1959 revolution. “He is the one who keeps us united.”

But the urgent need by many to see the man who ruled this country for 47 straight years seems to have faded in recent months as life has continued normally under the leadership of Raul Castro.

There will be smaller marches Monday in cities around the island, with the government expecting several million of the nation’s 11 million people to participate.

Call for protest
Castro has called on all Cubans to protest the release and there was speculation he might make a triumphant appearance in Revolution Square almost exactly nine months after intestinal surgery forced him to temporarily hand power to Raul Castro, his younger brother and defense minister.

But Castro gave no indication he would attend in an editorial column issued late Monday in which he described former CIA agent Posada Carriles as a “monster of terrorism.”

Regardless of their views of communist rule, the vast majority of Cubans were appalled when Posada Carriles was freed from a New Mexico jail April 19. The government blamed Washington for his release and said it showed the hypocrisy of its declared war on terror.

Cuba also accuses Posada Carriles of plotting a wave of bomb blasts in Havana hotels in 1997 that killed an Italian tourist. It says U.S. authorities are protecting him by prosecuting him on immigration rather than terrorism charges.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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