Cuba puts on show of strength as Trump inauguration nears

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 02, 2017 9:31 AM

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba on Monday paraded troops and hundreds of thousands of citizens through its emblematic Revolution Square in a traditional show of nationalist fighting spirit as it faces a tough political and economic year.

A replica of the yacht Granma, which brought the Castro brothers, Ernesto "Che" Guevara and others from Mexico to Cuba to start the revolution in 1959, surrounded by schoolchildren in red and white young pioneer uniforms, led off the five-yearly event.

Troops wielding automatic rifles followed, marching in lock step, then a sea of banner- and flag-waving Cubans, many bussed in and organized through their workplaces and neighborhoods.

The head of the University Students Federation, Jennifer Bello Martinez, opened the march with a fiery speech as President Raul Castro and other leaders watched and waved from the base of a huge monument to independence hero Jose Marti.

“Cuba will not abandon a single one of its principles ... not its independence and not its sovereignty,” she said.

The military parade and march normally takes place every five years on Dec. 2 to mark armed forces day and commemorate the Granma landing but it was postponed a month due to the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in late November.

The event, first announced last April, has taken on added significance since the Nov. 8 U.S. election.

President-elect Donald Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, has threatened to rip up a detente with Cuba begun by President Barack Obama two years ago unless he gets a “better deal” and has resorted to the hostile rhetoric of the past when referring to the Communist-run Caribbean island.

"We are braced for conflict with the USA, we always have been, but I hope Trump will instead follow the path of Obama towards normalization," said 70-year-old Marcial Garcia, who still does logistical work for the army, as he watched the parade.

The threat to the gradual and still fragile warming trend could not come at a worse time for Cuba, which was plunged back into recession last year for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union a quarter century ago, as its strategic ally Venezuela floundered.

A tourism boom that brought 4 million visitors in 2016, in part sparked by detente and looser travel restrictions on Americans, was not enough to overcome dwindling oil shipments from the South American country on beneficial terms, and less cash for Cuban doctors and other professionals working overseas.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by James Dalgleish)