Cubans urged on May Day to work hard, resist critics

HAVANA (Reuters) – A sea of red-clad Cubans paraded  through Havana’s Revolution Square yesterday in a politically  charged May Day celebration that urged rejection of  international criticism of the island’s human rights policies  and harder work to bolster socialism.

Hundreds of thousands of people, most in red shirts and  many waving red flags, filed through the vast plaza where  President Raul Castro and a podium full of dignitaries looked  on from beneath a giant statue of national hero Jose Marti.

Absent for the fourth consecutive year was former leader  Fidel Castro, who ruled Cuba for 49 years but has not been seen  in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006.

Cuba billed the annual parade as a show of solidarity  against condemnation from the United States and Europe for the  February death of dissident hunger striker Orlando Zapata  Tamayo, and the rough treatment of opposition group “Ladies in  White” in recent protests.

It has portrayed US and European reaction as part of a  long campaign to discredit the communist-led government, whose  leaders have been hammering that message home in state-run  media and speeches to stir nationalist sentiment.

President Castro, wearing a straw hat and white guayabera  shirt, did not speak to the gathered masses, but Communist  Party official Salvador Valdes Mesa told them they were a  bulwark against Cuba’s enemies.

Their attendance “reaffirmed their irreversible decision to  defend and build socialism, as the most energetic and firm  response to those who, from the centers of power of the United  States and the European Union, backed by small groups of  internal mercenaries, try to discredit us,” Valdes said.

Work harder

Echoing the main theme of Raul Castro’s presidency, he said  the best way to fend off their enemies was to work harder and  be more productive to help Cuba’s fragile economy.

“The economic battle — we workers know that, as never  before, it is vital work for preserving our social system. And  to achieve it with success means everyone has to do his part,”  said Valdes.

The day’s core messages were underscored on television and  on signs carried by parade participants and posted around the  square.

“Those who stand up for Cuba stand up for all time against  the lies, against the calumnies of the empire [United States]  and the European Union,” said an announcer on the national  broadcast of the parade.

“Unity, Strength and Victory” read one sign in the parade,  while another said “Spend less and produce more.”

If they were not subtle, marchers told Reuters they  accurately reflected their pro-Cuba sentiment.

“They are defaming Cuba, and my duty was to come support  the revolution,” said 44-year-old food worker Maritza Perez.

“The campaign against Cuba has radicalized us more and  shown the weakness and impotence of yankee imperialism,” said  Facundo Vergara, 72.

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