Havana (AFP) – Close to a million Cubans turned out in Havana on Tuesday to mark their first May Day of the post-Castro era, in a mass show of support for the revolution and the communist island’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Among thousands of posters of the Castro brothers and fellow revolutionary Che Guevara held aloft by the crowds, there were also a few pictures of Diaz-Canel.
Although Diaz-Canel is largely an unknown quantity for most ordinary Cubans, people appear confident he will follow in the footsteps of his revolutionary predecessors.
Accompanied by his predecessor Raul Castro, Cuba’s new president arrived at the capital’s Revolution Square where some 900,000 people were gathered for the annual Workers’ Day march on his first major appearance since taking power on April 19.
This year, the gathering was to show support for Diaz-Canel’s leading the country along the same path as his predecessors.
“We have a president who is following the legacy of all those who have fought for the revolution and for that, we are having a party,” said Onelia Contreras, a 59-year-old health worker marching in the parade who was wearing a hat and carrying a Cuban flag.
Addressing the crowds, Ulises Guilarte, secretary general of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) said the parade was a show of support for “comrade Raul and the continuity of our revolution in both the state and the government as presided over by comrade Diaz-Canel.”
In keeping with his historical role in the island’s history, the parade was presided over by Castro himself, who heads the powerful Communist Party, and was wearing his general’s uniform.
Next to him, Diaz Canel, who was born just after the revolution, was wearing a white shirt and a blue baseball cap of the Cuban national team.
– A wise choice –
“I think they were very wise when they decided on Diaz-Canel as president,” said Normando Garcia, a 62-year-old vet, who worked alongside him when he led the Communist Youth.
“He’s an important bastion of the revolution.”
In the crowd, parents carried children on their shoulders, some of them dressed as soldiers and one who was wearing a Fidel Castro-style beard.
As they stood on the podium alongside guests from 34 countries, a human tide of cheering supporters passed in front of them, with students, laborers, pensioners and nurses chanting slogans, beating drums and waving flags.
“Raul, for sure, he will make it tough for the Yankees,” they chorused as they passed in front of him, chanting a slogan that rhymes in Spanish.
The crowd itself was a sea of color, with marchers holding aloft Venezuelan flags backing its embattled president Nicolas Maduro, pictures of the late Hugo Chavez and banners calling to free Brazil’s former president Lula, who was jailed last month for graft.
– ‘Aggressive US meddling’ –
The only person to speak at the parade, Guilarte had tough words for the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has severely curtailed steps towards normalization with Havana that were begun in 2015 under Barack Obama.
“We denounce the aggressive and meddling conduct of the government of the United States,” said Guilarte, demanding it “halt the genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba which is now intensifying.”
Washington still maintains a US trade embargo on Cuba, which was first imposed in 1962, and it has held the Guantanamo Bay naval base and prison on the island’s southeastern tip since 1902.
“The voice of the people is raised to demand the return of territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” he said.
Parades were also taking place in Cuba’s other main cities as well as in regional capitals, with CTC officials expecting some six million Cubans to take part, more than half of the island’s population of 11.2 million.